Inadequate partnership between HR and sales

by 22 Jan 2008

MORE THAN 70 per cent of HR executives believe they have a solid strategic partnership with sales, but only 45 per cent of sales executives share the same view, recent research has found.

Companies and sales teams that engage HR as a strategic partner will ultimately be in a better position to benefit financially, according to David Heazlett, global head of the sales effectiveness team for Mercer, which conducted the research.

“Sales has the most measurable impact on revenue and forming a partnership with HR can positively affect a company’s financial performance. HR can create demonstrable value for the company and sales can focus its attention on winning and retaining customers,” he said.

“Our message to HR executives is to borrow from the sales team’s bag of tricks. Treat them as a prospect, identify a ‘point of pain’, develop a sales pitch, and make the sale.”

The global survey, which assessed the partnership between the HR and sales functions as perceived by 50 HR executives and 50 sales executives at Fortune 1,000 companies, found that nearly 40 per cent of sales executives believed that HR does not understand the sales function.

“We’re saying the best way for HR executives to develop a strategic partnership is to prove this perception wrong,” said Heazlett.

“The bottom line is that if sales is to achieve a richer and more value-added relationship with HR, the two will need to move beyond the status quo, to shift HR from being a mere provider of recruiting and compensation functions, to using its expertise in areas such as managing change, assisting with organisation design, coaching and training – impacting the bottom line.”

The research found that five times more sales executives than HR executives rated HR as a basic support function than as a strategic partner in business. For example, HR assists sales predominantly with traditional tasks, such as recruiting (85 per cent) and compensation (78 per cent). Help with value-added HR activities, such as performance benchmarking (34 per cent) and training (40 per cent), is significantly less.

When sales executives were asked why they did not seek more support from HR, almost half (44 per cent) responded that they preferred to perform the task themselves. Others claimed that HR does not understand the sales function well enough (38 per cent) and lacks the skills necessary to perform the tasks (15 per cent).

“For HR leaders who are already under pressure to contain costs, overcoming obstacles such as lack of talent and financial resources to support the sales function is an uphill climb. We acknowledge this issue is easy to describe, but much more challenging to implement,” said Heazlett.

Despite the challenges faced by both HR and sales, key elements of a successful business partnership between the two functions are evident when comparing organisations in which sales perceives a strong partnership with HR with organisations in which sales perceives HR as administrative.

The most prominent difference between the two types of organisations concerns HR resources. For more than half (55 per cent) of the strategic partner organisations, HR maintains at least one dedicated resource to support sales compared to none in support function organisations.

Sales in strategic partner organisations also collaborate with HR on key business issues far more frequently than their support function counterparts. And finally, strategic partner organisations recognise HR as having a higher skill set in areas such as analysis and leadership – areas relevant to providing more sophisticated support – than do support function organisations.

“These elements are intertwined,” said Jason Jordan, a sales effectiveness consultant and principal at Mercer.

“A dedicated HR resource allows for the opportunity to develop a better understanding of sales’objectives and processes, and the opportunity to work together on more important business issues.”

As a result, Jordan said HR improves its skills and provides more strategic support.

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