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Operations Versus Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

As someone who has worked on the marketing side with many retail, franchise and multi-location clients, I have always had a healthy respect for the operations team. By any measure, marketing is simple when compared to operations. Operations is on the front lines. Facing customers every day. Making sure they have the product in stock, prepared correctly, delivered properly and with a smile. And let’s not forget, at a profit as well.

The tensions between the two camps are predictable. Marketing wants to introduce new products, add limited-time offers, make service delivery more complicated, deploy new technology and add special promotions, all in the name of meeting customer needs uncovered through research.

Operations needs to get it all right, every time, even though they may employ low-wage, customer-facing employees and experience high turnover.

The most successful organizations have cracked the code. They have the right balance between marketing and operations, and it’s clear from the moment you walk in the door.

The most obvious example for me is Chick-fil-A versus McDonald’s. I have never experienced bad service at a Chick-fil-A. I almost always have bad service at McDonald’s. Why? If the folks in Atlanta can figure it out, why can’t McDonald’s? It has never made sense. You’d think McDonald’s would hire every Chick-fil-A manager they could find and implement their systems. I suspect they tried. And failed. Chick-fil-A has the highest average annual sales per unit of any fast food restaurant. They’re busy all hours of the day. They’ve earned it.

Last year, Chick-fil-A introduced mobile ordering. I can place my order in the app, and it’s charged to my credit card. When I walk in the door, instead of waiting in line to order, I just wait, maybe a minute or two, and then BAM, just like that, my name is called and I’m on my way.

Starbucks hasn’t been as smooth. I was in line the other day with eight other customers waiting to order. There was one person waiting on the customers in line. Five employees were filling in-store, drive-thru and online orders. Everyone was waiting and frustrated. Apparently, the pressure to deploy their app pushed them to launch before they figured out how to fulfill orders from three different sources. I can just hear the marketing people say, “Our online orders are way up! We’re geniuses.” Meanwhile, operations is saying, “We’re not ready, and don’t you dare add another thing. Anything. Until we get this right.”

No business is entitled to stay in business. It must be earned every day. The companies that fully embrace the need to tightly coordinate the work of both marketing and operations will be the survivors.

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