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Lean Sales And Marketing — Standard Work

by David Brock on June 7th, 2012

Last Friday, I kicked off a series of Friday posts I will be doing on Lean Sales and Marketing.  At the core of lean is understanding an focusing on the essence of value creation and delivery.  Lean attempts to eliminate any activities that do not contribute to value creation or delivery.

A core principle within lean becomes defining “Standard Work.”  Now I can imagine at least 70% of my readers shuddering at this concept.  “There is nothing standard about what we do in sales, we have to be free to respond to the specific customer situation!”  “Every customer situation is different, it can’t be fit into a standard approach.”  “Sales is not like manufacturing!  We don’t do the exact thing over and over, the key is to adapt to the customer situation, to be nimble!”

Certainly, standard work in sales can never be as precisely defined as a manufacturing process.  But the objections to “standard work” in sales are really just the excuses of those who aren’t maximizing their productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency with the customer.

As we start to look at standard work within sales, we want to look focus on a couple of issues:  How do we maximize the time sales people spend with customers helping them identify and solve problems?  How do we maximize the impact and value of each interchange with the customer?  We also need to look at how standard work improves our ability to be creative and innovate.

Maximizing the time sales people spend with customers:

A number of surveys say, the time sales people spend on customer related sales activities is around 40%.  In many of our own surveys. we find organizations and sales people where the time spent on customer focused, sales related activities is in the low 20’s.  Sales people–both through their own behaviors and through time drains created in their organizations are spending more and more time in non customer, non sales related activities.  Imagine the impact of being able to free up just 10% of a sales person’s time.  Changing nothing else, but giving a sales person currently spending 20% of their time in customer-sales related activities another 10% for a total of 30% has the potential of increasing sales by 50%!

The time drains are both self imposed (poor personal time management and avoidance behaviors), and organizationally imposed.  Some of the organizationally imposed time drains are inadvertent—poorly defined roles, responsibilities, accountabilities.  For example, the customer has a problem or question, they don’t know who to call, so they call the sales person.  Or there is a poorly defined or unresponsive problem management process and the sales person gets sucked into managing the process.

Other organizationally imposed time drains come from the tremendous restructuring we see organizations go through.  As organizations are down sized and jobs are eliminated, we fail look at the work that remains.  Fewer people, the same amount of work, guess who picks up the slack—sales–sales wants to keep the customers happy, to get things done.  With our changes in organization, we don’t look at work that needs to be stopped or eliminated.  Likewise, with mergers and consolidations.  There are sometime duplicate, redundant efforts, we don’t look at what’s changed, what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and what needs to be stopped.

The biggest organizationally induced category of time drains–wasted effort, ends up being “this is the way we have always done things!”  The world is different, customers needs are different, our organizations are different; we can no longer let the excuse of the way we have done things drive our behaviors–we simply don’t have the time for that!

A lot of the time drains are personally induced–simply bad time management or avoidance.  We spend too much time on email, we let our days be interrupt driven rather than purposefully structured.  We don’t block time for prospecting, we don’t commit to a goal for prospecting.  We don’t leverage the tools (Yes, CRM) to help improve our proeductivity— time management and the quality of how we spend our time. 

One of the biggest, we don’t have or don’t use our sales process, choosing instead to take a random walk –wasting a lot of our customers’ time and ours.  The data shows that people and organizations that use a sales process consistently perform at much higher levels than those who don’t.  Just one data point from CSO Insights 2011 Sales Performance Optimization Study shows that in organizations where most of the sales people are leveraging the sales process, 70% beat their quotas, and in those where people are not consistently using the sales process on 51% beat their quotas.

The same report shows even more profound differences in the value those sales people create:  43% of those using the sales process clearly understand the customer buying process and are aligned with it compared to 6% for those that don’t!  38% of those using the process can sell value and avoid discounting, where only 4% of those who have no sales process do the same!

The sales process is one of the most important elements of Standard Work we need to focus on.  The difference in results is profound, so it is unimaginable that we don’t define and consistently execute our sales process.

