Applying TQM to Sales

by Lewis Yasenchak, senior plastics consultant, P&Y Management Resources

On March 7, 2022, 175 countries unanimously agreed on a United Nations framework to fight global plastic pollution from cradle to grave. For contract manufacturers supplying plastic products to OEMS and end users, that framework signals a change in how the industry needs to do business. For salespeople, it waves a big red flag.

While reducing plastic pollution doesn’t directly correlate to eliminating plastic products, it does get some OEMs and end users thinking about alternative materials. Where can the worried salesperson turn to keep his or her sales pipeline from eroding? The answer may be in extreme customer satisfaction, brought about by the application of Total Quality Management (TQM).

TQM is a continuous, circular process that always begins and ends with end users who communicate with salespeople. The performance of salespeople, sales offices and, to some extent, the entire sales function typically is measured by customer satisfaction and bottom-line profit. When quality processes are missing, an awful lot can go wrong in the sales department.

On the flipside, it’s amazing how much can be accomplished when TQM finally reaches the sales department. Bringing total quality to sales applies the principles and techniques of total quality management to sales processes. It brings total quality management to the realities of daily operations.

Many in sales do not understand fully the effects of errors in their communications to others. An assessment of several field sales offices verified that most frequent cause of rework on the production floor is order entry – typically, a function of the sales team.

The second leading cause of rework is late shipments (arguably not a sales responsibility), but close on its heels are end-user complaints and proposal errors. Sales staff either enter orders quickly to receive booking credits as quickly as possible or procrastinate entering orders until the time is right or available. In either case, salespeople may overlook errors and omissions in the order, thinking they can be corrected or added later with change notices.

Perhaps their haste and carelessness are somewhat justified. Salespeople typically enter orders through a faceless computer and then have only the foggiest notion of the process after that. Without sales representation in the quoting office, on the production floor and in customer service, salespeople find it extremely difficult to view the business as a unified whole in any but the most cursory ways.

Yet these errors can significantly erode profitability and customer satisfaction. Fixing the errors changes the process and initiates a chain of wasted money and effort that can consume up to 30% of an operating budget and staff hours, reducing profits and productivity accordingly.

The solution is in bringing the entire company supply chain together to solve problems, standardize processes and meet the demands of customers and regulatory agencies. This includes:

  • Effective planning, communicating, managing and supporting sales and production operations to drive safe, profitable and sustainable growth.
  • Initiating plans and processes to minimize manufacturing costs through effective utilization of resources.
  • Effectively leading, mentoring and developing both sales and manufacturing teams.
  • Providing quality and labor relations and compliance services to verify the company meets current obligations. Safety is a quality issue.

This is a high-level task and requires a position of leadership that reports directly to the company president and maintains accountability for financial performance and customer satisfaction through defined quality systems. Total quality management starts and ends with an organization’s customers. It is driven by their real and actual needs and wants, which are – or should be – communicated throughout the organization by the salespeople, with a primary focus on taking the product from cradle to grave.

Lewis Yasenchak is the owner/founder of P&Y Management Resources. A former lead ISO auditor, he works as a consultant with small to medium-sized plastics processors and other precision manufacturers to help them implement “Quality at the Source” rather than catching mistakes once made. Yasenchak offers an online program to address workforce skills gaps and teach the true cost of inefficient TQM.

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