Resolving A Conflict Between Two Sales Staffs
RESOLVING A CONFLICT BETWEEN TWO SALES STAFFS
E. Michael Shays
A distributor of library books for young children merged two companies into one, but kept the sales staffs separate for a year. One staff consisted mainly of men who carried heavy cases of books and drove throughout their territories to show the books and take orders from the librarians. The other staff consisted mostly of women who sold books to some of these same libraries over the phone. Neither staff knew about the other. However, the traveling salesmen were puzzled to see that their customers already had the books they were showing.
A consultant was asked to facilitate the bringing of these two groups together without being told that the revelation of the other sales force would be a huge surprise to each group. The result was explosive acrimony. Each group was severely threatened by the other and emotions, harsh words and tears ran high. The consultant had to abandon the plan he had worked out and instead caucused separately with each group.
Conflict may be expressed as anger, but its roots are fear. In this case it was fear of losing carefully and sometimes painstakingly developed customers, relationships and commissions to a competing group. So the facilitator asked each group separately these same questions:
What would you need from the other group to earn your trust? What would they have to commit to and do to be your partner in sales?
Once he had their answers to these questions, he then asked each group what they would be willing to give up to establish trust with the other group. What would they have to do to be their partner in sales?
Not surprisingly the answers to the second round of question were quite similar to the answers to the first round, and heated emotions cooled. By the first round of questions the facilitator allowed each group to express their concerns by defining what it would take to remove the threat (and thereby eliminate their fears). In the second round of questions the facilitator challenged each group to step into the other group’s shoes and view the conflict from the other side.
The facilitator brought both groups back together and asked each one to report on what they considered constituted trust in working together. In a very short time individuals who had been exchanging angry words the evening before were voluntarily pairing up with their counterparts in the other group and working out ways to share or redistribute their territories.
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E. MICHAEL SHAYS CMC (firstname.lastname@example.org) is President of EMS Network, International, an association of senior consultants helping clients faced with conflict, transition, stagnation, and management dilemmas.