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Here’s how to win the sales vs. operations battle

Dena Cordova-Jack, Building Culture

Soon into my career at the Fortune 500 company where I traded commodity lumber, the logistics manager gave me a nickname— Sales Problem #1—and I must say I earned it. I was ambitious, sales-driven, and always pushed the envelope, all factors that threatened accomplishing on-time in-full (OTF) deliveries. But along with giving me a nickname, the company’s leaders decided to give me education on operations and logistics. I was taken off the trading floor and spent a week in the logistics office. I learned the difficulties of dealing with railroad deliveries, demurrage, LTLs, and so much more. I learned about embracing a “same team” approach to business.

When I returned to the trading floor the next week, I was crystal clear on the communication dynamics, logistical challenges, and associated costs, and I understood the business in its entirety—not just my one small corner of the trading floor. The practices that inspired the nickname faded away.

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Creating your company culture requires intentional leadership. You have likely witnessed these clashes between these facets of your operation, but what can be done to alleviate the issue? Here’s how to win the sales vs. operations battle.

Implement mutual goals, incentives, and KPI measurements. Ensure leadership of both departments understands the overall company goals and that their compensation is based on that specifically. The end goals for the company are the end goals of the departments.

Clarify your role and the roles of the sales and operations leaders. Leadership should fully understand the operations and goals of sales and operations. They are responsible for educating, training, and developing their teams to have a working knowledge of all facets of the business, not just the one in which they exist. All leadership should be present and participate in strategy meetings and budget planning.

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Ensure both teams spend time with customers. Successful companies understand sales do not own the customer relationships. The most important customer/company relationships come from your clients knowing the team at all levels of the organization, from truck drivers to leadership. Create opportunities for your team to contact your customers and for your customers to understand your overall process. Make it a point to include both leadership and support staff when developing client relationships.

These steps can help manage culture conflict. Leadership and communication are the keys to resolving any issues and ensuring the heart of your company’s culture promotes continuous improvement. Looking back at the Sales Problem #1 scenario, cultural improvement came when leadership observed the frequent exchanges between sales and operations and acted quickly to reduce that friction.

Fast forward to my experiences in other companies. I have found sales vs. operations clashes to be common. When I saw problems in my new jobs, I brought the perspective that I had learned early on. Without fail, teamwork improved exponentially.

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This young trader learned her lesson well in the importance of a non-siloed approach to business, and I have since deployed that approach with success in my career. Because the time was invested in me to teach me the importance of understanding and executing a 360-degree approach to business, I passed down that knowledge to others, creating a positive ripple effect. Not only did the company culture benefit, but the bottom line did as well, not to mention fewer frustrated customers as they were now given clear expectations.

I never got away from the nickname of “Sales Problem #1” during my time at that company, but eventually, it came to be a term of endearment and camaraderie. I will take that any day!

Dena Cordova-Jack built her 30+ year career with GP, Boise Cascade, Foxworth-Galbraith, and most recently as VP ofOrganizational Development for Kodiak Building Partners. She currently serves as Vice President for Misura Group. Reach Dena at dcordovajack@

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