How is Lean Different From Other Sales Process Methodologies?

The Sr. VP of Sales for a high technology company asked:

“How is Lean (sales process excellence) different from other sales process methodologies (e.g. QBS, Forum), in that many salespeople will quickly discard and revert if they don’t easily perceive results?”

Lean and process excellence enables relentless increases in business productivity. This doesn’t just mean eliminating waste. It also means increasing the value perceived by the customer. Lean thinking begins with what the customer wants, and works backwards from there. Four characteristics distinguish a Lean process approach to sales and marketing from traditional approaches:

Lean is Collaborative – Not a Canned Program

Traditional “sales consulting” artfully delivers a “canned” program for your salespeople. These approaches are about the training (or the CRM software), not about your business. In most cases, it takes a while to find out how much of the supplier’s content doesn’t really apply to you. (By the way, that’s why CRM vendors prefer to sell you their vanilla system “to start out.”)

The best approach – the Lean approach – begins by uncovering evidence and data around your prospect’s and customer’s and their problems. Then, it identifies the best means at your disposal of helping them realize, prioritize, and solve their problems.

This requires a good plan for how your employees and channel partners will get them to take the actions you want them to take. Your people are the only ones who can fulfill your company’s promises, so they must develop the plan. They only want what works and makes their job easier. Not things that don’t apply or make their job harder.  

Lean is About Data and Evidence – Not Opinion and Anecdotes

Traditional approaches to sales management do not offer a means of measuring cause and effect. Lean process excellence energizes your team by creating operating definitions of their key terms (such as “qualified prospect,” and “customer”). They identify the customer’s journey. They define the observable characteristics that make them more or less likely to buy from you. How do you get them to distinguish work that creates value from work that is wasted in sales and marketing?

Simple: If the customer takes an action you wanted them to take, value is created. The fact is, if you haven’t earned your prospect’s attention, their information, their respect, and their trust, you’re never going to earn any of their money. Most companies have not enabled their team to build on their customer knowledge to create a home-grown approach focused on the few, simple activities and measures that create the most value. The outcome is a unique, mutually-respectful agreement for how your team can do the work and measure the value, created by the best minds in your business. The Lean approach guarantees buy-in from salespeople.

Lean Deployment is Hands On – Not “Step Back and Watch” or “Wait and See”

Rather than stepping back to wait for results, a Lean approach requires the senior executive to participate in events where sales processes are designed and improved. They closely follow what works and doesn’t work in the field so they can clear the way for adjustments and improvements.  Are prospects responding to the lead-generation offers? Is forecast accuracy increasing? Are decision makers responding to value propositions? Why, or why not? Curiosity and participation of the company’s leaders is the only way to ensure problems get surfaced – and dealt with.

Presidents or General Managers not interested leading and supporting this effort (in cooperation with the Sales VP, of course) shouldn’t bother with a Lean sales approach.

Lean Takes A Team – Superheroes are Welcome, Not Required

Traditional sales consulting approaches change nothing inside the company. They ask salespeople to do extra work (some of which might pay off occasionally). Swimming against the current is hard. Only superheroes can keep doing it for long. No wonder salespeople take what they like and leave the rest behind.

In contrast, Lean aims a team of marketers, sellers, technicians, and servicers at a specific class of prospects and customers. It asks them to learn how to help these prospects and customers to realize, prioritize, and solve their problems more quickly. Super-human efforts may be required occasionally, but not all the time. That’s because the point is to change something every day to make it easier on the inside – and more compelling on the outside for prospects and customers to want to work with you.

Lean endures in manufacturing because it incorporates the kind of management practices required to improve results and sustain the gains. Over time, organizational silos diminish in a Lean environment. The daily work of your customer teams generates data around the high-impact, common problems preventing them from achieving their goals, so management knows where to focus and invest.  Best of all, your company becomes known as a great place to work, so you can attract better talent and keep them happy.

