It can be tempting for operations executives to focus on the challenges that are unique to their businesses: why their processes and customers are different, for example, or what technical challenges set them apart. But lessons from one industry often apply to another. They can spur new, creative solutions to problems—solutions that might not occur to people who aren’t deeply versed in a variety of different domains.
I’m an exec with experience across CPG, financial services, digital media, and SaaS, and I’ve found one of my greatest strengths has been the ability to see commonalities among operations across these businesses. Those insights have helped me to drive outsize results, and they can help you too.
Here are three tips for optimizing operations in just about any industry or company size:
1. Get data—then go beyond it
By now, we all understand the importance of making data-driven decisions. Still, it’s easy to make excuses when the numbers aren’t readily at hand, or when they have to be collated from a bunch of different sources.
It’s equally important to cultivate the ability to use your data to understand key drivers. Structure status meetings around reviewing the numbers—but go beyond surface-level questions like, “Is the customer happy?” or “Can you get them to increase their order size this month?” Especially with junior team members, the answers to these yes/no questions will be binary, and they won’t be all that revealing. To really understand the drivers behind your data, ask open-ended questions about specific points. Start questions with “why” and “how.” Ask questions, formulate hypotheses, test them, take findings, and adjust hypotheses.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re asking these questions in the right environment. What’s the culture of the team meeting? Is it an open, trusting space where people can admit they need help? If it’s not, then transfer these questions to one-on-ones or small group settings with a trusted leader.
2. Keep a close eye on roles and responsibilities
In fast-paced environments—whether it’s an established business that needs to reinvent itself or a new business looking to scale—business teams often find that their roles and responsibilities are nebulous. Core roles may once have been well-defined, but shift and stretch as the team grows. Sometimes an executive mandates what seems like a small, necessary change that feels enormous to the team. As long as teams are up to the challenge and have the resources they to succeed, these sorts of changes aren’t a problem. But when executives don’t recognize a team’s unease with what they’re being asked to do, they may see a negative impact on results.
The solution is to take a step back and think deeply about the structure of your team. If you’ve built a trusting relationship with them, you’ll find it illuminating to initiate a frank discussion about how they feel. You may find you need to make tweaks based on individual skills or interests. You may identify a skills gap that requires additional training or coaching. You may find that existing team members are not right for their responsibility, in which case you’ll have to determine whether that responsibility should lie elsewhere or if you need additional headcount to get the right talent. You might even conclude that the new responsibility isn’t necessary.
But you’ll never reach the right conclusions unless you’ve dug beneath the surface to identify what’s really going on.
3. Quantify the qualitative
Analyzing feedback is a crucial way to improve sales and service. Qualitative feedback is often easiest to come by, and it can be eye-opening. However, it’s important to understand an issue’s prevalence before taking major action to address it. For large sales and customer service teams, designing systems for capturing qualitative feedback that are well-aligned with day-to-day activities can be a game-changer. Many such systems are clunky and create “extra work” for sales and Client Service reps.
But by taking the time to understand your team’s daily activities, you can minimize how intrusive the data collection is—and increase both usage and utility. If your sales reps create contracts on one platform, then have to enter the same information into a CRM, you might think about integrating the two platforms. Chances are, you’ll recoup the expense of implementing the change by saving time that your reps can allocate to other value-added activities. And you’ll increase the accuracy of the data, since there will be fewer opportunities for crucial details to be entered incorrectly.
An automated deal desk can also help capture valuable data without slowing down your broader sales process. I recently helped a SaaS company implement a workflow where, instead of using email to initiate deal desk proceedings, sales reps simply checked a box in Salesforce that triggered notifications to the deal desk team. Each notification included key information—already entered by the rep into the CRM over the course of the sales cycle—and allowed deal desk members to take timely action. And the data collected within the CRM, across both reps and deal desk employees, helped the ops team analyze, troubleshoot, and improve.
These are a few ways to decrease the amount of non-revenue generating work that your employees have to do, while improving data collection and reporting accuracy and accelerating business decisions. Continuous CRM data generation can help ops teams better identify broader trends, insights, and issues—and increase its ability to drive results.
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Suzie Kronberger is an accomplished growth executive and B2B and B2C marketing expert. After beginning her career at BearingPoint, she worked at Kraft, Danone, LinkedIn, and Boost Media, exceeding revenue targets through team leadership, user-centric strategy, and operations management.