Sales and Production: Peace is Possible

Learn how to create an environment in which sales and production teams work together for the benefit of the company as a whole.

My many visits to print shops over the years have given me a chance to help address issues with production workflows and overcome optimization challenges. Invariably, the conversations I have at these visits shift to dealing with sales and the orders the salespeople bring in. The conversation is almost always the same. It centers on trying to figure out how to produce something the salesperson has sold or meeting an unrealistic deadline that was promised. The comments almost always have a tone of sarcasm or resentment in them.

Interestingly, if you were to ask a salesperson how business is, you’d often hear, “It’s good and would be even better if we didn’t have to deal with the customers.” This statement, and production’s attitude toward the salespeople, are essentially the same. The root issues are of communication, understanding, and expectation. More importantly, it reveals a self-centered attitude on the part of both sales and production. In other words, don’t make me do something that gets in the way of me doing my job.

The purpose of my column this month is to get everyone on the same page. Let’s begin with the understanding that nothing happens until something is sold. This is an old cliché, but it’s absolutely true. The finest production environment is worthless when there are no orders to produce. Likewise, if orders come in that aren’t suited for the equipment or workflow, the company won’t realize its full profit potential. This is especially important in today’s economy, where demand is lower and competition is extreme.

The most successful companies I’ve visited have a few things in common. The first is that they’ve meshed the orders to the production capabilities. They usually do this through a targeted, niche approach to their sales. If they do simple work, they have streamlined the process so the orders flow through extremely fast. They minimize setup times, gang orders, and reduce as many touch points as possible. A perfect example of this is the offset industry, where you can now buy 1000 four-color business cards produced in 48 hours or less for about $20.00.

The net effect is that jobs get into production faster, run smoothly, and go out without mistakes. The printers don’t make a big margin on each job, but the volume makes up for the extra dollars. This isn’t high-profile work; it’s high-volume simple work, turned around quickly. The specialization is in the reduction of non-value-added steps.

Variables and value
A big part of the success of this kind of sales and production is the elimination of variables or putting a system in place to accommodate the variables that are necessary. Both sales and production understand this and incorporate the steps necessary to make sure it happens with each job. Key to this concept is not going outside the parameters.

For instance, if you were optimized for simple line work on T-shirts and a salesperson were to bring a simulated-process job into this environment, it would be completely disruptive. The chances of failure would be very high because sales would be asking production to do something it wasn’t designed to do. This doesn’t mean production couldn’t do it; it means the job would take much longer to do, cost more per unit, and the final results would not be as good as those generated by a company that specializes in simulated-process printing. The likelihood of mistakes and of the customer being disappointed is much higher in this case.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t recognize this. Salespeople are allowed to bring in orders that aren’t suited to the facility. Printers, being the natural problem solvers they are, usually rise to the occasion and figure it out. They’re almost always up to the challenge, but the results can often be less than perfect. Certainly, the company and the overall production schedule suffer as a result of the challenge.

When production and quality don’t meet expectations, emotions rise and each area becomes either aggressive or defensive. Neither position is good for the company or the customer. Looking back on what just happened would reveal that the chain of events was reaction driven instead of being driven proactively. Sales is reacting to market demands, production is reacting to an order that doesn’t fit the system, and the customer is disappointed in a less than perfect delivery based on quality and time. Expectations have failed all the way around. Repeating this mistake creates cultural barriers that are very difficult to overcome.

So what’s the solution to this typical challenge? The answer is not complicated, but it does have a number of parts. It starts at the top of the company. It begins with how the company sees itself in the market and how it delivers value to the market.

Companies that get themselves into trouble are those that want to be all things to everyone. The mandate is for sales to sell it and for production to figure it out. That might have worked in the 1970s, but it sure doesn’t work today. The margins are just too thin, there aren’t enough hours in the day to figure it out, and labor and overhead costs are too high. Virtually every industry in the developed world faces this challenge.
Specialization and niche marketing are the foundation for the solution.

The goal when selecting the specialized niche is to create much more value for the customer than the competitor can. If you can’t create value, you’ll quickly find yourself in a commodity-driven price battle no one can win. The key is to understand what value is to your customer. This is a very important point. Value extends well beyond the manufacturing of the product. All kinds of things that add value aren’t related to the technical production of the item. The key point is value-added means more money for the order and less pressure on production.

Integrating sales and production
From the sales perspective, they understand how it all works and they can sell the customer more easily without making unexpected compromises or promises. The added value from multiple, non-production-centered items takes the pressure off of them to match or beat a commodity-driven lowball price. Positioned properly, the sale takes place almost automatically because the customer sees your complete offer as tailor matched to their needs. Your offer far exceeds the value points of the competitor, so even a simple one- or two-color job becomes an apples-and-oranges comparison.

This is the beauty of a proactively conceived business model. You’re anticipating the needs and wants of the customer or market. By crafting value points around these wants and needs, your company is seen as the ideal match or solution. To this you also add the confidence of knowing what you propose in your offer is absolutely attainable and achievable. There is no cross-your-fingers hope or get-it-done promise—both of which lead to failed expectations and disappointments. If anything, you have the opportunity to exceed your customer’s expectations, and that is always a good thing for you.

From the production side, when every job that comes through fits perfectly, they have the opportunity to continuously learn and refine. Custom manufacturing is one of the most difficult kinds of processes to manage because every situation is unique and it’s very hard to identify opportunities, trends, and patterns. When you work within a controlled variable environment, all of these areas become readily apparent and you overcome the learning curve quickly.

On top of all this is the reduction of tension, stress, and resentment for having to continually figure out how to get the job done. Production begins to anticipate orders rather than dread them. Production meetings, associated expediting, and customer contact decrease as well, meaning saved time and resources.
Moving forward, both production and sales have the opportunity to add capabilities and services to further enhance the value to the market. Within a short period of time your company is seen as the dominant market leader with more knowledge and expertise in your particular area.

Lastly, you don’t need to limit the area of specialization to just one market or niche. Segmenting two to four areas reduces the business’s overall financial and marketing exposure. This helps to insulate the operation as normal business or seasonal cycles affect demand. Risk is diminished and overall performance enhanced. Going one step further, it’s possible to include the same value propositions to multiple market segments. This shortens the learning curve and reduces the cost to implement each new sales or marketing model.

Mark A. Coudray is president of Coudray Graphic Technologies, San Luis Obispo, CA. He has served as a director of (SGIA) and as chairman of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. Coudray has authored more than 250 papers and articles over the last 20 years, and he received the SGIA’s Swormstedt Award in 1992 and 1994. He can be reached via e-mail at coudray@coudray.com.
 

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