A Lean process excellence approach doesn’t say you don’t need things like sales training, or CRM software. It says without evidence and data showing exactly how you will create value for your customers, you may be shooing in the dark.

Why Consider a Lean Sales Approach?

As you can see, Lean sales process excellence is not typical. Typical business people think they need a process, which they try to get from sales training or CRM software. Yet these are one-size fits all, and can become obsolete within a week. What business people really need is not a process, but a means of improving their process and their results.  They need to make sure the way they are going to market is efficient and effective. They need to know their people can detect evidence of market changes and respond in the correctly short as well as the long term.  

If your goal is to create the next sales dynasty in your business, and if sales and marketing is a determining factor in your success, you need the definitive guide to Sales Process Excellence.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better way.

 About the Author

Michael J. Webb is the author of “Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way” (Kaplan, 2006, 4.5 stars on Amazon) and numerous articles on how B2B sales organizations can benefit from Lean and process improvement techniques. In 2002 he 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. His firm helps executives of process-oriented companies make their sales funnel flow faster and more consistently.

Help your sales force improve without driving them crazy. Get Sales Process Excellence. 

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
ves Saint Laurent Chyc - October 23, 2012 Reply

Your people are the only ones who can fulfill your company’s promises, so they must develop the plan.

Yves Saint Laurent Chyc
Yves Saint Laurent Easy

    no win no fee - July 28, 2020 Reply

    I think this is a real great blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

    data science course in Bangalore - August 9, 2020 Reply

    Appreciate you sharing, great article post.Much thanks again. Really Great.

      Michael Webb - September 14, 2020 Reply

      You are welcome Kohli

    fashion - September 3, 2020 Reply

    Muchos Gracias for your post.Really thank you! Fantastic.

      Michael Webb - September 14, 2020 Reply

      You are welcome, Mourino.

Michael Webb - October 25, 2012 Reply

This is one of the paradoxes of traditional consulting and training. Senior leaders who think of the consultant as an “outsider with the solution” unwittingly get seduced into failure. It is much easier to focus on the consultant’s material instead of the more difficult challenge of addressing what needs changing about ourselves – internally: You can always blame the consultant when it doesn’t work. (Robert Schaffer wrote extensively about this in his book “High-Impact Consulting.”)

That’s why sales training, CRM, and all the “usual fixes” in sales and marketing typically have no measurable effect. They actually fail to address what really needs changing (sometimes, by design).

    Murray Grant - October 30, 2012 Reply

    While I do agree that sales training, CRM and all the usual fixes have no measureable effect “by themselves”, they are all important parts of a “sales system” and must be integrated with other elements of “the sales system”. I call it a Sales Operating System (“SOS” – Save Our Souls) because businesses need help in this area (big time). As you know, companies must integrate people, processes and tools. Training is a big part of the first P – people (but not the whole P). CRM is a big part of T – Tools (but not the whole T). But where is Process? I would argue that P = Process is the most important because it is the recipe, the cookbook or whatever other “slogan” you might want to use. P transcends time, people (coming and going) and even tools (CRM’s run out of gas or need upgraing or, heaven forbid, replacing). P – process creates tribal knowledge that lives on. The system only works if all cylinders ….. P + P + T … are firing! PPT integration is a key ingredient to a sales operating system. One last thought …. LEAN and value streams are org and function indifferent. In other words, in my opinion, LEAN is not specific to any function (LEAN Sales, or LEAN Customer Service) … there is only one LEAN and it applies to an entire organization. I suspect I know why you focus on calling it LEAN Sales or LEAN Marketing ….. the same reason I created a program called LEAN Customer Service (and soon, LEAN Sales Operating System) – because LEAN, sadly, is still to this day too focused on shop floor / manufacturing …. and not enough throughout the entire enterprise. Thank goodness for value streams to get people thinking about customer value and end-end “silo-less” processes. Unfortunately, most have not caught on yet. Murray

      David Parry - December 4, 2012 Reply

      Dear Murray

      Interesting thoughts on the PPT- Microsoft have a lot to answer for:-)

      As I mentioned separately to Michael, my introduction to LEAN in the sales and marketing arena came in the heady days of TQM and EFQM in the 1980’s and 19990’s. Un-remarkably at that time, the inclusion of sales and marketing people, activities and processes in the wider attempts to improve manufacturing and distribution performance was a given.

