From: Matt Plughoff
To: Project Manager
CC: Leadership and Marketing
Subject: The project is stalling out.
Team: I don’t want to overstep my bounds here but communication is breaking down and I’m unsure as to who is responsible for X, Y, and Z. The clients are not on board and I’m worried that we’re not going to meet plan. Please let me know how I can assist.
Moments (literally) after I sent this email my phone rang.
Project Manager (PM): Matt? You overstepped your bounds.
Me: That’s why I wrote “I don’t want to overstep my bounds.”
PM: But you did.
PM: You didn’t need to CC my boss and the marketing manager on that email. I mean, the questions that you’re asking and the points that you’re making are right, but we don’t need anyone else involved in this discussion.
Me: Why? Their teams were at the roll out meeting and maybe their perspectives can help get the project moving in the right direction.
PM: Well you’re right but now I have to explain to them why things aren’t rolling faster. It’s just a slow process right now. Plus I’m working with the IT team and that’s a long process too. You should have just emailed me and not involved the others.
Me: I think it makes more sense to get everyone that has a say involved in the conversation–more transparency can’t hurt can it?
PM: Well no, and you’re right, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, I’m just saying that there are a lot of moving parts and we should just keep this conversation between us at this point…
Two days later, on a video conference with another client:
Me: We need to work at the branch level to ensure that their service reflects the quality that we’re promising to contractors.
Territory Manager (TM): I totally agree. The service at my branch isn’t great and some contractors won’t even go in to the branch because of the crappy service.
Sales Manager (SM): Well, you know, we have a form that you can fill out and submit to the leadership team. Every week we have a meeting with the district managers, purhasing managers, human resources, product managers, branch managers, the vice president and the president. That’s when we review the forms and talk about improvements.
TM: I submitted one of those forms once and after I did the branch manager chewed me out and was pretty pissed off. Now I won’t even bother filling out the form and I spend as little time in the branch as possible…
I see these breakdowns all too frequently. Teams pitted against each other. CYA politics that impede honest communication. Accountability that is reduced to finger pointing. The customer suffers without ever knowing why.
Regardless of a company’s size or structure, improving the sales process is systemic. Exemplary sales teams need exemplary support from their teams. Exemplary branch service needs exemplary outside sales support. Improvement initiataives that involve multiple decision makers benefit from honesty and real-time communication. Office politics and entrenched silos retard nimble decision making and accountability. Replacing face-to-face dialog with sluggish forms and death-by-committee decision making erodes trust between all of the stakeholders. Ultimately, the result is a lopsided and myopic belief that fixing the sales process is something that only concerns salespeople rather than sales systems.