My last article focused on the power of vendor/customer collaboration, which highlighted a very specific customer situation that required an exceptional level of LSP/customer collaboration to maintain the business relationship. This level of customer collaboration is only possible when there is a high level of collaboration among all LSP employees, especially between sales and project managers. I only see the importance of cross-departmental collaboration increasing. As customers continue to have less and less time to address their critical business issues, sales/PM collaboration will become one of THE critical factors in developing compelling solutions that will win and keep customers.
This isn’t to say there won’t be tension between the two departments. Each has a different role to play—promise making versus promise keeping. Healthy tension keeps both organizations “honest” and grounded in reality. When managed well, this tension has the power to propel the company forward rather than stifling creativity and growth. While individual sales people and project managers have a responsibility to work well together, senior management plays a crucial role in creating an environment in which cross-departmental collaboration is high and does not devolve into the conflict and mistrust that we sometimes see.
So, what kinds of things can management do to foster collaboration?
First, management should foster parity between sales and PMO organizations. A balance between promise making and promise keeping, sales optimism and production pessimism keeps a company healthy by balancing these opposite ends of the spectrum and encouraging different points of view to be aired. Too much power in either camp can be a recipe for no or low growth. PMO inflexibility and conservatism can stunt a company’s growth just as effectively as impossible promises made by sales.
Second, management should ensure that goals and incentives of each group are synchronized rather than in conflict. It sounds easy, but in practice this isn’t always the case. For example, incentivizing sales to win new business at (nearly) any cost, while at the same time strongly penalizing PMO for not reaching profitability targets is a recipe for conflict rather than cooperation. More than one project has been lost using this model. Similarly, giving sales little direction on which customers to win can lead them to win projects that are not well suited to production capabilities. Promises made by sales may be unachievable, resulting in client “churn and burn.” Conversely an over-zealous focus on project margins can derail a company’s ability to acquire new expertise and technology that would expand the company’s service offering, forcing sales to abandon viable opportunities. In either case, mistrust will soon develop between the two organizations, each promoting it’s own agenda and point of view, thus crippling the company’s ability to grow.
Cross-departmental training can go a long way in fostering collaboration by helping to overcome the stereotypes each department holds about the other. Getting PMs in front of customers will help them understand that sales is not some cushy job consisting of big expense accounts and fun. Winning over customers, especially in today’s tough market, is not an easy job. Conversely, having sales people shadow PMs or even help run a project can answer the age-old question of “how hard can it be” to deliver a project? Orchestrating translators and various other resources may sound easy, but in reality can be a nightmare. Mutual understanding and respect leads to cooperation.
Cross-departmental communication should be encouraged and fostered by senior management. It seems obvious that having the two groups meet on occasion would help foster communication, but in my experience, many organizations seem to forget this. Creating cross-departmental task forces for various company initiatives can also be used as a team-building exercise to overcome cross-departmental tensions and suspicion. Only by communicating effectively can mutual understanding occur.
Benefits of Collaboration
One of the biggest benefits of sales/PM collaboration is developing more insightful solutions for customers. Sales people often lack the technical knowledge to develop compelling solutions that today’s customers demand. Production people often lack the market and business knowledge to understand the outcomes customers derive from translation services. Combining these pools of knowledge can lead to creative solutions that will differentiate your company from other service providers and attract more business.
A high level of cooperation between sales and PMO will result in more successful projects. Sales will negotiate better, because they have more faith in and a better understanding of the numbers provided to them by production. In other words, they will be able to better justify their solution to the customer. Project management will be happy, because there will be less pressure to make profitability goals and will curb the temptation to cut corners to achieve them. More successful projects will result in higher profitability, as well as more repeat business from longer-term customers.
As discussed in my previous article, strong sales/PM collaboration can be a positive force for change within the LSP itself. When barriers to collaboration are removed, the individuals focus more on developing customer solutions and less on promoting their respective departmental agendas. Rather than squabbling over whether to buy a new tool to meet a customer’s requirements, for example, and who is going to pay for it, sales and project managers will work together to justify the expenditure to senior management, focusing on the benefits to the customer and the LSP, rather than their individual agendas.
Because the collaborative team is attuned to customer demands, creative solutions can be developed that otherwise wouldn’t have been. Cross-departmental teams will propose new ideas to management that could have a profound impact on the direction of the company, how projects are produced and which services—sometimes new ones–are provided. This could well secure the company’s future!
Sales and project management need each other more than ever to succeed in today’s competitive environment: sale people need project management technical and process expertise to differentiate their company in the customer’s eyes and project managers need the insight sales people provide on customer problems, goals, buying criteria and aligning the LSP’s solutions to these. It is up to senior management to foster an environment in which sales and PM can bring their respective strengths together for the benefit of customers and secure your company’s future.