Sales wants it customized, but operations wants it standardized.
I have seen this natural conflict or push/pull relationship at every company I have worked for, from packaging supplies, to online advertising to software. Having worked in both sales and ops, I have been both the requester and the rejector.
What causes this conflict? Sales people want to please customers and they often believe that providing custom options and/or all the bells and whistles that the customers ask for, is what’s best for everyone. Their perspective is often about the short term gratification and the achievement of their sales quota. I have heard the phrase “custom options are sticky”, i.e. once the customer has them from you or your company, they are unlikely to switch.
The operations teams are looking at what is repeatable and what is scalable. Trying to support customizations and one-off requests is often expensive and prone to errors. Although a custom option may make a customer happy in the short term, if their order or project takes longer than quoted or their invoice has errors, that will lead to dissatisfaction later down the line.
How can we compromise or solve this ongoing conflict?
1) Customer Education: It is our job to educate the customers about the value of our standard options. At most companies, a lot of time, effort and research went into developing those and they will likely support the majority of a customer’s needs. In the case of software, the standard mix of options is likely what works the fastest, has the fewest software bugs, is the least expensive, has the best ROI and is fastest to implement.
2) Sell More With Fewer Customizations: It is our job to educate our sales teams about the value of our standard options and help them understand the longer term customer loyalty, satisfaction and sales gains.
If a customer is very satisfied with their initial purchase, they will be more likely to buy from your company again. The initial, standard sale may be for a lower dollar value than a custom mix, but when you add in the cross-sells and additional business over time, you far outweigh the incremental value of the customizations.
3) Gimme An Option: Many companies also offer “options” versus customizations, which has become a standard in the car buying process. We can buy the base model, or add on options to build the car of our dreams. The options differ from customer to customer, but the list of available options is finite, making them repeatable and scalable.
4) Pilot Instead of Fly: There are times where we should say yes to a custom option if we believe it may turn into a standard option over time, due to customer demand. A way to test this is by piloting or testing with one or very few customers and closely managing and monitoring the results.
Can we ever put an end to the ongoing conflict between Sales and Operations? Likely not, but we can help educate everyone on the pros and cons of the different options.