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Bridge Gap

Is there a gap between sales and operations? Yes, and it needs to be bridged

Feb. 19, 2020
After 20-plus years in dental, Matt Newman is still looking for ways to help sales and operations create synergy. There are many things each needs to realize about the other so that everyone can just get along, and be profitable.

In my 20-plus years of operational management, I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect conversation that will guarantee ongoing synergy between sales and inside (operations) team members. Guess what? I’m still looking.

I’ve had the conversation over and over—with my team asking me to take a stand for them, with salespeople asking me what’s up with these people, and even with acquaintances on LinkedIn and other social venues—all asking if I’ve found the secret.

I'm not in sales, but I’ve worked with them forever. I’ve never been one to gamble my paycheck on how fast my mouth can move, but I respect both the game and the hustle it takes to be in sales. If I had a dollar for every time I had to bridge the gap between inside team members who think sales is an easy gig, and salespeople who feel like they're not getting enough help from the inside team, I’d be retired (and not writing this right now).

I admit, I once envied the glamour that comes with a sales position, and heaven knows there are a million ‘80s movies that make anyone want to take on sales (not to date myself). But as you gain experience, you see that salespeople aren’t having the same fun that you watched in the likes of Glengarry Glen Ross.  

As the boss, what can you do? You can give the inside team the hard truth. Yes, salespeople get big bonuses, and they don’t have to clock in or be on time like inside team. They make deals that seem confusing to the bottom line and make you question their motives. However, think about the lives they lead, and put yourself in their shoes. For example, salespeople are basically living and working out of their cars; using a cell phone as their primary computer; braving all of the weather all day, not just to get to the office; and taking on all kinds of awkward conversations that most of us can put off by hitting “send to voicemail.”

They show up at offices that are closed when they should be open, they’re asked questions they can't answer without calling into the office (usually to ask you), and they walk into conversations that blow up without warning. If someone in accounting posted a customer’s invoice to their account, you can bet the salesperson will be called out and made to fix it, when we all know they are the least equipped person to do so. When a salesperson actually manages to avoid the land mines that come with each day and make it to round five (a euphemism for a serious conversation about buying something big), they are desperate to not let it go.

The inside team members don’t really think about much more than the fact that these “company heroes” get to drive around all day and be their own bosses, while the insiders feel chained to a desk and resent the fact that salespeople are as free as birds, yet still have the audacity to call in and ask for favors. News flash: the computer system doesn’t work as well for the salesperson on that three-year-old cell phone as it does on a nice new HD office monitor, nor does the phone keyboard have an “I’m navigating traffic” mode.

Sadly, some inside team members lose sight of the value of walking into a climate-controlled building and sitting at their own desk with free coffee, a drawer full of snacks, 10 family photos on the desk, and a screensaver of their children. Of course, this is all nothing compared to the last little detail—a consistent paycheck. At times I have to remind everyone how lucky they have it. Someone in sales may call for a million little tasks that require a few more emails, but what the salesperson is doing drives a ton more revenue than any one person who feels annoyed by his calls.

If you’re reading this from an angle other than sales and are ready for the next level, know that all of the fun in sales awaits you. A word of advice when you take the leap—treat the inside team with respect, and it’ll be easy for the boss to back you up. If you’re in operations somewhere, be grateful, be thankful you work somewhere that the sales are rolling in, and keep helping the poor souls who can’t do their work without you or someone else sitting there waiting to help.

Matt Newman is currently the operations manager for the Baltimore/DC/Northern Virginia region of Patterson Dental. A 20-plus year veteran of operational management, Newman has spent most of his career in the fields of distribution center management and hospitality. He writes articles about operational management, office synergy, and a variety of other topics on which he believes he can contribute helpful viewpoints. He can be reached via LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/matthew-newman-9582979/.