Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

Your sales team is making promises that the rest of your organization is expected to fulfill. Are those who must deliver on these commitments prepared to do so? Is your promise to a customer synching with the operational resources necessary to satisfy the commitment?

The most productive strategy for increasing sales is to build enduring relationships with customers that generate more orders. Sustaining these relationships requires that your customers recognize you as a reliable partner, committed to their success. Failing to fulfill a promise made when an order was booked is the surest way to erode this trust; once the relationship is compromised, restoring the trust on which it was built will consume lots of time and energy, if it recovers at all.

The days are long gone when a CEO could urge a Sales leader to do what is necessary to secure more orders, and then promptly challenge the Production leader to increase productivity by limiting flexibility. Avoiding these mixed messages in a dynamic, competitive market, when it’s vital to sustain the shared accountability of a leadership team, is a key responsibility for a senior leader. Customers have many options available to meet their needs, so the CEO must remain engaged with core customers to understand what they value. Similarly, another key obligation for this leader is ensuring that the operating functions of the organization are aware of and prepared to satisfy promises made to customers.

Before making a promise that the organization must satisfy, ensure that your sales team understands how your business makes money and what is possible, clarifying typical product/service expectations, flexibility boundaries, and lead-times. Strengthen the communication links between your selling team and your operations team, and develop guidelines for securing operational approval for any deal that includes an exception to the established boundaries.

Before the organization commits to fulfilling a promise, ensure that all operating personnel charged with meeting this commitment have been made aware of the strategy and the direction given to the sales team, as well as the expectations, boundaries and lead-times shared with them. Clarify that satisfying customers is a high priority, perhaps the highest, so operating personnel are expected to do what is necessary to fulfill a promise that is based on established guidelines. When a request for an exception to these standards is received, it should be evaluated with urgency and flexibility. To encourage shared accountability, resolution of this request should involve a collaborative discussion between the sales and operating personnel so that all parties commit to the resolution and learn by doing so.

Enduring customer relationships cannot be wasted. To avoid this possibility, before promising a customer, ensure that your sales and operating functions are synchronized to satisfy.

How often do your sales and operating teams discuss how best to fulfill customer promises?
What is your process for evaluating promise opportunities that do not fit your established guidelines?