What Is Operational Excellence in Sales and Marketing?

by Michael J. Webb (with Robert Ferguson)

(pdf of this article)

A reader from Microsoft recently asked me an interesting question:

"What are the key parameters which define Operational Excellence in a sales and marketing organization?"

I like the question, because Operational Excellence isn't just a slogan or a matter of opinion. It is a fact that businesses that achieve Operational Excellence produce the most consistent growth and profit performance in the long run.


OK, Salespeople Can't Find Enough Prospects. Now What?

The economic sea change we have all been going through makes companies pay attention to their sales process.

One company president I spoke with yesterday said his revenue shrank 25% in December (compared with the same month last year). Companies affected by the financial crisis (like housing, oil, or automotive) are trying to survive. They are worried whether their customers even have enough money to pay for things any longer.


OK, Salespeople Can't Find Enough Prospects. Now What?

The economic sea change we have all been going through makes companies pay attention to their sales process.

One company president I spoke with yesterday said his revenue shrank 25% in December (compared with the same month last year). Companies affected by the financial crisis (like housing, oil, or automotive) are trying to survive. They are worried whether their customers even have enough money to pay for things any longer.

Hopefully, your business can find enough customers to stay alive. Will your marketers find them? Can your salespeople find them? Will they be found fast enough?

If you are like most B2B organizations, your salespeople may have been struggling to find sales opportunities even before the financial crisis!

The danger of this is worse than you think, because there are hidden, double threats.

Good Prospects Aren't Flowing into the Funnel

For example, a marketer on our teleconference in December said their trade shows were no longer working to generate leads. "What do you define as a lead?" I asked.

"Someone who stops by our booth and demonstrates interest in our product," he answered.

"How is that working for you?"

"It is not working," he said. "They stop by the booth. Some even fill out a card. But they don't end up buying anything."

Salespeople are also having a tougher time getting into new accounts. Prospects won't call them back. They can't get appointments. And prospects aren't responding to traditional ads and promotions either.

Fixing the Process

The sea change we are struggling through has made things a lot different than they used to be. Salespeople alone can't bring in customers at a profit anymore. Their prospect's behaviors have changed so drastically in the last few years, it is disorienting.

Now, prospects are feeling, in effect, "Don't:

  • Waste my time.
  • Try to be my friend.
  • Expect me to tell you about my business.
  • Give me a product dump.
  • Use any self-serving verbiage.
  • Expect me to infer the value.
  • Create extra work for me."

How can you get prospects to take your salespeople's calls in this environment? How can you get them to read your ad and respond?

There are ways of doing it. A few highly talented individuals have learned to do it.

One is Jill Konrath, author of "Selling to Big Companies" (Kaplan, 2005), which made Fortune Magazine's top ten "must read" books of 2008.

On Thursday afternoon this week, I'm teaming up with Jill to conduct a unique and timely webinar:

How to Permanently Improve Salespeople's Ability

to Access Big New Accounts in 90 Days or Less

With A Sales Kaizen Event

We'll be discussing some crucial questions, like:

  • How to know if getting access to accounts is the real problem
  • Improving your salespeople's ability to access the right executives in big new accounts
  • How to make this improved ability permanent

Visit to sign up for this event now.

Before it is too late.

Over the Edge

These are such scary times because companies can't spend money very long without getting a financial return. 

In fact, when things have changed as drastically as they have recently, how can a company know for sure if they are going to get a return on their sales and marketing dollar? Spending money without knowing the return is like walking around on the top of a building blind-folded. Sooner or later, one of your feet is likely to miss the edge. 

There is just about no way to measure returns in traditional views of sales and marketing.

You might think companies would have already done the research to know why customers buy. You might think they would have set up early warning detectors to give signals when prospect's responses change, and to tell them where the bottlenecks are.

How well has your company done that job?
Most companies exist because somebody along the way stumbled onto a market where money was already flowing. The people who work there now assume things have been figured out. 

Until, that is, things are like they are right now. Many people in many companies today never lived through bad times. When money stops flowing in sales and marketing, people get into big trouble fast. They don't know what to do when the pavement is flying up at them.

Sales and marketing people typically don't know how to use words like "problem" and "solution" precisely. They don't know how to distinguish data from opinions, or causes from effects. They don't know that they don't know. Heck, they don't even know what they DO know.

Voices get raised, politics get played, people run for cover. Some get the RIF.

Sellers and marketers need help. Not just figuring out how to fix the sales process, but also to IMPLEMENT the fixes so they will stick. If ever there was a time to help your sales and marketing team get oriented the right way, and make the improvement stick, the time is now. 

