Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The importance of taking ownership in your work and your business 3: thinking in terms of the complete sales team

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 30, 2013

This is my third posting to a series on taking ownership responsibility for the business you work at and regardless of your position or title there, or your financial ownership status (see Part 1: representing your business at its very best and Part 2: thinking like a salesperson owner.)

• From the business perspective, quality of customer service and of service in general, and commitment to excellence on the part of its staff can be the single most important source of defining value that sets it apart from its competition.

This holds for auto sales, book and music CD and DVD sales, and for any other business-to-consumer enterprise that sells what bottom line, are essentially the same products as their competitors do and usually as comparable overall prices – and only quality of service and overall business efficiency can set them apart. This applies to a wide range of businesses.

• From the employee perspective, quality of customer service translates directly into more favorable customer response and increased rates for making sales to them, and this translates into repeat business, where these satisfied customers are more likely to look for the salespeople who have helped them before.
• From the customer perspective, quality of customer service means they can find and buy what the need, and what they want and not feel either pressured or neglected while doing so.

But individual sales personnel rarely work entirely on their own, and as if operating in a vacuum, and certainly for businesses that have grown to anything in the way of a significant headcount in their staffing. I focused on the salesperson on their shopping floor in Part 2, and turn here to consider the larger team that these staff members work with, and both support and depend upon in carrying out their own work responsibilities.

Who else belongs on this team? That varies from industry to industry and from business to business. So for example, in auto retail this might include personnel who offer assistance finding and signing up for auto insurance and who help in updating policies to cover a new car purchased with removal of an old car now sold, from what is covered. Not every automobile purchasing customer is going to need this in-house service but enough do so that this can become a profitable and effective side-business and a part of the car or truck buying experience, with agreements signed between the dealership and a standard insurance company for underwriting policies sold. Most retail businesses would have no need or reason for offering or assisting in the offering of insurance coverage for items sold. Different types of business involve different and even industry-unique customer experience team members.

• As a business owner, you need to know who you have to include in this group and both for positions covered and for employees who would fulfill them.
• As a member of this team you need to know who does what so you will know who to turn to if you need help, and for passing a customer along as they go through their purchasing experience.
• And I always recommend that people on these teams get to know each other as individual people, with this a part of the onboarding process for new team members.

I specifically mentioned sales managers and cashiers as additional team members at the end of Part 2, in anticipation of this posting so I continue here with a discussion of the sales manager role.

Managers lead and supervise. That is a basic and even fundamentally defining role that every manager assumes when taking that title and at whatever level on the table of organization. Managers also performance-review the members of their own teams as defined on the table of organization or as otherwise assigned to them for that (e.g. from holding matrix management or less formal “dotted line” management responsibilities.) But sales managers also very specifically have to take triage roles in the sales process when problems arise and they need to be there when a problem needs to be escalated up to a next level for decision making response and resolution. When a customer asks “can I speak to your manager?” or “can I speak with your supervisor?” you have to be there to answer. And once again, this is about taking a customer-oriented approach and an ownership level of responsibility and commitment in doing so.

I find myself thinking of sales managers I have worked with who never quite seemed to be in the right place at the right time when needed. They were not lazy or trying to shirk any responsibilities. They were disorganized and their priorities were out of alignment with the needs they faced and that they needed to be able to address. This called for some specific focused training on their part, and I add some assistance for them in more effectively working with their own supervisors so they were not pushed by demands placed upon them, into difficult positions.

Think of what I am writing here as a sales manager’s counterpart to the points that I raised in Part 2 when discussing sales staff best practices. In both cases, a focus on the customers and on representing the business at its best should be held as highest priorities. And in both cases, a 360 degree awareness of the business and of the team you would work with are crucial to making this work. And with this I bring cashiers into this discussion – and a crucial point that has broader implications for everyone in the organization.

• Cashiers become actively engaged in the sales process at the very end and as a last, finalizing step in what by that point is essentially a fully entered into and committed transaction.
• That, at least is the basic expectation and certainly if you go strictly according to a basic cashier’s job description. But in practice that cannot always be expected to be true. Most of the time cashiers and their work stations are located at the front of the store, close to the entrances. A cashier is often the first employee who a customer sees as they enter this business. So a cashier can play a crucial role in the very first step in a sales and purchasing experience for that customer too. Who is a customer going to ask, if they need to ask anyone there if this store offers some specific product they are looking for? Who will they ask if they want some assistance or guidance in finding that item? In most cases this will be that first employee they see, who as an employee they will expect to know their store.

And this brings me directly to that more generally applicable point.

• Job descriptions generally cover the obvious, but they do not necessarily cover the necessary and important, and particularly when real world customers and their needs and expectations are added in.
• And they are less likely to even begin to address what might be seen as those opportunistic chances to create real value and both for the customer and for the business by reaching out to offer value – and where this is often at essentially no cost to the business but of real value to the customer.

I mentioned in passing in Part 2 how people in Maintenance and other employees who do not normally deal directly with customers can add value in that way. A simple thing like a friendly smile can go a long way. If an employee helps a shorter customer to obtain an item from a higher shelf, that can make all of the difference and for everyone involved.

Work as a member of a team, sharing individual strengths to collectively create the most effective and the most consumer-friendly overall customer-facing sales and purchasing process possible. And think outside of the standard business-centric concept of what your individual job descriptions are, and in terms of meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

I have been writing this series up to here in terms of Sales, and with supporting staff contributions added in where they can make that meaningful difference too. I am going to expand this out further in my next series installment to include back office support. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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