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Successfully Transform to a Lean Culture in Your Sales Organization.

by Michael Webb | Comments (0)
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A reader asked this question: 

  • How to successfully transform to a lean culture in our sales organization?

When you start thinking about it, this is a pretty juicy question. An awful lot has already been written “How to successfully transform to a lean culture.” So, first let's get our arms around that.

One of the best ways to do that in my opinion is to learn the story of NUMMI, the famous joint venture between GM and Toyota. NPR’s This American Life program did an excellent story on this several years ago. I like it, because it illustrates so many things at one time:

  • the fact that culture can change quickly, and the conditions required for such a change
  • the systemic ideas and values that must be learned, and the proof that they actually work
  • most importantly, the fact that under the right conditions, people actually want to pursue the right values

Achieving success with lean in any organization is a substantial achievement. In principle, I would say there isn’t much difference in accomplishing it in sales versus manufacturing. The work of sales and marketing has a fundamentally different character, of course, so it looks and feels different. In addition, the culture of most sales organizations can be more of a challenge because salespeople and their managers are not used thinking of it as a production system. For example, salespeople may think their personality creates the value and therefore process thinking doesn’t apply. 

This is not necessarily bunk: the sales job is not necessarily set up rationally in many companies. So, although it doesn’t have to be that way, until someone with the power to change it takes a cold, hard look at what is going on and why, the system will remain perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently getting. That’s kind of like the NUMMI situation, come to think of it. 

Which brings us back to the fundamental principles first organized by, Deming in his “Theory of Profound Knowledge.” I would sequence these slightly differently, and tie them explicitly to sales and marketing, but the fundamentals are essentially the same.   

So, before I go on babbling about this, what do you think about this with respect to your organization?

I’d love to learn what it looks like to you.

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