Fix the Sales Process the Right Way
By "the right way," I mean: 

     1. Gain profound knowledge of the customer's journey

What stages do your customers go through? Why? What help do they need along the way? How do you know this? (I mean "profound knowledge" in the sense Deming meant, by the way.)

     2. Make the sales process visible and measurable

How can you know that value is created for customers, and for your company (i.e., that we will get a return?) What proof, or evidence, do you have? How can you construct the sales process so the data is easily generated?

     3. Recognize the "system" of the finding, winning, keeping lifecycle

How can you understand the interdependencies of marketing, selling, and servicing? Which is the easiest way to reach your objectives: by taking better care of existing customers, or by finding new ones? How do you know?

     4. Eliminate waste whereever it occurs

What value is created by every dollar you spend? How do you know whether you need more brochures, or a better website? More demo equipment, or DVDs about the product? Where is the best place to spend (or save) your sales investment dollars? How do you know?

     5. Incorporate Plan-Do-Check-Act at all levels to close the "feedback loop"

Of course, I'm referring to the only evidence-based approach to designing - and implementing - a sales production process, what we are calling "sales kaizen."


On December 18 Robert Ferguson and I announced a new guidebook:

"How to Conduct a Sales Kaizen Event -
Improve Your Sales Process in a
Way Your Customer Will Love"

The book is now shipping and it turned out even better than we had hoped.

Due to some slight delays in getting it completed, we have extended the availability of charter pricing. After Saturday, January 10, the price will be increased to $470. Your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Visit to get your copy today.


Getting answers to your sales process questions 

If the steps of "sales kaizen" sound abstract to you, that's because they are.

The fixes to your sales and marketing challenges are concrete, specific, simple fixes, applied successively, while watching the needles of hard data metrics climb steadily in the needed direction.

Trouble is, it takes some analysis and thinking to identify which fixes are the right ones. Once you know what needs fixing you can recommend activities that are easier for people to go out and do and won't be a waste. 

Many of you know that we're launching a professional community devoted to sales process improvement this month, so we can focus on answering application questions like these. Everyone needs help thinking these things through.

For starters, this Thursday's teleconference will be our first webinar from SPIF! - the new Sales Performance Improvement Forum (our website will be undergoing some changes by the middle of January).

I look forward to chatting with you there!

Michael Webb
January 6, 2008

What Value Does Your Sales Process Create?

By Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

Most sales executives are challenged to produce better results these days. Jill Stillman, a sales executive I worked with a few months ago, seemed particularly frustrated.

"There are only 100 firms in the country large enough to buy our services. I know them all. Qualification is not my problem. What I want to know is, once I am in the account, what do I have to do to get them off the dime?"


Can Your Marketing and Selling Process Be Improved?

By Michael J. Webb, Sales Performance Consultants, Inc.

Originally published in Marketing Times Spring 2005

(pdf of this article)

Process improvement has revolutionized manufacturing over the past two decades, but is only now coming to sales and marketing. Yet it is coming, and it s something every marketing and sales executive should know about and consider employing.

Process improvement, also know as quality improvement, encompasses scientific approaches to management such as Six Sigma, Lean, and Total Quality Management. In general, these methods measure and analyze the parts of a business process, eliminate unneeded parts, fix broken ones, add new ones, and monitor improvement.


Book Review: "Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way" by Michael J. Webb with Tom Gorman

Reviewed by Paul Harmon

(pdf of this article)

When most people think of Six Sigma, they think of it as deriving from the Quality Control movement in the mid-Eighties and being used by Motorola, GE, Texas Instruments and other manufacturing companies to refine their production processes. In fact, Six Sigma has come a long way. It has incorporated Lean techniques and it spread to other types of business processes. Michael J. Webb and Tom Gorman have written a book on how Six Sigma (and Lean) can be used to improve Sales and Marketing processes, and suffice to say that any marketing or sales manager who reads this will be convinced.

The book has a number of detailed case studies and several smaller cases. In all cases Webb focuses on identifying the problem and then suggesting a remedy. He argues that most sales and marketing managers don't understand their specific sales processes well enough to know how to fix them. He describes a case, for example, where managers urge standard solutions: Hire more salespeople, train the salespeople in a new technique, do more marketing. Here's a summary of one of Webb's examples:

"To bring in more business, the private banking division of a major financial institution decided to hire more salespeople. But first, it asked an internal quality improvement expert to examine its sales process. This person found that the division's procedure for opening accounts-and the information it required caused customers to drop out at that point. By changing its account-opening procedure, the division increased its revenue by 18 percent in one year with no increase in staff."