      Furthermore, with long sales and manufacturing cycles, it was essential if we were to facilitate 12 or 18 month supply-side forecasting. After a fair amount of trial and error we became quite adept at achieving accurate monthly, quarterly and annual forecasting in a £300m, semi-bespoke engineering and manufacturing regime. (without Sales Force Dot Com!)

      The business performance growth achieved then and subsequently on many occasions in the ICT sector have been remarkable in scale and speed as a result of applying similar LEAN logic.

      It is fair to say that most companies do not start with process improvement when thinking of improving sales performance but rather about training, coaching, CRM & SFA, better marketing communications etc.

      You are right about value-streams and improving business performance (including sales), is all of the above and much more.

      Of course, which combination of performance improvement activities will have the greatest impact depends on each company situation.

      Michael is absolutely right in saying that global competitive market conditions, increasing customer demands and disruptive business models, all present us with a veritable goldmine of opportunity to improve sales and marketing performance – particularly in established businesses struggling to achieve their goals.

      Best regards


        Murray Grant - December 11, 2012 Reply

        Thanks for the note David. I worked in telecomm (ICT) for 15 years from 1985 to 2000. While we did not call it LEAN, we were LEAN-like. Since 2000, i have worked in many different industries, many of whom are not where we wer in 1985 (sad but true). This is both goiod and bad becasue when I work with clients i still have jaw dropping experiences to see how slow many companies progress (if they progress at all). The reason for my note, is that many LEAN organizations and consortiums still focus on LEAN Manufacturing (while maybe adding things like LEAN office, or LEAN accounting) and LEAN Sales is still, to a great degree, a foreign topic. Their loss, our opportunity.

        Cheers, Murray

Helmut G. Von Falser - March 19, 2013 Reply

I would be interested in your views about the future role of Market Research, esp. for consumer goods. Here, the “Speed of Business” approaches almost “real-time”. Data today are available about everything, but they need smart and fast analysis and it is hard but essential to know “what they (C-Suite) really want from us” (recent comment of a Head of Market Research).

    Michael Webb - March 19, 2013 Reply


    Interesting question, but I’m not sure I understand what you are asking.

    On the one hand you comment about the availability of “market research” data (by which you might mean data about customers – and customer journeys).
    On the other hand you point out that “it is hard but essential to know ‘what they (C-Suite) really want from us.’”

    It occurs to me that A) we can only make money to the extent we are effective in helping customers along their journey, and B) that the “C=Suite” ought to look at the business through the lens of the customer journey, and they generally don’t.

    So, is that what you were asking?


Is [Lean process excellence] relevant to a Sales and Marketing Environment? | Sales Performance Consultants - August 22, 2013 Reply

[…] A good article for you to read at this point is “How is Lean Different From Other Sales Process Methodologies?” […]

Emilio Bernabei - February 17, 2014 Reply

Extremely thought provoking piece. I’ve built a Lean visual management framework for (CRM leader) and am now just beginning my awareness-building efforts.

Although I have to admit I’ve seen leankor as more of a visual management solution for lean construction, lean services, lean healthcare environments that just so happens to be built on a CRM back-bone. But now I’m starting to see that Lean concepts can apply to the sales value stream just as readily — including visual controls and team collaboration.



    Michael Webb - February 17, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Emilio.

