Do Highly Successful Companies Use Process Management Tools in Marketing and Sales?

nail's victory over a hammer

A reader asked this question:

  • We’re wondering if highly successful, well-known companies use process management tools in marketing and sales?

By “process management tools,” I assume he means “Do successful companies use ‘5S, Kanban, work cells, Andon lights, etc.’ in sales and marketing?” 

The answer is yes, many companies have tried this, sometimes successfully.

However, as the old saying goes, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And in this case, applying the tools of lean manufacturing is not the same as actually improving things, so often nothing useful happens. Many of these efforts are wasted, and sometimes the practitioners take a beating.

First, you want to understand the reasons for this. Then I’ll explain why process excellence in sales is such a fantastic growth and profit opportunity. 

The reason process methods often fail (and not just in manufacturing, by the way) is actually pretty simple. Any approach that tries to copy the use of tools will have limited success. It is easy to mistake the importance of tools because you can see them most easily. However, when the focus is on tools they become an end in themselves. This means extra work and it happens all the time. Work and responsibilities get added to someone’s “to do” list, with no thought toward a “not to do” list.

Further, this doesn’t just happen with “process tools.” In sales and marketing it happens with sales training, CRM, lead generation, and lots of other so-called “improvements.”

A kind of barrier gets set up, where managers (often unwittingly) expect others to apply the tools, make changes, and work harder, while they focus on something else. Whatever the tool or the change is, trying to cause people to work harder is going to create frustration, at best. This is why so many companies can’t sustain their improvement efforts – in manufacturing or anywhere else.

In fact, the “tools” you see in process improvement result from a collaboration between workers and managers. They need to learn not just the root causes enabling results to improve, but also the root causes enabling the gains to be sustained. Managers use this knowledge to change the company’s systems and policies to make the new ways easier. They take work off of someone’s plate. They remove the barrier.

Applying manufacturing tools in sales and marketing is especially difficult because the nature of the work is so different from manufacturing. Forcing salespeople and sales managers endure a 5S or traditional standard work initiative completely misses the point of their job. Their job is to get a prospect or customer, whom they may never have even met, to do something they otherwise would not do.

For sales and marketing, figuring out how to get people to take the actions you want them to take is the whole ballgame. You have to identify the root causes of what customers want, and why they want it. And you have to respect these causes. This is the essential difference between sales and manufacturing work.

As a result, different kinds of tools are required to solve sales problems. For example:

  • Voice of customer (VOC) takes on a crucial new role. It pays attention to the customers actions as well as their words, and drives how and when you communicate to them, not just what you manufacture for them. Properly implemented, some form of VOC is sought and respected in every customer interaction. 
  • Analyzing VOC enables you to identify the customer’s journey, which is the typical sequence of actions specific types of customers take as they attempt to solve their problems. Knowledge of the customer’s journey is required to distinguish value from waste in sales and marketing. 
  • The sales value stream map, which is based on the customer’s journey, is the key to marketing, to making it easier for your customers to buy and your salespeople to sell. 
  • Customer value maps explain what various individuals within the customer want to do and why. Customer value maps pave the way for the most powerful value propositions there are in any customer relationship. They are the key to selling value across multiple departments as well as up and down the hierarchy. 
  • Operational definitions are crucial, as in all process improvement. It turns out that operationally defining sales qualification criteria is one of the most fruitful and powerful methods for eliminating waste and increasing productivity of sales and marketing work.

There are more tools, such as the seven quality tools for example. And as always, a tools approach will have limited success. But when salespeople, marketers, and managers collaborate to find and address the root causes of their problems, such tools can be incredibly powerful. That’s because they enable you to learn how to increase the customer’s perception of value, as well as reduce waste.

In most companies, especially large ones, providing what their customers want does not naturally. So when a company is successful, you can bet they applied some of the customer-focused rules and tools above whether they are aware of doing so or not.

So, yes, the idea of process excellence in sales and marketing is gaining steam, not just with the clients of our firm but also judging by the sales of my book and other books on this subject, and across the industry. The fact that you asked the question, and I am answering it is also an indication of this interest.

The real key to the future comes when managers recognize that process excellence is the most powerful method for managing a business. Most of them are unaware of that at this point. So we have to work on that.

I hope this was a helpful answer. I would look forward to your comments.


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.

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