An Ode to Order Managers

It was a sunshine-splashed day in our Itasca, IL office, but the mood of the women in the bullpen was anything but sunny.  As I made my way into the office and got over to the coffee machine, I realized that something was wrong.  Not your everyday “someone has a case of the Monday’s” kind of wrong, but real, palpable issues that were going to need my attention.

I had expected some tension; we’d recently won a multi-million dollar account, and after the predictable calm that comes with the on-boarding of a new client, the web-site had gone live and we’d been promoting it with the client in earnest in the month leading up to my visit. With increased workload comes the prospect of tension, and this group had little experience in processing the kind of orders our efforts were creating, so the notion of some unease wasn’t out of the ordinary, but what I encountered was something for which none of us were prepared.

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I’d no sooner finished stirring in my flavored cream before they’d surrounded me.  A semi-circle of confusion, exasperation and anger. Worse yet, one of them was on the verge of tears.

Like the weakest link in a chain, a process is only as strong as the combination of it’s systems and people.  We had excellent staff; tenured, professional and hard-working, but the system they were required to use to execute on the business we were creating was SO flawed and convoluted that it was pushing them all to their breaking point, and they needed me to know about, NOW.

As is often the case, we had not taken steps to understand what an increase in order activity would do to their workload, and we had not hired additional staff to shoulder the burden. We were asking them to do more with the same resources, expecting that the systems would be capable of processing the increased volume. We couldn’t have been more wrong, and it was quickly ruining our best people.

 We were asking them to do more with the same resources, expecting that the systems would be capable of processing the increased volume.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand. Often, your order management staff are bound by your systems, almost all of which have some degree of constraint that come along with them. Because they are focused on productivity, your order management staff limp along with those limitations and become accustomed to working within them so as to ensure the continuing flow of revenue. But that doesn’t mean the system works well. When you add more volume to the mix, it’s only natural for the possibility of the type of revolt I encountered to occur should your team be pushed beyond their threshold of ability to manage that new volume within the context of their overall workload. It often won’t be until the moment that you’ve pushed them too far that the problem will truly reveal itself, and then you have a real issue on your hands in that you need to service both your existing AND new accounts with the kind of service you’ve promised (which most likely won you the business in the 1st place). It’s very hard to remodel a plane at 30,000 feet.

As owner, your responsibility must include some degree of attention to your systems, thereby allowing your staff the opportunity to successfully shoulder increasing levels of volume without the expense of additional headcount.  Fortunately, as is the case with what we’ve created at Order Commander (as well as many other service offerings available today), there is ample opportunity to partner with service providers to offload time-consuming tasks, thereby freeing your staff to take on that additional volume responsibility as your business grows.  A key objective must be to work closely with order management team leaders to prioritize those services which would free the most time for your staff, make the appropriate time investments in learning about those potential service providers and understand when best to introduce them into your order management mix.

The economy is rebounding and many owners that I speak to are enthused about potential growth opportunities.  Plan now for that growth and avoid the evil eyes that you might encounter in the bullpen once your business begins to take off.

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About rogerwburnett

Husband, father of 3. Outdoor enthusiast. Impatient with the status quo and irritated by small thinkers.

Posted on August 27, 2014, in Sales Management and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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