Missed hand-offs cause dropped balls. Dropped balls lead to poor customer service, and decreased profitability and cash flow. Learn how to ensure smoother hand-offs and fewer dropped balls.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to increase the speed of business and cash flow is to ensure that the hand-offs between your various processes and teams are smooth and successful. One of the most costly things for any organization is a dropped ball. It causes customer service problems. It reduces productivity, increases costs, reduces cash flows. Dropped balls are profit killers. So, you need to eliminate them wherever and whenever possible. In this post, you’ll learn how to ensure successful hand-offs — which are one of the primary causes of dropped balls in every organization.
A Lesson Learned
Early in the history of my custom software development business, we made a very costly mistake — one that we thankfully did not repeat. We had received a bid for a custom software application for which we were the perfect candidate. Based on the discussions we had with the prospective customer, we were all but assured to win the contract. We had a great solution. We had the right experience. Our price was well in line with expectations. All we had to do was submit the bid. We never did. We dropped the ball, and that dropped ball cost us a contract that would have advanced our business substantially.
So, how did this happen? We missed the hand-off. In this case, we had not defined the process for ensuring that the completed technical aspects of the bid were to be handed off to the sales team. It was not clear who would submit the bid. So, nobody did. Both parties thought the other party had submitted, but neither had. When we discovered that this had happened, it was too late. We missed the bid deadline. We learned a valuable and expensive lesson. We discovered the problem, and we fixed it. Here’s what we learned:
Make sure that are well defined, tested, and documented hand-offs whenever work is transferred from one process, or team, to another.
If your sales process involves multiple people who perform different responsibilities, this one idea will dramatically reduce dropped balls AND improve the speed with which work moves through your system. It will also help you identify bottlenecks in your process.
What are Hand-Offs?
Hand-offs are the exchange of control of a workflow from one process or system to another. It is the point at which one person, one team, or automated processes completes work, and another process picks it up to add to it. The best analogy I can give is that of a track relay team. One runner completes his/her leg of the race, and hands-off the baton to the next runner on the team, who completes his or her leg of the race, and hands off the baton to the next person, and so on.
For example, you may have a sales process that has x steps – research, set an appointment, discovery interview, quote/proposal, negotiation, and signing. A sales assistant does the research and sets appointments. Once the appointment is set, the sales assistant hands-off the opportunity to the sales rep who conducts the interview. The salesperson qualifies and collects information about what they want and need. This information is provided to the technical team who designs a system and creates a quote. When that is done, the technical team hands-off the design and quote to the sales rep. The sales rep presents and closes the sale. Once a sale is closed, the sales rep hands-off to the fulfillment team, and so on.
Botched Hand-Offs Cause Dropped Balls, Increased Cost, Slower Cash Flow
As I mentioned earlier, this was something I discovered was the cause of a massive dropped ball for my business. So, it has become one of the primary things I look for when helping my customers fix and redesign their sales operating systems. In many, many cases, it’s not a lack of performance that causes a process failure. It is a dropped ball due to a botched hand-off.
Dropped balls slow things down — considerably. They interfere with your process cadence. They delay your sales cycle and your projects. And, delays lead to increased costs and delayed cash flow. But, here’s the good news: It’s a problem that is fairly easy to fix.
How to Improve Hand-Offs
As I said earlier, I’ve helped many customers identify and fix hand-off problems. In the vast majority of cases I’ve seen, missed hand-offs occur when there is a lack of clarity of the process for transferring work, and/or when assumptions are made that the work has been successfully transferred. These are the steps I typically recommend my customers follow:
- Define a hand-off trigger
- Define a hand-off mechanism
- Define a receiving trigger
- Define a hand-off protocol
- Document the hand-off process — mechanism and protocol
Define the Hand-Off Point
A process is a set of steps designed to produce a specific outcome or finished product. The hand-off trigger defines the point in a process when that outcome is achieved or the product is complete. For instance, if we use the set appointment process from the sales process example above, the outcome or finished product is a scheduled appointment. The hand-off trigger in this process occurs when the sales assistant successfully schedules an appointment.
