Why is it so difficult to get sales people interested in the quality movement?

by John B. F. deCastro AT&T - Network Systems Corp.

First, sales people see themselves at the customer advocate therefore they view the new found focus on the customer as nothing new. They feel they have always been focused on the customer. Therefore sales people view the efforts of quality professionals and the executive pronouncements of 'customer first' as an incursion on their turf by latecomers to the party.

Furthermore they as a community view it as rhetoric when many executives don't get out to see customers on a regular basis and continue to push profits and revenue ahead of customer satisfaction issues. This is especially true in organizations where the executives do not support any substantive changes to processes or systems that impact the sales person.

Second, the sales organization most important measure is total sales or revenue. Very rarely are any other measures mentioned in sales meetings. This makes the idea of focusing on customer satisfaction measurements, cycle time or defects in the sales process an alien concept.

Finally the nature of the sales person is to work individually and garner all the glory for themselves. The idea of working as a team involving administration, manufacturing and sales is not a natural outgrowth of the way most sales people have been trained. Also most sales recognition systems drive the "lone ranger" type behavior. It is still very rare in the sales environment to include support functions in sales recognition events or awards.

Strategies that have been effective in changing this natural tendency of sales people include:

  1. The Vice President of Sales and their staff must "walk the talk". Quality must be a part of the way they do their daily business. If the organization has a quality policy the Vice President' and their staff must show support for the policy daily by their actions.
  2. By reinforcing quality through recognition systems it sends a subtle message that quality is important. Don't just reward the big deal and the sales person who got the contract. Reward the entire support team that made the deal happen. Give recognition to people who work together effectively to satisfy a customer over a sustained period of time and not just during a crisis.
  3. Another way to make quality visible would be to schedule during staff meetings a review of items like unresolved customer complaints, aggregate data on other measures of the sales process besides revenue. These could include order cycle time, defects in orders, late shipments, defective shipments and billing errors. After reviewing this data, action plans must be put in place to go after the biggest problems the sales people face. Finally these action plans must be communicated to the sales force with aggressive time lines that are met by management.
  4. Focus on process improvement by continuously challenging the organization to achieve its best in revenue production, customer satisfaction and cycle time in handling customer requests. Don't just be focused on the all important revenue number.

Remember that if management does not focus on the processes that directly impact the productivity of sales people and the satisfaction of the customer then the firm will never achieve long term economic value add.

John deCastro is the Quality & Process Technology Director with Lucent Technologies, North America Customer Business Unit, Chair of San Francisco ASQ,, a Senior Member of ASQ, RAB ISO9000 Auditor and a Senior Examiner for the California Governor’s Golden State Quality Award. He can be reached at 415-865-0669 or internet: jdecastro@ lucent.com