This brief example provides a good insight into Webb's approach which involves carefully studying the sales process to determine where problems arise. To facilitate a good analysis of the process, Webb insists that Marketing, Sales and Support must be treated as sub-processes of one overall process. He generally refers to the overall Sales and Marketing Process as being divided into Finding, Winning and Keeping.

One of his innovations is to track the number of prospects through the entire process. Thus, for each activity in the overall Sales and Marketing Process, he lists the average number of prospects being addressed. This is a variation of the idea of sales as a sieve or funnel, but it's much more powerful since it not only shows how each step reduces the numbers, but suggests which activities you would need to explore to determine how to increase the numbers being passed from one activity to the next. (I'll never do diagrams of sales processes in the future without using this simple technique.)

The emphasis on the average number of prospects being addressed by each activity in the Sales and Marketing process leads Webb into a detailed discussion of measures of all kinds and he rightly argues that getting good numbers is the key to understanding any process. In another nice example, Webb considers how one conducts a Sales Operations Audit that ties sales activities to Activity-Based Costing, and how that in turn allows the sales manager to tie process changes directly to changes in the financial statements of the company.

In still another case Webb introduces the idea of tracking exactly how the customer's process corresponds to the sales and marketing process. I hadn't read this before writing my advisor last month on Customer Process analysis, but if I had I would certainly have cited Webb. He clearly lays out how one should focus on the experience you are putting the customer through and examines how each step is perceived by the customer as either adding value or wasting his or her time. Powerful stuff!

The heart of the book is Chapter 4, An End-to-End Six Sigma Project That Increased Revenue by 94 Percent. This chapter walks the reader though a complete project that the author worked on, as a Black Belt that sought to improve the revenue from a Web site. This is as nice an introduction to doing a Lean Six Sigma project as I have encountered. Moreover, it is entirely focused on a sales problem, so it's a perfect introduction to Six Sigma for any sales, marketing or service manager. More broadly, it's a great introduction to Six Sigma for anyone interested in how one can use Lean and Six Sigma to address service processes.

In the Seventies, I worked primarily with banks to improve sales processes. At that time, I considered writing a book on how one analyzed and redesigned sales processes, which is only to say that I thought a lot about the problems of sorting out sales. My vision, at that time, however, wasn't as comprehensive as the vision of Webb and Gorman. They have written the best book on improving sales processes that I've ever read. Moreover, it's a very well written book that explains things simply and then provides enough examples to convince you that their approach is worth trying.

There are lots of books sold on sales and marketing every year. Most advocate a new technique or methodology. This book is different. It explains, in a convincing way, that you improve sales only by understanding exactly what your customer wants, what you are doing, and then carefully aligning each activity to assure that you provide the best value to anyone you are trying to turn into a customer. This is an analytic approach to sales that goes well beyond the usual focus on numbers to focus instead on the processes that produce the numbers.

Everyone interested in sales or marketing should read this book. Every senior manager who wishes his company was doing a better job of marketing and selling should skim it and then give it to his SVP for sales and marketing. Anyone interested in knowing how Six Sigma can be used to improve service processes will also find it worthwhile. Any business process practitioner should have it on his or her shelf and grab it whenever they are asked to help improve a sales or marketing process.

Paul Harmon is the executive editor of BPTrends. He is the coauthor of several books on expert systems.



Nurturing - The Secret to Doubling Your Sales Conversion Rate

by Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

The root cause of most sales process problems is the failure to understand the customer's point of view. It is every seller's dream to stumble on a market tornado where virtually everyone in the market is qualified and ready to buy today, and there is no need to try to understand anything about them.


Need to Improve Salespeople's Behaviors? Don't Bother with Sales Training or CRM Until You Face the Facts

by Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

Have you ever wondered, what is the best way to incorporate sales training methodologies in a CRM system? Sometimes the question comes when a company wants a better return from their CRM software. Other times it comes from a sales training company hoping to capitalize on integration of
their sales methodology with some CRM software.


Seven Ways to Permanently Improve Sales

by Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

Leading a company is a difficult job in the best of times. Yet executives can take common sense steps to make things easier to generate customer revenue.

Our work in a variety of industries has revealed seven ways to make the sales funnel flow faster. Taken independently, they are simply shifts in how the executive thinks about the situation. Taken together they comprise a powerful framework for winning in business.


The Role of the CEO in the Sales Process

by Michael J. Webb

(pdf of this article)

Many CEOs see themselves as chief revenue officer (especially in tech companies) or at the least feel very consumed by this challenge. Many have been very successful in their careers by bringing order to chaos, yet they can seem paralyzed by the chaos in sales and marketing. In this article, I'll provide some insight into the problem and offer some recommendations the CEO can use to make a difference fairly quickly.