Closely related to this is another personally induced time drain, the lack of planning an preparation.  Too often, we use the excuse of “busyness” to avoid planning.  So we go into calls unprepared, we don’t know what are the most important next steps in the deal, we don’t take the time to analyze our pipelines, we don’t have territory or account plans.  We have plenty of time to recover from mistakes, but we never seem to have the time to plan then execute with precision.  Opportunity/Deal Plans, Pipeline Management, Account/Territory Plans, Sales Call Plans are all forms of Standard Work.  They help us focus, the help improve our ability to execute sharply, they help us use our time, and our customers’ time as effectively as possible.

 Maximize The Value And Impact Of Each Exchange With The Customer:

The essence of lean is about creating and delivering value.  Lean focuses on the very essence of value–not what we think is value, but on what the customer views as value.  Any activity that does not create value is considered waste.  Waste adds cost–to us and to the customer.  Lean seeks to identify and eliminate all non-value generating activities.

We can’t create and deliver value unless we understand what our customers value.  Realistically, this is the process of really understanding the value we (individually and organizationally) can create and deliver, then finding those groups of customers (marketing calls them segments) that value what we do.

We waste our time and the cutomers’ time calling outside our “sweet spot.”  Selling outside the sweet spot is pure wishful thinking and any results are more likely exceptions than patterns of success.  So an element of Standard Work is clearly identifying our sweet spot, focusing all our activities within that sweet spot. 

It takes great customer intimacy and knowledge to be able to define our sweet spot(s).  It takes courage and discipline to focus on our sweet spot(s), but that’s where we are most effective in value creation and delivery.  If we want to be Lean in our sales and marketing efforts, we have to have that focus and discipline.

Our sales process is another important element of maximizing our value in every interchange with the customer.  The sales process is based on our best experience in aligning how we sell with how customers buy.  It focuses on identifying the critical activities and critical steps needed to help the customer buy.  It should be driven by simplicity.  It should seek to minimize activity and time–focusing on the most important and eliminating all activities and steps that don’t create value.

The sales process then becomes our road map, keeping us focused on activities we know to be value creating, and eliminating those that don’t create value.

Likewise, planning keeps us focused on value creation.  The simple act of creating a sales call plan (using our Standard Work,  Sales Call Planning Template) forces us to think, “What value am I creating in this call?”  If we can’t answer the question, we should reschedule the meeting for a time when we can answer that question.

Standard Work Focuses Our Creativity And Gives Direction To Our Innovation:

Most often, when I talk about standard work, process and discipline, the biggest excuse is “It inhibits our creativity, it limits our ability to respond, to “dance” in front of the customer, to be nimble, to innovate.” (Most of the time these excuses come from those who are the least creative, nimble and innovative.)

I believe that’s just flat wrong.  If we look at professions traditionally viewed as being “creative,”  art, music, dance, theater, writing, even sports, we see great discipline, process focus, and “standard work.” 

As an example, I’m a “wannabe” triathlete.  Success in triathlons is not simply a matter of swimming, biking, running fast.  I spend endless hours practicing and trying to perfect my swimming stroke, my pedaling stroke and position on the bike, my running stride.  I try to find my ideal cadence and performance in each segment, I look at my power output and try to maintain constant power.  My coach wants to make every motion, every effort count, they want to help me eliminate those efforts that waste energy.  On the bike, I have a weird habit of moving my right knee outward on the upstroke.  They are trying to help me straighten it out, it improves my power output, the outward motion wastes energy and power. 

All creatives have their process, their standard work.  In dance and athletics, top performers have no wasted motion.  Every paint stoke or every note has purpose and meaning.  Creatives constantly focus on the essence of creativity and innovation in their fields.  They create their standard work and processes.  They simultaneously look for precision in execution of that standard work, freeing themselves to be creative within those bounds.  (They also look for continually improving the standard work–but that’s the subject of another Lean post.)

Getting Started:

I’ve already talked about some areas of Standard Work, as starting points, here are some quick lists to get you started–feel free to email me for more information on each, we’ve done a lot of work in each area:

Primarily sales focused standard work:

  • Sales process
  • Funnel/Pipeline process
  • Opportunity/Deal strategy
  • Call planning/execution
  • Account plannnig
  • Territory planning
  • Sales reviews (I’ve done videos on the revies process on virtually  all of the above)
  • Daily/weekly calendaring/scheduling
  • Prospecting
  • Proposal development
  • Reporting (Activity, deal, pipeline/forecasting, expense, etc.)
  • Training, onboarding
  • Recruiting, hiring
  • Commission reporting/management
  • (There are more, but I’ll stop here)

