Sales vs Production – Solving the Shop Tug of War

In your shop is there a “Sales vs Production” battle going on constantly? This is a common occurrence. You’ve heard these arguments:

“Nothing happens until the sale is made.”

“Without production, nothing gets done.”

Sales dog piles the production schedule with a ton of work. Production can’t understand why Sales won’t realize that there are only so many hours in the day.

A stressful situation can turn into lots of drama if people aren’t careful.

It is an endless cycle.

Built solidly on a misunderstanding, jealousy, and a lack of a focused teamwork culture. Throw in finger pointing, excuse making, and defend the castle attitudes, and you have a big challenge on your hands.

Sound familiar?

There is some good news though. It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s right.

The focus of this article is to identify the causes of the problem and outline a strategy to move forward as a team.

Let’s take a look.

Sales vs Production Battlelines

Sales vs Production battlelines are built on rigid positions of not understanding each person’s role in the shop mix. “Your work” is only a small part of the bigger picture.

If you close your eyes you can hear their arguments.

For sales, they are focused on acquiring new customers with new orders constantly. It’s like a hungry lion that gobbles up everything it can see but is never satisfied. Production is just a by-product of that end. The job was sold, now it has to be produced. End of story. Getting more jobs into the hopper is their main purpose. Right?

For production, their focus is on the sweaty end of the stick. Doing the work. Their biggest enemy is time. Every task associated with an order takes a finite amount of it. The pressure compounds as the available time is used, but the orders keep building up. The stress is elevated by everyday challenges. Equipment breaks. Employees call in sick. Inventory for orders hasn’t been received. That art for the rush order hasn’t even been approved yet. It is a new set of problems constantly. Why can’t the sales team understand this? Right?

Like a bad Bon Jovi earworm, this insular thinking just won’t go away.

“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame. Darlin’, you give love a bad name!”

Aren’t you tired of that same old song?

Focus on the Real Objective

What’s really at stake here?

The ultimate goal of both sales and production is to make the customer happy. Without happy customers, your shop can’t compete. More happy customers mean more repeat customers. That drives growth.

So what we are really talking about here is building that teamwork driven culture that is incredibly focused on making customers happy.

That isn’t going to happen with your staff complaining and pointing fingers at each other. People can’t be more interested in the “Gotcha!” than solving the problem. That’s driving the car in the opposite direction.

When sales and production work together you have a competitive advantage. That’s the direction we need to travel.

Find the common ground.

Start with Shop Culture

The place to start is by examining how your shop culture is built. Namely, what are you doing to encourage teamwork and mutual understanding?

Do your teams operate independently?

One of the tenets of Stephen Covey’s famous book, the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is habit five, “Seek first to understand. Then be understood.”

How is that understanding in your shop?

For example, how often is the sales team working in the shop as part of their training? Some of the best salespeople I know in this industry all come from production backgrounds. They’ve done the work. They understand what it’s like in the trenches. It’s that experience nugget that allows them to sell effectively with jobs that make sense for the shop.

When you have experience doing the task, you can understand why those details matter.

Conversely, has your production leadership team gone out on the road and met with a customer? Do you include them in the discussions sometimes? Would you view that experience as a waste of time for them or an eye-opening event?

Maybe what this dysfunction needs is more understanding of the problems faced by the counterpart teams.

Knowledge and experience will go a long way towards situational comprehension.

Remember, This Battle Goes Nowhere

At the end of the day, all that matters is your customer.

It’s their experience in dealing with your shop that is important. The raging war between Sales vs Production doesn’t fit into that equation very well.

Here are some thoughts on how you can impact this challenge where customers come first:

Encourage Better Relationships

The best way to get everyone together is to share the same vision of what’s important. Is that closing the sale? Or getting those shirts produced, boxed up and shipped?

People focus on what’s in front of them and often lose sight of that big picture thinking.

The number one goal is to have happy customers that order from your shop constantly.

That’s it.

When your shop is so dysfunctional that a sales team member can’t walk out into production without stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble, you have a big problem on your hands.

At the heart of this challenge is the strength of the relationships with your staff. Is there mutual trust, empathy, and vision?

If not, what’s the root of that problem? Communication? Information? Quality concerns? Something else?

Build Mutual Understanding

The first thing that your crew needs to realize is that building mutual understanding takes effort. It doesn’t happen instantly with a snap of your fingers.

Trust must be earned.

Dig in and find the root cause of the challenge. This only happens with honest discussion. Keep it calm.

Your shop must align the challenges that are presented by all sides in the discussion. Recognize that changes need to be made.

When you do start trying a few new things, be supportive. Keep your promises. Share in the struggle.

Remember, be honest about what’s going on. Don’t just parrot what you think other people want to hear. Tell the truth.

Show support, even when mistakes are made.

This can be an incredible team building journey if you do it right. Mutual understanding helps conquer the sales vs production cycle of doom.

Workload Speedometer

The best tool that you can provide both parties with this challenge is an accurate and predictable production schedule.

“Can we add another job to next Thursday’s schedule?”

If any member of your team can’t look that up independently and make the correct decision, then you still have some work to do.

This happens by having a workload speedometer that measures available capacity coupled with the shop’s velocity.

Production takes time.

Calculating how much time is based on the complexity of the order and the performance of the production staff.


The main source of problems is getting everyone on the same page with this idea. It is an alignment issue.

It is solved with communication and accountability.

If you can train everyone to understand how to review next Thursday’s production schedule that’s a start. Do you show availability?

  • When you are booked up, does sales have the authority to add another job anyway?
  • How do you decide when to add more capacity to the equation? This might mean some overtime, or outsourcing the work to a contractor.
  • Maybe a job or two that is already scheduled for next Thursday could be moved to another date?

Solving this production schedule challenge is going to require some intense discussions, procedure writing, and experimenting.

But more than anything it is teamwork and leadership that is going to solve the sales vs production battle.

Otherwise, you are stuck in the arms race of one-upmanship. That type of detente you don’t need.

Problems Are Opportunities

On a final note, solving the sales vs production argument can be a unique opportunity for your company. Maybe the best way to look at it is through this lens.

Both Sales and Production have the same problem. It is simply packaged differently from their viewpoint.

Instead of looking at this challenge as a problem, what if you solved it as a chance for continuous improvement? Now it is a strategic effort. It isn’t personal.

It is a macro effort for the entire team.

Can you solve the communication challenge? Will you stop the defend the castle attitudes and tear down the departmental silos? Maybe more effort has to be placed on staying open-minded about the challenges the other team must face? Can they see things from another viewpoint?

Get your strategy in place and solve this issue.

Make your customers happier.


“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.” – James Cash Penny

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes.  Not to mention, solving the challenge outlined in this article.