A New Era Has Begun
“Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way” marks the beginning of a new industry: sales process improvement
Six Sigma to sales and marketing. This unlikely pair of disciplines will rock your world.
The growth of sales and marketing productivity is blocked.
The last 30 years have seen dramatic changes in sales and marketing.
In the 1980s, Miller and Heiman’s “Strategic Selling” (as well as SPIN Selling, Solution Selling, and others that followed) touched off a movement that enabled salespeople to help their customers make profitable decisions more easily. During this period, customer relationship management systems helped organizations communicate better internally and externally. The marketing profession advanced its knowledge of branding as well.
Yet despite visible successes, CRM systems, consultive selling, and marketing campaigns often fail. They cost more, are hard to implement, and don’t necessarily make selling more efficient or more predictable. Companies are still limited by the inefficiency of direct sales labor, and the ineffectiveness of their marketing communications and channels.
The problem is in the “numbers game.”
Most businesses unwittingly accept this. That’s because they believe in “the numbers game,” where the level of activity is equated with likelihood of success. After all, we’re talking about the company’s oxygen supply. Even if the return is uncertain (or a bit low), what choice is there besides buying more ads, making more calls, using bigger lists, adding more salespeople?
Yet, outside forces like globalization, the Internet, technologies, and competition make it imperative for companies to get higher returns from fewer resources, especially in sales and marketing.
Even the best executive’s disagree over which ideas, changes, and decisions are the right ones, and they are often wrong. Everyone has an opinion, so how are you supposed to know? That is the problem with the numbers game.
To answer that question, sales and marketing needs an alternative to the numbers game.
The process-improvement profession emerges.
In the midst of the total quality movement, Motorola developed the Six Sigma method to improving its manufacturing. Jack Welch’s GE showed it to be a powerful tool for cutting waste and increasing profits. The approach spread to nonmanufacturing (called “transactional”) functions: customer service, accounting, distribution, and even the healthcare and software industries. Today, hundreds of highly respected businesses like Raytheon, Allied Signal, DuPont, Bank of America, and Microsoft use some form of it to reliably satisfy customers at a profit. Applying it to broader business problems helps them make better decisions to grow stronger and healthier. Process improvement has earned its stripes as a professional discipline.
Some people tried to apply Six Sigma to another business function: sales and marketing. Yet, you could improve the process and be worse off if still no one bought your product. (In fact, that happens a lot.)
The fundamental problem of sales and marketing remained: How do you get people to buy?
To expand its horizons, Six Sigma needs an answer to that question.
Sales process improvement makes selling easier.
Getting people to buy seems more like art than science. After all, people have free will. You can’t control them. Yet there are principles at work:
- People respond better when messages match their words (not yours).
- People decide based on their perceptions (not yours).
- People act based on what’s good for them (not what’s good for you).
Sales process improvement recognizes that the value you create is the actions you get other people to take. It is not your product or your process, although those may help.
Why does one campaign produce a 1% return, while another produces 1.5%? Why does one salesperson (or product line) win 20% of the time, and another wins 30%? Instead of assuming returns can’t be controlled, Six Sigma provides tools to break down the campaigns, the behaviors, the offer, and the market into measurable elements. You can identify the causes in the voice of your customer, and use them to select the actions that will produce the results you want. You can test to determine which technologies make selling easier, and which make it harder.
In the bargain, you’ll be systematically extracting your company’s problems by the roots.
It is exciting, because Six Sigma applies to sales and marketing in lots of fundamental ways. All of those ways promise greater returns from fewer resources. They mean designing your systems so the right way is also the path of least resistance. And that means being more professional and having more fun too.
In future postings I’ll introduce you to people who are leading the way, and projects that illustrate how they’re succeeding.
Michael J Webb
July 8, 2006
© 2006 Sales Performance Consultants, Inc.