Over the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over ideas on Lean Selling—-no not what you think. Every sales organization I work with is lean—cutbacks have gotten rid of any “fat.” People are busier than ever, managing larger territories, with ever growing quotas, and fewer support resources.
I want to focus on lean from different point of view—Lean Selling Processes (yes, it’s tough for me to get off the sales process soapbox). Many of your customers, in fact your own company, may talk a lot about lean in manufacturing, or other functions in the organization, but I think there is a lot about lean in selling that can help improve win rates, improve sales productivity and dramatically reduce sales cycles.
I have a very simplistic notion of lean (after all I’m a sales guy, I have to keep it simple). Much of lean focuses not on how efficiently you are doing the activity or process step itself, but on what happens in between those activities or process steps.
Think about this from the point of view of a deal that you are working on. Typically, there are a series of activities and meetings you go through in executing the sales process. We all go through meetings or calls to qualify the customer, then needs discovery, preparing and presenting our solution, negotiating a close, and getting contracts. We spend a lot of time focusing on how we improve our effectiveness in executing those meetings or process steps.
In the typical complex sale, it may take months or even years to execute all those steps and to win — or lose — the deal. But when you think about it, over those months, you’ve probably only actually spent hours or days working on the deal or with the customer. There is a tremendous difference between execution time and wall time in any complex sale. Execution time is the time we actually spend working on the deal, either with the customer or internally. Wall time is the hours, days, months that pass from when we first started pursuing the deal to completing it. (Better explanation at end of post)
I worry a lot about wall time. Somehow, I want to compress wall time as much as possible—perhaps getting it very close to execution time. Why am I so worried about it, deals have a natural cycle, why not just live with it?
Wall time is bad—for the customer and for our companies. Long wall times represent tremendous opportunity cost to our customers. They are buying something to solve a problem or address an opportunity. The longer it takes to solve the problem or address the opportunity, the more it costs. In extreme cases, those costs can mean the success or failure of the business. In others, it means lost value they can bring to their customers, loss of their own competitiveness, and deferred or lost revenue. It’s important to reduce Buying Cycle Wall Time for our customers. They need to realize the benefits and value of the solution as quickly as possible.
Wall time is bad for our sales efforts. We want to accelerate our wins as much as possible, our managers want us to bring in revenue much faster. We are always trying to reduce our sales cycle. Additionally, the longer a deal goes on, the greater our exposure—competitors can strengthen their positions, customers can lose enthusiasm and cancel a project.
Wall time is about “the spaces in between.” For the moment, I’ll assume we are executing our sales process as effectively or as efficiently as possible. Wall time is the time that passes in between those execution steps. It’s important for us to think about that and how we can reduce that time.
Right now, I think there are two major reasons for long wall time, at least that we can do something about. The easiest part is how effectively we are managing our internal processes to move rapidly between execution steps. How long does it take us to arrange and conduct the demo? How long does it take for us to get the answers and respond to the customer’s questions? How long does it take for us to develop, configure, and develop a proposal for the customer? How long does it take to turn around a contract revision?
There are lots of things we do internally, getting answers, preparing responses, getting approvals that take wall time. These are all within the control or our companies and us. What are we doing to increase our responsiveness, agility, and ability to reduce wall time for our internal work? If we have channel partners, this is critical, reducing this makes it easier for them to do business with us, makes our solutions easier to sell, increases mindshare, and helps them win.
Reducing wall time on the customer side is more difficult. There is a lot that is out of our control. But there is a lot that we can do to help them decrease wall time. Many of our customers don’t know how to buy. Many of our customers don’t know how to organize themselves to make a decision. They don’t know how to overcome their own internal hurdles to justifying a solution, selling it within their own organizations. Here is where sales professionals create real value. We go through this with every deal we do, we have lots of experience in this. If we leverage this experience and start becoming partners with our customers in facilitating their buying process, we not only differentiate ourselves from the competition, but we decrease their wall time. They get to realize the benefits of our solution much sooner.
I spend a lot of time writing about developing and executing highly efficient sales processes. There is lots of discussion on this. Somehow, I think we need to spend some time thinking about the spaces in between.
Lean concepts can help us do this. I think there is a lot we can learn from lean. My friend John Cousineau knows much more about this. He pointed me to this interesting tutorial. It’s short, simple (after all I understood it). Look at it and think about your selling process. Spend some time thinking about the spaces in between, look at wall time an how you can reduce that—getting wall and execution time into closer alignment.
Clarification: I have gotten questions on what is wall time. I realize I may have been a little obscure. Here is some clarification:
- Execution time is that spent on doing activities related to the sales opportunity. For example meetings with customers. Over the sales cycle, I will spend an hour here, another hour there, over the entire cycle, maybe a few person-days.
- Wall time is elapsed time. For example, I started this deal on January 1, I close it on March 1, close to 60 days wall time.
- My execution time may have been a few person days during those 60 days, leaving 57 days as the “spaces in between.”
- In lean term, it is the spaces in between are the process hold times.