How Can We Convince Sales and Marketing About the Advantages of Lean in Their Processes?

A reader recently asked:  

  • How can we convince sales and marketing about the advantages of lean in their processes?

This is a great question, and I get it a lot. The primary issue is that salespeople and marketers do not see how Lean will help them sell or do marketing.  This is aggravated by the fact that Lean is usually presented using manufacturing examples, not sales and marketing examples. And the truth is, most lean practitioners have never carried a sales quota or been involved in the essentials of marketing.

You have to remember that salespeople live in a world full of brochures and websites no one reads, so-called “leads” that waste their time, quotes and proposals that don’t close, and service departments that are marching to a different drummer. They are expected to find a way to succeed in this world, not to change the way this world works. And THAT is the problem. Telling them about 5S, Kanban, and other lean manufacturing tools is nearly useless and likely increases resistance. 

VP of Sales: “Tell the Lean Process Excellence Leader I’m busy.”

Once salespeople realize that the whole point is to make it easier for customers to buy and sellers to sell, that if they can discover evidence of bottlenecks and prove the effectiveness of countermeasures the resources of the whole company will be brought to bear to apply those countermeasures, you will have sales and marketing departments stand at attention for Lean, because they will understand how it will help them sell.

Easy things to say, of course, and it helps immensely to convince them if you have lived the life of a sales and marketing person. But nonetheless, you have to get people to remember that sales and marketing is a production system, it produces immense value. Lean is simply the means of applying the scientific method to define your terms, make the quality and quantity of flow visible, and engage your people to continuously find ways to make the system more productive (increase value, reduce waste).

Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts about this. Have you seen the same kinds of things?

Michael Webb,

Author of Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way

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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Richard Melrose - May 28, 2013 Reply

Theory of Constraints provides the focus and leverage to successfully apply constraints management, Lean and Six Sigma to the sales function.

In complex B2B sales, the capacity constraining resource is high quality business development appointments — i.e. the right salesperson, at right place, at right time, with engaged buyer representatives and a compelling value proposition.

Yet, top-performing salespeople spend a very small percentage (<<30%, typically <10%) of their time actually calling on well developed opportunities for doing business with new customers.

Not all revenue involves SALES. Typically, the business franchise produces some revenue; so does marketing activity, prior sales efforts, account management, customer service, online stores and 'parts/supplies' order desks

SALES happen when salespeople apply sales efforts to sales opportunities. Marketing can discover and generate sales opportunities. Sales management can prioritize portfolios of sales opportunities based on money value, strategic fit and near-term conversion likelihood, and schedule salespeoples' sales efforts, accordingly.

With this approach, top-performing sales people can SELL, full time, while the rest of the "Sales Team" attends to the business' other revenue streams.

Rather straightforward "division of labor" can achieve huge year-over-year revenue increases, while reducing overall sales and marketing costs.

With a systematic sales process in place, TOC Lean Sigma (TLS) disciplines can continuously improve Throughput (aka contribution margin), while minimizing waste and variation.

Dave Brock - May 29, 2013 Reply

Nice post Michael. Lean “should” be immediately attractive to sales and marketing, but it’s too misunderstood. I recently wrote about it in my blog:

While, I’m not nearly as expert as you, Lean conversations start with two questions, Who is the customer, What do they value? The intensity/clarity of focus on defining the customer and what they value drives the outside-in approach we strive to think about. It aligns us immediately with what the customer values. The derivative questions align us with how the customer buys, etc. So it should be a natural to sales and marketing organizations.

I think sales and marketing people/executives don’t understand lean–and lean experts contribute so much to this misunderstanding. Too many haven’t taken the time to understand “their customers,” the sales and marketing executives, always, as you state, using manufacturing or other irrelevant examples.

Others want to “smack” people in the face with a very pure, rigid approach to Lean and the tools. They immediately “inflict” A3’s (as an example) on people–drawing the focus to the Lean Tools and not to what they help you achieve. I recently had a serious disagreement with a so called Lean Expert who was asking me to help on a major sales project. They wanted to lead with the tools, not lead with what the tools would enable people to do.

We’ve achieve great success by not mentioning the tools or lean, but facilitating workshop leveraging the tools, not confusing people with the “terminology/etc.” Afterwards, when they see they have had success, we talk about the approach, the tools, and the lean principles. They “get it,” and start leveraging the same principles and approaches in subsequent problem solving approaches—sure they don’t apply them purely, sure they have to learn, but they own the process and see the value.

I also think too many lean experts lead with waste elimination. While that’s an important aspect of Lean, it’s a natural by product of designing the customer engagement process (start with the customer, define what they value, work backwards).

Sales and marketing executives struggle every day with these issues. They struggle with how to more effectively engage, deliver insight, create/deliver differentiated value to the customer. These are the core principles of lean. When you start with these principles, it resonates naturally with these people.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my views. I’m a little hesitant, in this community, because I’m truly a novice in lean. Regards, Dave

    Michael Webb - May 31, 2013 Reply


    Don’t be hesitant here. I’m striving to reconcile rationality and salesmanship. It takes great salesmanship to help an organization behave rationally. It also takes great rationality to help the organization (and not just the salespeople!) to exhibit good salesmanship.

    [Good salesmanship, by the way, is defined as that which maximizes the value for both the customer AND for the supplier.]


Prezentor - March 4, 2021 Reply

The list of sales techniques are endless! Depending on your goals for your product or service, there is likely a variety of options that will work for you. Generally, the “trial and error” method is how you will find what works best for you. It also never hurts to do the extra research, then chop and choose as you go along.

Thank you so much for sharing all this wonderful info, Great share, found the articles really worth reading.!

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