Is Sales more Important than Operations?

I took this picture in NH by the way.

I’ve worked in both sales and non-sales roles, but have spent most of my career thus far in an B2B sales capacity. I have seen that for whatever reason, there is often a butting of heads between the sales arm of a company and the operational and support portion of a business. But there shouldn’t be. Why? Because you cannot have one without the other.

The Sales Perspective

There may be a tendency at times for those in sales to think… “I drive revenue up, I’m the most important, I should be prioritized, etc.” Sales is essential to any business of course. I worked with a gentleman that loved to say, “nothing happens until something gets sold.” In reality he is right. A business without sales is dying if not already dead. 

So sales is the most important? Well kind of sort of if you realize that without revenue a business cannot thrive. But that is not the whole story. How does a business get recurring revenue? How is a product or service delivered and supported after the sale? Businesses need a skilled operations and support team to continue to succeed. Without the support system necessary to deliver on a deal, sales become unobtainable, thereby sending businesses spiraling downward.

The Operational Perspective

Just as sales teams can drift into thinking they are the most important wing of a business, so too can operational teams let this thinking rule their departments. There can be a stigma against “sales people.” Sales people go home early, don’t work long hours, and have flexible schedules. Sales people just go out to company paid lunches and get hefty commission checks while the operations team works hard in the background to support the sale that the lazy sales person fell into. Must be easy. Must be nice.

It is true, that without a good support team, sale professionals simply could not sell. If you sell a product or service that cannot be supported or delivered on time, then sales will decline. Operations is essential. But without sales coming in, and revenue being generated, there really is no need for an operations team. 

My Experience

When I worked as a rental manager in the heavy duty truck rental and leasing industry, I learned the importance of synergy between sales and operations firsthand. I was responsible for the revenue and asset utilization within my rental department. That being said, focusing on selling was key to growth. While I worked to rent out as many trucks as I could, I had to rely on the support of my service department to maintain and repair all vehicles in a systematic, timely, and cost effective manner. Without them, I would have angry customers. Without them, I would have uncontrolled maintenance costs. And without them I simply could not sell effectively. But without rental revenue, they would have no trucks to maintain. Without trucks, they would not have to have as large a staff as they had. 

My last full year in this role was my best in regards to financial performance. I can honestly say that the service manager and foreman team that supported my sales helped improve the overall gross margin and revenue performance of the department. They understood why synergy between sales and operations was vital to the health of the business. We worked together as a team. They changed their schedules to prioritize me at times when a customer had an unforeseen issue. I on the other hand tried my best to be patient and understand that sometimes resources were limited and other issues took priority. But through kind and continuous communication, we were able to work together to benefit the company as a whole. We understood our roles and how our relationships intertwined. And because of this understanding we were able to perform well and build strong relationships through it all.

So What is the Most Important Thing?

The ultimate answer is that the most important thing in business may not be one department. What is truly important is a mutually beneficial relationship between the sales staff and the support team. You cannot have one department thrive without a skilled team on the other end. It is important to remember the big picture, and to put aside selfishness and pride in order to form a team that serves and supports the customers whose dollars actually fund the business you are in.

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