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Get Sales and Marketing Data Now – Simple Steps that Make the Difference

by Michael Webb | * Comments (1)
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It is true that people/customers seem to be driven by emotions (and relationships) in their decision-making process. However, this does not mean you can't rationally improve these important business functions.  The lack of data in sales and marketing (and all the challenges this creates) is not caused by the customers, it is caused by how people inside your own company think. In this article we'll review some extremely useful tools for identifying data and for solving sales and marketing problems.  

Use Language Precisely

Who is “the customer?” Is it the distributor? The end user? Which person within the end user? What do they want from you? What is their problem? What makes some prospects more likely to buy than others? How do you know this?

In most companies, different people answer these questions in different ways, and that's a big problem. Every word and phrase of language must refer to observable, specific facts and attributes about your customers, their variations, their problems, and the value you can create for them. Every conclusion or deduction should be traceable to the underlying data (observations) that support it. If language isn’t used precisely people talk past each other (though they may not know it).  

For example, if the marketing department thinks the distributor or dealer is the customer, the company will loose its grip on the causes real market demand - end users. For another example, if the marketing and selling department do not operationally define what a "sales lead" really is, the two departments will remain at cross purposes forever.

Problems like these happen in manufacturing too. No matter what the realm, language based on data and evidence resolves these problems.

Define the Organizing Principle: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)

Precise use of language answers the “What” questions. However, the organizing principle begins with “Why?” questions. WIFFM is the deceptively powerful humanizing force: people cooperate with us because of what’s in it for them. Understanding it is the difference between success and failure.   

By now most people recognize that prospects and customers go through predictable stages. They recognize the customer is never going to buy if they don’t first 1) realize they have a problem, 2) understand and prioritize the problem, 3) gain consensus in their organization, and so forth.

Your company adds value (answers the WIFFM question) when it aligns with what your prospect is thinking and doing. If the prospect doesn’t yet recognize the problem, enabling them to recognize it is the first priority. Anything else commits the cardinal error of sales: pushing someone to do what they are not ready to do.

This is an organizing principle because it distinguishes value from waste: In manufacturing, anything that does not contribute to what the customer wants (i.e. meets the specification on time) is waste. In sales and marketing anything that does not contribute to helping a customer take actions along their journey is waste.

Profit from the Production Framework
Now that the “what” and the “why” are covered, you have the ability to identify and measure input, value add, and output. You can begin to determine causes and effects. You have the makings of a production system. Unfortunately, many sales and marketing managers ignore this framework.

Everyone in business obviously cares deeply about their end results. Yet, often, they find it remarkably difficult to deeply analyze how their results should be achieved. Consider the billions of dollars wasted every single day when the production paradigm is ignored:

  • Broadcasting brand messages to improve the customer's experience (perception of value). This attempts to reverse cause and effect; in reality the customer's experience is what creates the brand.
  • Having salespeople work over time trying to bring in business your company does not want. (Its a pretty safe bet this is happening right now in most companies.)
  • Attempting to get prospects and customers to do things they are not ready to do (always be closing policies, for example, can turn salespeople into pests instead of valued partners)
  • Optimizing the individual performance of functional departments such as marketing, selling, and servicing actually harms the performance of the whole system. As, for example when salespeople (in an effort to make their numbers) close orders at a low margins, or set customer expectations that cannot be met. A parallel manufacturing example is the false economy of optimizing purchase prices for parts that end up causing quality problems on the production line.

The value stream in sales and marketing is defined by the actions prospects and customers take along their Customer Journey. These actions are measurable and the work you do to create those actions is improvable. Time to start improving!  

What Does it Take to Improve?

Too often, process excellence professionals approach the sales problem with the “solutions” they know: Lets apply DMAIC! 5S! Create a value-stream map! This gives business people the impression they are interested in process for process sake.

Instead, process professionals must start with the business person’s problem, and begin operationally defining it. In sales and marketing, where the goal is primarily to create value (rather than eliminate waste), gaining the customer’s perspective is essential: Which of their buying stages causes the primary bottleneck to your flow of business? Perhaps prospects don’t realize they have a problem, or prefer a different bundling/packaging. This is the “undesirable result.” No doubt your company can gather data around this, analyze root cause, develop potential countermeasures, and create measurable improvement.  If there was a toolbox for business problem solving 101, these tools ought to be in it.

If you are familiar with problem solving approaches described in the quality and productivity sciences, you will be in familiar territory. However, sometimes there is a rub: One of my sales manager colleagues in a large company years ago lamented “I wish my district manager would let me do the things you’re doing.” I had achieved some fairly dramatic successes by being a bit of a renegade. My reward a year or two later was being one of the lucky ones in a RIF (reduction in force). So why is doing the right thing so risky in some companies?

The reason is sales and marketing is inherently cross functional. Sometimes sales people (and sales managers) cannot solve problems working independently, it requires cooperation of other functions. When this kind of change is required, you need a management system that enables collaboration across departments. Few companies realize how important this is, and how poor they are a doing it. Deming wrote about this in his System of Profound Knowledge.  It is basically common sense.  Unfortunately, it is not common practice.

So, here are some common sense steps executives can take to lead the charge toward predictability and measurability for improvement. These are simple and basic things that don't require you to burn the house down, and still move in the right direction:

1.       See that better measurement and better prediction is on the sales and marketing agenda. Help them tool up for this.

2.       Insist that sales processes be designed from the ground up, starting with the Customer's Journey and the goal of adding value to the customer in unique and unexpected ways.

3.       Build sales processes so well that you don't need to depend on extraordinary people being heroic. Make success the expected result for normal people doing their job every day.

4.       During reviews with S&M people, frequently ask "Lean Questions" to identify long and costly sales cycle times, work done in series instead of parallel, costly and low ROI activities, and opportunities to help sales people get more selling time. 

5.       Spend time with field salespeople on the job. Ask them how the work of selling is improving in your company and have them show you how they know that.

Making revenue generation stable and predictable in an organization requires that the senior executive take on a systems-thinking perspective (one of Deming’s principles). Help the people in the organization learn to focus on facts and data rather than on assumptions and emotion.

One Response to “Get Sales and Marketing Data Now – Simple Steps that Make the Difference”

  1. Hi Michael,

    I am working as a Management Consultant and Business Coach. I have read your book on 6S and your Blogs. I'm absolutely convinced that you offer the right advice"

    > The "only, but very serious pre-condition" is that you have already got in touch with the right people willing to answer your questions. It has to do with cold/warm calling tactics. Obviously, one can use websites, blogs, LinkedIn and a lot of other platforms - but what is your experience on what decision makers in Sales, Marketing, Services REALLY read?

    > Also, - what's your opinion on applying your model "Find/Bind/Develop" to the processes of Recruiting and Talent Management? I work mostly in Germany and here the "war for the best heads" is fought very actively.

    maybe we cold cooperate?

    Kind regards, Helmut.

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