We all know the importance of our inside and outside salespeople being aligned with each other and with our customers. However, have you also aligned your production and operations team with the customers?
What does production have to do with sales? In short, everything. Let’s look at the example of Southwest Airlines. Their business processes and core competencies are completely consistent with their strategic position. Southwest offers customers low fares, consistently friendly and punctual service. They serve short-flight, high-population city pairs, using one type of plane, and offer one class of travel. They turn their planes around quickly and achieve much higher flying times per day than the industry average.
Their operational effectiveness supports and is aligned with their strategic position, and their customers. The results are not only a healthy balance sheet for Southwest, but also a sense of value for their customers.
What starts as a corporate strategy should be communicated and executed at the business and functional levels. This could be your region and your branch, your human resources department and your onboarding process. Regardless, they should be consistent from the CEO to the front lines and back-office staff, or the baggage handler and flight attendant, as is the case with Southwest. Their processes and policies are consistent, and consistently aligned with their customers.
A customer-centric strategy starts with the customer’s priorities, competitive analysis and positioning, and the processes to support them.
How to Do It
Want to dazzle your customers with your service levels? Make sure your manpower decisions and your inventory levels support that. You need enough skilled people to execute your strategy and you need your incentives to reward desired behaviors. You need your purchasing team to maintain enough of the right inventory to meet promised customer delivery dates. Finance, HR, logistics and supply management, in this example, all need to be aligned with your marketing strategy. Otherwise, your dazzle will last as long as a child’s birthday candles. And, you potentially create sore feelings and bad press by disappointing your customers. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for your competition.
The other mission-critical element of alignment? It must be sustained.
You cannot improve your delivery and quality for two quarters and expect your customers to forgive and forget two years of disappointing performance. If you don’t sustain your alignment throughout the organization, customers won’t forgive your roller coaster performance, and will stop giving you another chance. Your competition will permanently benefit.
True alignment, and strategic fit, means consistency between the strategic position you seek and operational competencies combined with managerial policies. Whether your overall strategy and positioning falls under high quality, great service, competitive prices, or a combination, your business units and your functional teams need to understand and embrace your strategy.
Even the best intentions fail if you don’t have a process to ensure alignment. Follow these steps on at least an annual basis, and review quarterly:
- Communicate your objectives clearly and consistently both internally and externally
- Allocate funding and support in synergy with your stated objectives
- Periodically confirm that your processes stay aligned with your corporate strategy
- Even if you do this once, do it again on an annual basis
- Don’t become complacent
- Reap rewards with organizational rigor
The strategy to win external opportunities must be consistently aligned with your internal operations. The alternative is your customers boarding a plane to success that belongs to your competition. And if that happens, to quote Peter, Paul and Mary, “Leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
Desiree Grace is director, channel accounts & programs, North America, at Panduit. She develops, educates and drives channel partner strategy, executes the channel partner strategy and programs, develops and deploys the channel sales team, and manages the financial indicators within North America.