I began my career in Operations and was very good at it.  I took great pride in being able to manage tough projects to successful outcomes.  The logistics of time, manpower, tasks and budget were my domain.  I developed a strong reputation as the Operations Manager who could get extraordinary things done. There was only one problem.  Those damn salespeople. They would say anything and expect for me to somehow make it happen.  Their bosses always seemed to have strong political clout so I knew I couldn’t ignore them completely.  Instead I developed a clever game of “cat and mouse.”  I played well enough to keep the playing field level and survive politically, but didn’t give in to their crazy demands unless it was absolutely necessary.  Frustrated, I managed to pull off even the most impossible of their promises and went on complaining about them.

Then one day, when I was about 24 years old, the District Manager, Dave Oliver,  came up to me and told me he wanted me to take over the open Sales Manager position.  At first I couldn’t believe it.  Why did he think I should do this job?  He explained how well I did with customers selling (a dirty word at the time) our services on sales calls.  Hell, I was just getting out there in front of customers to stop the sales people from giving away the store.  Then he went on to tell me how much he thought of the new Customer Service Program I had put together.  Although pleased with the compliments, I had to finally admit, “You are asking me to manage the people who I have the most problems with and least respect for; the enemy.”

Then Dave said something I would never forget and it changed the course of my career forever.  He sat me down and told me, “You will never progress in business to your potential if you do not understand the Sales side of the fence.”  He even went further to make the point; I not only needed to understand sales but I needed to embrace and be able to lead sales.  He closed me by saying, “You know… your job doesn’t even happen until the sale is made.”  So with no sales experience I became the Sales Manager of 12 Salespeople, 3 of whom were in the Top Ten of the company’s National Rankings.

Upon taking the job, I carved out a small territory for myself where I could learn the craft of cold calling, presenting and the like.  And very quickly I began to see the other side of the fence.  Wow, this wasn’t easy!  The need to differentiate ourselves from the competition and the need to say “Yes” to our customer’s emerging demands was eye-opening.  I found myself guaranteeing customers the same services, that only months before, I cursed salespeople for giving up.  For the first time, I saw what Dave was talking about.  The business didn’t exist so I could perform adeptly at operations.  It existed to serve the needs of our customers.  It didn’t matter what I could do – what mattered was what they needed.  And could we do it better than anyone else.

Years have passed and I have spent much time Leading on both sides of the proverbial Sales vs. Operations fence.  And I have come to one conclusion; there is no fence! There is only the customer.  And whatever side of that fence you think you are on, your job is to find out what your customer needs and deliver it to them better than anyone else.

By now Sales Managers who are reading this are jumping up and down at my tale of conversion, and Operations Managers are hanging their heads deprecating, “We lost another one.”  Neither of you are correct.  You need to understand that Sales is the most important part of business and everyone is in Sales.

Many companies have adopted this ideology and have started calling themselves a “Sales Organization.”   In most situations this grand inspiration falls on the rocks of very poor implementation.  The program is usually announced and the new idiom of “Sales now Rules” takes over.  New Sales Programs are embarked upon  and new organizational structures are  formed.  A power shift is perceived and a power struggle ensues.  Sales Managers embrace their new charter of the Sales Organization with new demands from their “subordinate” Operations Managers.  And Operations slides into a passive aggressive war of the wills, believing once this new-fangled fad passes, they will once again regain the power they rightfully deserve.  Because after all, without them nothing will get done.


This supposedly great Sales Organization instead becomes a stalemate where often sales goals are not met and operational quality diminishes.   Who is to blame?  Just ask either side and they will gladly point their finger at the other.  Some companies add to the chaos with Matrix Style organizational structures which scatter and divide responsibility even further.  In the end, rather than a Sales Organization, they have successfully created a No Accountability Organization.

Whether you find yourself on the Sales or Operations side of this epic battle, you need to realize what I came to know many years ago.  Sales isn’t about salespeople or operations people; it is about the customer.  A Sales Organization is one where everyone, regardless of their position, is focused on performing for the customer.

Here is the part that counts: There is the “First Sale” and there is the “Last Sale”.  Too many emerging Sales Organizations put all of their focus on the “First Sale” and coaxing the new customer in the door.  Activities are focused on this goal and the battle lines are drawn as Operations is mandated to “support” Sales better.  But if you are to grow your business, you need to keep your new customer satisfied and develop residual business opportunities.  This is what is meant by the “Last Sale.”  You are re-selling your company to the customer every time you are asked to perform for them.  And in today’s competitive arena, You are only as good as your “Last Sale”.  Very few business models can succeed with a one-time sale.  Residual business creates healthy growth and a profitable business.  So who is really doing the selling?  Everyone! All of the Time!

If it is necessary for Operations to support the “First Sale”, then it is Sales who needs to support the “Last Sale”.  Instead of a Sales Organization, you need to focus on the idea of a Customer Centric Organization.  Both sides (all sides) need to support each other for short and long-term performance.  The idea one side has the upper hand over the other is a foolish power struggle which leaves the door wide open for the competition to beat you.

Your job as a Sales or Operations Leader is to make sure you understand the support your “Teammates” need in making the “First Sale” or the “Last Sale”.  Then you must lead your team, by example, to delivering 100% of what the customer needs.  You must stop talking about how they are setting you up for failure or don’t know what they are doing.  You must stop talking about how upper management has lost the roots of what made this a good company to begin with.  You must aspire to reach new heights and deliver unreasonable results.  You must start performing the most basic function you are responsible for as a Business Leader – GROWTH.  First and Last!


So if you are an Operations Manager, get out in the car with the sales people and help them say “Yes!” to customers.  Take a sales training course.  Train them, encourage them and thank them for making that first sale.  And if you are a Sales Manager spend some time in the back office and understand how things really work.  Get involved in offering deliverable solutions.  Understand systematic difficulties, available resources, and thank them for making the “Last Sale”.  Ask each other, “How can we make this customer love us?”

These exchanges are not to understand and accept the inadequacies of your organization.  You can’t win by accepting sales or operational failures.  The goal is to discover the sales and operational challenges your company has in meeting customer’s needs and then work together to bring innovative and paradigm-changing solutions to the table.  Your competition is struggling with the same issues of customer demand.  Solve the problem and jump ahead of them!  If you do this you will discover, as I did from Dave Oliver, that your enemy is not the Sales or Operations group.  They are on your team!  If you want to be a Street Smart Leader, you need to put internal political struggles behind you and discover how to unite and build your company’s team into a first class competitive machine who wins new business and then keeps it growing.