Business is slow … too slow. After feverishly reviewing the reports, you land on why. It’s a sales problem, the phone just isn’t ringing. No wait, strike that, reverse it! We have plenty of calls, but we just can’t seem to close the deal. OK fair, but if the leads we were getting were of better quality, maybe our staff could do something with them. Back and forth we go …

Does anyone else ever play this verbal volleyball as you work to find solutions to issues within your business?

The challenges when it comes to getting our business development and production staffs on the same page may be some of the greatest that a business ever faces. The two teams can appear as though they are from different planets and, at times, the internal pressure to find common ground can be greater than any from outside the company.

Let’s draw on a few experiences from my career, along with some honest discussions I’ve had with professionals on both sides of the equation, to see if we can change the game a bit and drive progress through unity.

Silos Form Quickly, Tear Down Slowly

Between sales calls, trade shows, Lunch & Learns, and yes, even the occasional golf outing, our sales staff rarely finds themselves in the office. Meanwhile, the production staff are off handling inspections, adjuster walkthroughs, and equipment monitoring, so office time can be equally hard to find. In the completion of their respective jobs, the two aren’t often in the same place at the same time. They function in different worlds, siloed from one another, and set apart by design.

How can we start to break down the walls? I have found my most valuable tool in this process is to hold regularly scheduled meetings between the two groups. And no, the Christmas party doesn’t count. It should be a true sales and ops meeting—one with a plan and an agenda. What are the needs of our customers being communicated to the sales staff in the day to day of their jobs? What’s most important to the property manager of that multi-family building down the street—commercial jobs, anyone? Is it different from insurance agents working on a policy for the homeowner—read residential. Can our production staff meet those needs? What are the challenges of the production staff—can we get materials? Do we have enough labor? Is fuel $7 a gallon?

Use these meetings to open up the lines of communication. Review the numbers together. Use concise reporting on the leads and the respective referral sources to find out what is working and where. Are the people who usually give us work continuing to do so? If not, is it because we stopped driving by their office or did we make mistakes on a job that cost us their partnership? Find out what it is, be honest about the results, and work toward shared solutions. In my opinion, the closure or capture rate is a function of the production team. If it suffers, why? Does our production staff lack the resources required to meet the need? The same goes here—identify the issues, be real about what it will take to fix them, and then move forward together.

All too often, I feel as though our business development and production staffs do not have shared expectations — meaning our sales staff is out there selling a product we cannot deliver, and our production team is building out solutions that don’t meet the needs of our biggest clients. These things will not fix themselves. We need to find the right place and the right time to talk about them, while keeping the emotions in check.

We Speak a Different Language

Throughout my career, I have found that the business development staff and the production folks have completely different vocabularies … and I don’t mean in just the words they use. The motivations and driving forces for the two staffs are normally as dissimilar as the English language is from Spanish. We can’t use production terms to describe sales problems and vice versa. What’s important to each team and the ways in which they define success are different. It would be like lining up the Chicago Bears football team on the baseball diamond at Wrigley Field, instead of the Chicago Cubs, whose home it is. Elite-level athletes on both teams, no doubt, but I’m not sure the Cubs could score a touchdown any more than the Bears could complete a 3-2-3 double play.

The skilled and most productive leaders are adept at translation. Finding the right ways to describe a sales issue to the production staff and educating the business development staff to challenges being seen at the production level.

The skilled and most productive leaders are adept at translation. Finding the right ways to describe a sales issue to the production staff and educating the business development staff to challenges being seen at the production level. Acting as a bridge with both verbal and non-verbal communications to ensure that understanding is happening on both sides. In order to build good language and tools for use in the middle ground between the two teams, let’s look at what each group needs from their day.

What Does the Sales Staff Want?

The most successful business development folks that I have had the honor to work alongside shared a few of their common needs, even if they wouldn’t come right out and tell us. They want to be appreciated—and I mean the authentic and genuine kind of appreciation. No shallow words or worn-out platitudes. They are looking for actions that speak louder than words and for their counterparts on the production side to show that they understand and value the amount of work that goes into making the phone ring. One way I’ve seen this work is to make sure that sales gets a seat at the table for any big picture or strategic planning the company may be doing. When they are asked about their opinion on a shift in the company’s focus or a change in process, it is imperative that leadership listens closely, as business development usually has the pulse of our customers and can help assess how best to meet the needs of our clients.

In my experience, the sales staff would like for others in the company to realize that their jobs are a true vocation, almost a calling, and a profession just like the carpenter or painter. The job takes skill, practice, and planning to be executed at a high level. It’s not just golf and long nights out. And even when it is these things, it’s also hard work. Sales professionals must be “on” at hole number 17, just like they were at hole number 2, and 11:30 pm may be just as important to the deal as 11:30 am.

What Does the Production Staff Want?

Looking at things from their side, the production staff have distinct needs as well. They want everyone to realize that there is no such thing as a three-day project. Even the job that takes only takes three days to produce took another week of planning and preparation to pull off successfully. And the jobs never produce themselves. Production would also like an understanding that that not every lead can be a VIP. They can respond and take care of an important contact or business relationship, but this must be reserved for only when it really needs to be. Like the boy who cried “Wolf!” if every client is a VIP than none really are.

Capacity is a real thing in the eyes of the production team. There’s not a room full of staff just sitting around waiting for the lead that just came in. Sometimes all the equipment is out on other projects. Other times our suppliers and vendors really are out of stock and don’t have a good forecast on when they will be able to deliver. During the times when capacity is stretched, our production teams need the remainder of the staff be unified in their message to the end user. They want us to realize that they are doing everything they can and everyone needs to be on the same page and saying the same thing.

Develop a Sales Culture

What the heck is a sales culture? And how would we recognize it if we have one in place? In my opinion, a true, working sales culture is the promised land when real synergy has been reached and communication is open between business development and production. When the source of the referral for a new project has equal footing in our discussions, right alongside profit and margin. There is a focus on where work is coming from, why we may take non-ideal jobs from preferred referral sources or turn down what looks like great work from someone we can’t trust. A sales culture is not always sunshine and easygoing, but it does allow for real conversations about where priorities are and how best the company as a whole can meet them.

Successful companies figure out that business development and production are two parts of the whole. It doesn’t need to be us vs. them, but it will take work and careful intention to ensure that relationships evolve instead of the opposite. The time we put into finding common language and working to develop a culture where people from opposite ends of the job life cycle have equal standing will pay long-term dividends for our company as a whole.