Define the Hand-Off Mechanism
A hand-off mechanism is a METHOD that will be used to temporarily hold a piece of work until it is retrieved by the receiving process, team, or automated process. The mechanism could be a physical mechanism such as an inbox. In the CRM and automated process world, hand-off mechanisms are accomplished through the use of control fields. Using our example above, the mechanism used by the sales assistant to hand-off an opportunity to the sales rep is to use email. Whatever the method, it is critical that both the sending and receiving side of the hand-off know exactly what the mechanism is.
Define the Receiving Process Trigger
A process trigger is an event or condition that triggers or causes a process to start. Unless a given process is the first process in a system, the trigger will be the hand-off point from a preceding process. The trigger could be fired when an item lands in a physical hand-off mechanism. It could be fired when a phone call or email is received. In the case of a CRM managed process, it occurs when a control field is set to a specific value.
Continuing with our sales process example, the receiving process of the Set Appointment process is the Interview process. That process is triggered when the email that is sent by the sales assistant lands in the inbox of the sales rep.
Define Protocols for All Hand-Offs
Protocols define the “rules” that are to be followed by the person, team, or automated processes of the sending and receiving processes involved hand-offs. There are typically 2 parts to the protocol — the sending signal and the receiving acknowledgment. This is an often overlooked but very important aspect of designing a solid hand-off. The sending signal defines the specific rules to be followed when a hand-off point is reached in the process. The receiving acknowledgment defines the specific rules to be followed when the receiving process trigger is fired. The acknowledgment is super important. It lets the sending process know that the work has been received and that the new process has control. In the best-case scenario, the responsibility for ensuring a successful hand-off lies with the sending process. The acknowledgment is the mechanism used to let that process know to relinquish responsibility. Until that time, control and responsibility remain with the sending process. It is up to the owner of the sending process to follow up and stay involved until an acknowledgment is received.
Continuing with our earlier example, the hand-off mechanism is an email, and there are rules for how that is done. When the sales assistant sends an email to the sales rep, the subject must contain the words: SALES APPOINTMENT HAND-OFF – <CUSTOMER NAME> <DATE> <TIME> where <CUSTOMER NAME> is substituted with the customer’s name and other fields are substituted with the date and time of the appointment. The hand-off email must contain the customer name, phone number, and a short recap of the call and discussion. The sales rep knows when they see this in their email inbox, they have an appointment to schedule with the customer at the date and time.
The owner of the receiving process — the sales rep — is responsible for acknowledging that he or she has received the email and has booked the appointment, The rule is for them to simply reply to the email sent by the sales assistant with the following: appointment acknowledged and booked. Until that reply email is received by the sales assistant, they remain responsible for ensuring that there is no missed appointment. They are required to follow up with the sales rep until an acknowledgment has been received.
Document Your Hand-Offs
Every aspect of every process in your business should be documented, and the hand-off process should be a part of every process document. Process documentation is often overlooked, but it is critical. People change jobs and roles. People get comfortable in their roles and may become less attentive to details. After a while, things begin to get sloppy or are forgotten altogether. So, you must document and file the specifics of the process — including the hand-off process.
If dropped balls are a challenge for your organization, or if you want or need to improve profitability and cash flow, taking a look at and ensuring that your hand-offs are efficient and smooth, might be well worth your time and focus. And, if you’re looking for direction or help, I am pretty certain I can help. Let’s talk. Schedule a free, no-pressure discovery session with me. We’ll discuss your situation. I’ll give you some pointers (if it makes sense to do so AND if you want them). Then, we’ll determine the next steps — if any.
Author: Michael Bitter
Michael Bitter is a sales technology/sales process consultant, coach, and mentor with 30+ years of experience building — and teaching others how to build and use — technology-enabled sales operating systems to improve profitability and cash flow.
His clients are small business owners, solopreneurs, sales managers, and independent sales professionals, who want or need to maximize productivity, get organized and focused, and close more new and repeat business. He does this by teaching and helping his clients build effective sales operating systems that use and leverage sales technology such as Zoho CRM, Zoho Campaigns marketing automation, Zoho Sign electronic signature management, quote generation and management, online appointment scheduling, Zoho Projects project management, and paperless/cloud-based document management solutions such as G Suite, Egnyte, OneDrive, and Zoho WorkDrive .