How Do You Transfer What You Have Learned In Manufacturing To Sales

A reader asked: 

  • How do I transfer what I have learned in manufacturing to sales?

This is a worthy challenge, and although there is a lot to the answer, it can be divided into both good news, and bad news. 

Good News and Bad News

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that all the logical, critical thinking skills you learned how to apply in manufacturing also work in sales and marketing. In addition, the leadership and management skills you used in manufacturing are also applicable, and sorely needed. 

The main issue is that in sales and marketing: the value you are creating is entirely different than it is in manufacturing, and so the means of creating it is entirely different too. Value exists between the ears of the prospects and customers you are trying to influence. You can’t see it being created, unfortunately. However, if you think about it, this is really no big deal. You didn’t used to be able to “see” the value being created inside an injection mold or an annealing furnace either. Sometimes product came out right, other times it came out wrong. Engineers had to develop methods – basically sensors and computers – that enabled them to detect what was happening inside those manufacturing processes.

Likewise, you can develop methods for detecting what is happening inside the sales process as well. Basically, the value is created when customers take some kind of action you want them to take. As I have said many times, you have to get the prospect’s attention, information, their time, and their trust if you are ever to have a chance of earning any of their money. That is what sellers and marketers do.

What sellers and marketers don’t have is a logical framework for being scientific about what they do. Yet. That’s where you come in.

Now, this is all still the good news part. It means sales and marketing is an orderly universe, once you understand this organizing principle. The principle is that value is measured according to the actions prospects and customers take. Anything that does not encourage the right kinds of actions is waste. It is a production system, there are inputs and outputs that can be identified and measured. And there are (or can be) direct functional parallels between the worlds of manufacturing and sales. For example, marketers can be the engineers of the sales “production system.” Salespeople are like the production workers: they do the work that cannot be automated.

Unfortunately, and here is where the bad news comes in, few companies have made much progress rethinking how they manage sales and marketing according to this logical framework. By and large, sellers, marketers, and CEOs still operate from a very functional paradigm, much like production, engineering, and purchasing used to be managed functionally prior to Deming and the quality movement. Further, people within organizations can’t make massive changes. They can only make incremental ones, and so you have to start by finding individuals who see a benefit to being more process oriented. You have to start local, and small.

Since sales and marketing do not have a strong “production culture” (respect for stages of a process, team orientation), you have to work with people to define their terms, so they can begin to be more disciplined about how they distinguish value from waste. What distinguishes a good prospect from a poor one. They’ll be satisfied with loose anecdotes. As a process professional, you know better.

Fortunately, with your lean and quality background, you can recognize when a proper operational definition needs to be developed, and so that is a great way to start. If you listen well and persist, this line of thinking will draw you deep into the selling psychology of your salespeople and their customers. You’ll be amazed what you will find.

So, perhaps the bad news is really good news in disguise: once you recognize what value really looks like in sales, you can avoid what sales hates most: process for process sake. Once everyone is agreed on that, the data-driven, systematic methods of process excellence are exactly what most sales and marketing departments need right now.

I hope that helps. Let me know what you think!

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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