Banish the Waste from Sales and Marketing: Think Different!

One of the most valuable questions I ask sales and marketing teams is,

“What kinds of things clearly add no value to your sales and marketing operations?”

People react strongly. They gave me examples like:

  • Time spent nursing product quality problems
  • Time spent on administration, reporting, and menial tasks (leaving little time for customers)
  • Trade shows that generate boxes of “leads” not worth calling on
  • Marketing literature that no one reads
  • Wasting time with the wrong prospects

What is surprising is that these same themes come out in company after company, in every industry. Few companies have started eliminating waste in their sales and marketing.

They should.

Finding and eliminating waste causes you to ask questions you have not asked before, which leads to new and better ways of doing things. In manufacturing, it is called Lean Thinking (after the book by Womack and Jones), and it has enabled companies to do the impossible, such as making jet aircraft engines in months rather than years or reducing the lead time for auto glass from over 100 days to less than two days. Lean helps companies shorten lead time and improve quality by reducing setup and down time, eliminating inventory, and abolishing unnecessary handling.

Experts in Lean say that eliminating the waste is not hard to do. What is hard; however, is seeing the waste in the first place.

Why? We’re not our customer, so we don’t have the same perspective on what is important. Also, we’ve never seen a different way of doing things, so it is hard to believe such dramatic results are possible.

That’s why the most important question in the Lean revolution is: “What’s the value to the customer?”  Looking through the eyes of the customer enables people to find better ways of doing things (sometimes radically better).

What does this have to do with sales and marketing? Everything, of course.

Lean Sales and Marketing

In Lean, waste is defined as anything a customer would not pay for. In sales and marketing, the customer’s decision to buy is just one of a series of actions we want them to take. Can you get customers to read your headline? Respond to your ad? Take your salesperson’s phone call? Seriously consider your proposals?

If not, of course your efforts are wasted.

Chances are, your sales and marketing doesn’t create as much value as it could, because it fails to give customers a reason to take action every step of the way. Companies waste millions daily on branding campaigns motivated by some executive’s ego, websites focused on their products rather than on any customer’s purpose, brochures and newsletters devoid of useful information, and salespeople whose intent is to vacuum money from the customer’s wallet.

In fact, when you look at it from the customer’s perspective, there is mind-boggling waste on all sides of the sales and marketing equation:

  • Products and services no one wants
  • Market communications that serve no customer purpose(making them ineffective and unnecessary)
  • Working with the wrong prospects and customers
  • Collateral that fails to help the sale (or the purchase)
  • Failing to generate trust and relationships
  • Asking prospects and customers to do things they are not ready to do

Worse, most companies don’t even bother trying to figure out why the customer doesn’t respond. You’ve heard it before: “We don’t know which 50% of our marketing budget is wasted.” “It’s a numbers game … The more you throw out there, the more likely some of it will stick.” “Just work harder!”

Waste in sales and marketing stems from lack of understanding the customer, just as in manufacturing.

Waste is: Sending Letters to Dead People

Here’s a simple example: I recently received a direct mail solicitation from a major lawn care company:

“Dear Mr. Thomas Wade (or current resident),” the letter began
“We want your business back.”

I have news for them: Mr. Wade will never give his business back. He died over a year ago.

A remodeler purchased his house and sold it to me.

Why didn’t they bother to scrub their database against county death certificates, or the post office’s change of address files? How can they expect me to pay attention when they don’t even know my name? Worse yet, a week later I got the exact same mailing again!

Now, direct marketers know that repetition works. Obviously, however, it wouldn’t work in this case. They also know that the quality of the mailing list is the most important factor in the success of a campaign. Why are they OK with losing $.50 or $.75 a shot over and over again for a growing percent of their database (not to mention the discourtesy of sending junk mail)?

Accurately targeting the market you serve is the first place to start. The next step is determining if the customer feels a need for your product or service. If not, what makes you think they will ever suffer for lack of your offer?

Can you use the answer to that question to get their attention and perhaps educate them? Most important, can you design some small action they might be ready to take into your offer? Customer actions are the only proof that value has been created. Finally, can you measure things about your campaign that might give you clues for improving it in the future?

Waste is Working on Things the Decision Maker (Your Customer) Don’t Really Care About

Here’s another example: Business-to-business selling often requires substantial technical, commercial, or other talent to develop a solution proposal. People on both sides are often seduced into wishfully burning their time and money working toward major changes that will never happen. Often that’s because there is no consensus, or the alignment with other priorities is unclear. It is no wonder these complex sales environments are notorious for their unpredictable politics and cost.

To prevent this waste (which affects both sides), the seller must do everything possible to verify the decision maker’s needs and priorities early in the cycle. Unfortunately, this requires determination, courage, and skill from salespeople, and is often never accomplished. Worse, those who somehow reach decision makers often squander the opportunity by talking about their products and services instead of the value they will create.

In fact, reaching the decision maker puts the salesperson in a crucial position. They can help the decision maker validate priorities and needs or generate a consensus if necessary. Getting credit for these things is often the key to winning the business. Likewise, a salesperson committed to the decision maker’s interests may conclude that a delay or a negative decision is best in the short term. While this appears to frustrate the seller, it most definitely builds credibility and loyalty for another day.

The most difficult part isn’t eliminating the waste. It is seeing the waste in the first place. This requires a different frame of reference from where you started.

Think different. Your customers (and your salespeople) will be glad you did.

Michael J. Webb

October 9, 2007

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
David Crankshaw - October 10, 2007 Reply

“…salesperson committed to the decision maker’s interests…”

Having been schooled for many years to think in terms of competitive strategy, I find developing the mindset to truly be focused on how to add value to the customer is a big challenge. Thanks for this post and your other writing to help us shift our thinking.

Umberto Milletti - October 23, 2007 Reply

I think an answer to “why isn’t sales & marketing more targeted and smarter” is that it’s just too damn time-consuming.
I see companies adopting Sales 2.0 technologies to make it easy for sales & marketing to have high-value conversations, as I discussed in Prospecting is for Masochists (

B2B Lead Generation Blog - October 24, 2007 Reply

Think more, do less

Are you too busy to think? Many of us feel that way at times. As simple as it seems, finding time to think effectively is vital to developing a solid sales, marketing and lead generation strategy. Without question, our mindsets

Dale Underwood - October 24, 2007 Reply

Great post. I would add one thing to “Think Different” and that is “and Create something different”. Innovation will not come from writing books about innovation.

Go out and buy a $600 computer, put SUSE Linux on it and start _creating_ something. I did. It took 10 months of heads down programming (been a while) but here’s what a customer said just today “Federal Appliance’s online instant quote app is fantastic. I wish others offered this service. It really helped me plan next year’s budget. Thank you.”.

The “app” is actually and it IS Sales 2.0….next

B2B Lead Generation Blog - October 26, 2007 Reply

Think more, do less

Are you too busy to think? Many of us feel that way at times. As simple as it seems, finding time to think effectively is vital to developing a solid sales, marketing and lead generation strategy. Without question, our mindsets

Roark Pollock - November 19, 2007 Reply


Great post! I really appreciate your perspective on creating a more effective sales and marketing process. I like the idea of looking for waste and eliminating it from the marketing process. This is an excellent lesson from manufacturing that applies equally well in marketing.

Thanks for the insight.

Michael J. Webb - December 17, 2007 Reply

Dear Michael,
Came across your name looking for mine at Google. Wish I had some of your sales experience.
Michael J. Webb

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