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Lean Sales And Marketing — Leaning Our Sales Process

by David Brock on June 21st, 2012

Process is a fundamental part of “Lean.”  We can’t possibly be Lean without process.  The process provides a framework to ensure we are executing consistnely, effectively, and efficiently.  It enabes us to measure results.  It provides a basis to analyze what we do and onstantly improve.

If we are taking a random walk to accomplish an outcome, we can’t identify those parts of the walk that create value, those parts that are waste, or how to achieve our outcome in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  Without a process, achievement of a goal, perhaps winning a deal. is pure chance.  Consistently achieving a goal, our quotas, or personal earning goals, is anyone’s guess.

High performance sales people leave nothing to chance.  They select and pursue opportunities that maximize their ability to win.  They structure their approach to the territory to consistently achieve their goals (usually their personal goals are higher than their quotas).

So if you don’t believe in a “sales process,” don’t waste your time reading this post.  Also recognize you will always be outperformed, but we need people like you, because  by comparison if further differentiates high performers.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, how to we “Lean” our sales process?

As you may recall from my earlier posts, the cornerstone of Lean thinking is about value.  Every step, every activity is about creating value.  Steps and activities that don’t create value are waste.  Waste detracts from value–it creates cost–for our customers, our companies, ourselves.

Too often our sales processes don’t work or aren’t effective because we’ve created them based on the things we want to do and when we want to do them, but they may have little to do with the things that create value.  Consequently, there is a lot of misdirected or low impact effort.  I think there are a number of simple steps we might consider to “Lean our sales process.”  I’ll cover a few here, but welcome your additions in the comments:

Our sales process is not aligned with our customers’ buying processes.  Despite the hundreds of articles and white papers on this,  too many sales process have been built from the inside out.  The focus on what we want to do, not how our customers are buying and how we align our activities with the way they buy.  There are some that might argue the ultimate in “Leaning the sales process” is to totally eliminate it and focus only on the customer buying process.  It’s a fair argument, but the major flaw in the argument is there are things that sales people have to do through the selling process that are and will always be totally independent of the customer buying process.  Two quick examples are:  “Is the customer in our sweet spot,” and “Aligning our resources to create and deliver a solution to the customer.”  In the first, the customer doesn’t care whether they are in our sweet spot—they don’t even know what a sweet spot is.  But clearly, if we don’t focus on customers in our sweet spot, then we are wasting our time and theirs.  In the latter case, in building a solution to respond to what the customer is trying to achieve, we have activities that are independent of the customer.  They create value for the customer, but they don’t directly involve the customer.  So there need be a buying process owned by the customer and a selling process owned by us.  Both need be aligned and where possible integrated.

Our sales process hasn’t changed in X years.  Often I encounter this situation.  I go into a company, I start to talk to the sales people, “Does your company have a sales process, do you use it?”  Too often, the answers are, “Yes and Not at all, it’s useless.”  Sales people don’t typically reject things that help them close more deals more quickly.  So when I see them not using a sales process I typically find it’s old and irrelevant or just poorly designed and irrelevant.  How our customer buy is changing.  What and how we sell is changing.  We must constantly update and refine our sales process.

We’ve used the default sales process that came with our CRM system, or the default process that our Sales Training Company used.  So we’re going to use the same process that 1000’s of others are using — regardless of what they sell and to who?  How can that possibly be an efficient effective process that is aligned with our sweet spot—those customers where we create the greatest value.  These generic processes can’t possibly align with our customers’ buying processes.  Our sales process is unique to us.  It must be aligned with our corporate strategies and priorities, it must be aligned with how we create the greatest value for our customers, it must be aligned with our our customers buy.  The default processes in our CRM systems or provided by Sales Training Companies are nothing more than place holders.  Since they are not unique to us, inevitably there are a lot of missing steps or irrelevant steps–both of which create wasted effort and diminish the value we create for our customers.  It is incumbent on us to replace those placeholders with OUR Process.  It’s not the fault of the CRM or Sales Training providers—though it’s critical that they tell you you need to replace their default processes and they can create great value for you by helping you do that.

Our sales process does not clearly identify our sweet spot of force us to disqualify any opportunities that are outside our sweet spot.  Our sweet spot is the set of customers where we create our greatest value  both in what we sell and how we support our customers’ ability to buy.  It takes great insight, understanding, and discipline to know your sweet spot.  Too often, organizations don’t do this.  Their targeting process is “if they fog a mirror and have money, they are a prospect.”  Leaning our sales process requires great clarity about who our customer is and what value we create for those customers.  Investing time outside these is waste.

Our sales process has been over-engineered.  This may seem to be in conflict with “Lean,” but actually isn’t.  Typically when we think of lean in manufacturing terms, we think of very precise steps and flow, with zero ambiguity or variance.  We may be able to define every possible outcome to a manufacturing flow and define the the steps in handling these.  There are large elements of the sales process which involve great creativity, adaptability, and nimbleness.  Lean can be very powerful in these environments–not by being overly prescriptive, but by providing us a framework in which we can assess each action, asking, “Does this create value in helping the customer and I reach our shared goal?”  If the answer is positive, then our activities are not waste.  If the answer is negative, then the the activity is waste and should be eliminated.  This is probably one of the most difficult concepts to grasp in thinking about applying Lean to selling and to sales processes.  But, too often, I see organization thinking they are applying a strong process discipline by trying to define every single step, every single outcome, every single next step for each of those outcomes, and so on.  I have literally seen flow charts that cover an entire wall, that try to anticipate everything that might come up in a sales situation.  They become impossible for the sales person to execute and slow our customers down.  When I encounter these situations, I sometimes imagine the sales person saying to the customer, “I’m sorry, I can’t skip to step G of your buying process because my process requires me to to C,D, E, F first.”

Our sales people don’t have the ability to evaluate and adapt what they do to maximize the value they create.  This is somewhat related to the previous point.  Sales and the selling process is partially a scientific, disciplined approach that is repeatable.  At the same time, Sales and the selling process is a creative endeavor.  Each customer is different, their needs change as we progress through their process, how we engage them changes as we help them reach the outcome of making a decision.  Lean when applied to creative processes needs to provide the sales person with the framework by which the sales person can evaluate each activity for the value created.  In some cases we will skip steps in the sales process because they do not create value (based on a decision we make, not sloppiness).  Sometimes we have to reorder the steps, sometimes we have to add new steps—each to address the specific situation.  Making sure sales people understand Lean principles, giving them the tools by which to evaluate everything they do, eliminating those steps that do not create value, eliminating everything that creates waste is critical to maximizing the performance of our people and teams.  This is probably the most difficult aspect of applying Lean principles to sales and the sales process, but it is, perhaps, the most powerful thing we can do in driving the highest levels of performance in our organizations.

I know there is more, but I’ll stop here.  What ideas do you have to helping “Lean the sales process.”

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2 Comments
  1. Excellent, Dave! Your post made me think about how to define value in the sales process, and I’ve elaborated some of my thoughts in my own blog post at jackmalcolm.com/blog

    • Your post was truly awesome Jack. I hadn’t thought of assessing value propositions in that manner, but once you raised it, everthing became crystal clear!

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