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What Is the Top Driver of Lean Process Excellence Success in Sales?

by Michael Webb | Comments (0)
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A Global Sales Director asks:

 I would say the main driver is the focus on data and evidence from the customer gemba (i.e., field sales activities).

(Since you used “Lean Process Excellence” in the question, I’m going to assume you are familiar with the lingo, so if I use some jargon you are not familiar with please ask in the comments and I’ll explain.)

Most B2B companies do not have the ability to see what is working/not working in the field with salespeople, which is a key issue. (By the way, it is quite interesting and useful to ask senior executives Why?-Why?-Why? on that, because they typically don’t realize how crucial being able to identify what is working/not working in the field really is to the business. This exercise helps them learn that.)

To use process language: Sales Process Excellence requires the customer-facing functions (not just sales) to develop and agree on operating definitions around their “units of production” (terms like “customer,” “lead/inquiry,” “qualified sales opportunity,” etc.) Believe me; they do get highly motivated by this when they realize the company is actually listening!

The reason this drives substantive changes is that it enables management to identify the bottleneck based on data and evidence rather than on gut feel and the opinions of HIPPOs (highest paid persons in the organization). Usually, this new evidence enables them to hypothesize root causes and develop workable countermeasures far more effectively.  

For example, one division president’s gut emotion told him the “national account managers are a bunch of farmers, and we need hunters instead.” A proper kaizen enabled the national account teams to collect VOC, define the stages of the customer journey, and prove with data that most of their time (80 %!) was devoted to chasing down and solving problems with customer orders they already won.

Now, why were they were so intent on farming? Turns out the national accounts were not generated by any kind of intentional sales process, but grew out of the needs of some of the larger customers in the industry. Since the company had grown its business by depending on the distribution channel to handle customer needs and these national accounts were direct business, by definition there was no customer service infrastructure to enable the right combination of products and services to arrive at the right time in the right customer location. Maybe this was not something the senior executive wanted to hear, but it was a reality that needed to be faced for sure!  Only after this was solved could the Sales VP and his national account team have a chance at succeeding in finding new national accounts.

Typically, sales process excellence initiatives enable companies to go from unmeasured to measured in crucial performance indicators such as:

  • Visitors to the company’s website who find what they are looking for
  • Channel partner’s ability to achieve their business growth objectives with the company
  • Flow (quantity over time) of prospects and customers through the sales value stream (and ability to identify the bottleneck)
  • Conversion of sales opportunities (quality of leads, opportunities, and deals which dramatically improves accuracy of the sales forecast)
  • Customer satisfaction and/or net promoter scores

Remember the old story of the blind men and the elephant? One blind man believes an elephant is like a tree trunk, another that it is like a snake, etc. This is exactly what happens when the company president thinks the problem with the sales force is training, while the sales VP thinks it is lead generation, and the Marketing VP thinks it is poor branding. Until you go through the effort to define your terms and make the flow visible, you can’t begin to really understand the nature of the complex production system you are dealing with.  

Imagine how shocked those old blind men would be if suddenly they could see the smelly, ugly elephant they were dealing with! Sales process excellence is like that. What you see might be might be scary or wonderful at first. But if your goal is to build a sales dynasty in your industry, you can’t do it without first being able to see what you are actually dealing with. 

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