Non-sales but may require some sales engagement:

  • Project/program management
  • Customer problem resolution/escalation
  • Customer service (all areas–technical, billing, scheduling, shipping, information, repair, warranty, etc.)
  • Lead management, development
  • Product introduction/launch
  • Customer satisfaction/Net Promoter
  • Customer communication/nurturing
  • New product development and early customer invovlement
  • Cross organizational roles and responsibilities (thinkRACI)
  • (Again, there are many more, but I’ll stop here)

Each of these have large elements of Standard Work which optimize our ability to create and deliver value.  Each of these have tremendous impact (positively and negatively) on sales time, productivity, and value creation.  Look for your biggest areas of problems, attack one at a time, develop the standarrd work, train everyone, communicate more broadly, provide the tools to facilitate the execution, and ruthlessly measure.

Standard Work Is At The Core Of High Performance And Value Creation:

We need to closely examine everything we do–our sales processes, how we spend our time, roles and responsibilities not only within sales but across the organization.  We need to carefully understand those activities that create value, and those that don’t  In my experience, simpler is usually better.

(Please accept the irony of the picture–my perverse humor got the best of me.  Standard Work should in no way be interpreted as Robotic or Mechanistic, in fact, it is just the opposite.)

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. Dave, this is a really elegant way of thinking about the importance of process, planning, and discipline. Thanks for the insights.

    • Andy, it’s great to hear from you! Hope all is well. Thanks so much for the kind comment. I really appreciate it. I’ll be continuing this discussion every Friday (until I run out of ideas).

  2. You hit some good points but the focus on standard work this early in your series on lean sales seems to put more priority on it than the fundamental underlying principles of lean that should be the drivers. Your 6/1 post emphasized appropriately value creation… that value needs to be customer value (most importantly the end customer but also other customers along the chain).

    As far as standard work in sales, you are right that some will balk and not understand how it applies. Sales, like product development, technology… involves heuristic or knowledge-driven processes more than the classic transactional processes most are familiar with.

    In my experience, the more important areas for standard work in heuristic processes things like knowledge gathering (especially customer knowledge), knowledge sharing, knowledge reuse, using knowledge to make informed decisions… For example, qualifying and disqualifying prospects and opportunities is a big area to improve the use of a sales person’s time and benefits from some standards and standard work that are based on sound knowledge of both the customer and of the business’ strategic objectives.

    • Tricia, thanks for you comment. You make great points, I’ll be covering these and more in future posts. Additionally, you may want to look at other posts in the blog not labeled Lean. For several years, I’ve been writing about many of the heuristic processes you cite. I tend to agree, vicious disqualification is critical to improving the quality of the pipeline and focusing the sales person on opportunities that are critical to maximizing value creation.

      You may want to search on Value Proposition and/or Sales Process to see posts that cover your points. But I will be covering them in the context of lean in the future.

  3. On other notes, your standard paragraph at the end of your blog posts states “Sales Forecasts are critical to sales” … Forecasts, however can easily be waste in sales. Perhaps one of your other lean in sales posts will address how and when forecasts actually are value added and when they are waste.

    (I can not yet think of where they add value to the end customer. Even to the business I am stretched to see much value. There are other measures that can be done more easily., and other ways to track whether you have enough for what you need as a business… )

    • Actually Tricia, I would tend to disagree with you on this point. Accurate forecasts are critical to the organization and create great value. We can’t forget the sales person has customers within their own organization, for who they must also create value. (Our companies buy our services in creating revenue for them, so in the strictest sense they are our customers as much as customers who buy the products/services we sell for our companies.)

      Manufacturing, services have critical dependencies on accurate sales forecasts, so they can manage their workflows effectively—and all are tied directly back to end customers in fulfilling commitments sales and the organization make to the end customer. Forecasts are critical for the company to in assessing market opportunities, risk manaement, their overall strategies and investments for the future.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reading of the blog.

  4. Steve Van Hoff permalink

    Really insightful reading and understanding value (what the customer values) is making a difference. Thanks again for you and Partners for Excellence work in the sales process.


  5. Joe Gesino permalink

    Dave, These are great points to support the need for Standard Work in sales. I am working on this right now. Do you have some good resources to further create Standard Work?

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