    I think lean has a great deal to offer sales and marketing, its just that most sales and marketing managers unfortunately don’t know it yet. Consider:

    • The goal of lean (process excellence) is to give the customer what they want. The goal of sales and marketing is to give the customer what they want.
    • Sales and marketing rely on gut feel and opinion to determine what the customer values. Process excellence distinguishes value from waste through Voice of Customer and closely watching the actions customers take.
    • Sales and marketing continually tries to focus on results, so problems keep coming back, productivity doesn’t improve. Lean and process excellence provide the means of analyzing the system of activities and results so productivity can be improved – and gains can be sustained.
    • Sales and marketing assumes process is a static thing, provided by an expert, and the biggest problem is compliance. Process excellence says management’s job is to listen to what salespeople need, because people who make the plan won’t battle the plan.

    It is just a little tough to get these ideas into their sales and marketing management noggins. That’s all.


Toño Mendoza - March 15, 2019 Reply

Selling your ownership can avoid many of these

    Michael Webb - March 21, 2019 Reply

    Toño, you are exactly right. Yet doing so can sometimes be quite challenging. Success depends on the level of understanding they have (or have not yet) achieved.

Mike D. - April 4, 2020 Reply

Excellent articulation on lean-based Sales “Process Excellence” (AKA Sales Excellence, Commercial Excellence, Lean Sales & Marketing, Sales Effectiveness, others?!?!)

I spent my first 15+ years “growing up” in Lean (some Six Sigma during engineering foundation) as a manufacturing engineer, Plant Manager, and eventually Director-level & full P&L GM/SBU leadership plus multi-site leadership roles- a progression most notably enabled by fortunate & fairly consistent success in using Lean effectively in divers roles and business processes. Fast forward to most recent decade…I have spent a lot of the most recent decade focused on building my commercial and customer-facing experience including additional direct sales and sales leadership experiences with intent to balance operations leadership experience with track record of driving sales growth (Sales Engineer out of undergrad + overall top line accountabilities as a GM with full P&L for HVAC/R OEM) . Enough w background….need advice…

My continued Awe is that it is 2020, and there is still very limited LEAN talk or excitement in the “Sales world”, with few to no easily accessed or benchmarkable success stories (or even books) out there sharing success stories and/or best approaches and practices for “Sales-focused Lean Deployment” or building a solid daily management system of standard work and best practices for sales processes AKA lean-based “Sales Operating System” ….In fact I kind of giggle as a current “student of Sales best practices and effective leadership” when I GOOGLE the “top 8 sales leadership books”, and #1 is entitled “Cracking the …code- measuring sales performance…blah blah” ….. is this NOT “business 101” kind of stuff? I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to develop a Sales Excellence element to a solid (TPS-based) Lean business operating system and can state by initial experience/s, there is NO DOUBT that I have seen the same….

….same kind of positive impact and dramatic performance results in sales as I had in the many manufacturing/service op’s deployments and transformation initiatives in “prior life”, so I was hoping someone might suggest a strong Sales Leader who also happens to be a strong Lean leader and has developed a few benchmarks for Sales Leaders who also happen to be focused on Lean-based approach to drive sales growth and KPI improvement trends?!????

thanks for any feedback or advice for a fairly new Sales Leader with a strong Lean influenced leadership style on the whys and hows and who might help so I can avoid trying to plug old sales tools and processes into a lean-based operating system or some other systematic approach to running a successful Sales organization

    Michael Webb - April 21, 2020 Reply

    Welcome to my world, Michael. You are correct to lament that the top sales books on Amazon are so ignorant of a basic scientific world view as it applies to sales and marketing. While some of the books have some good ideas, the all fail at the fundamentals, like systems thinking and operational definitions.

    For example, “Cracking the Sales Management Code” does a great job explaining some cause-and-effect relationships, and why it is so disastrous to force a single sales process on most organizations. From there, it falls completely apart. The authors say incredibly dumb things like, “There is no objective benchmark for [sales] excellence. Unlike market coverage, for which the goal is clearly to cover 100% of your targeted customers, it’s unrealistic to expect your sales force to close 100% of its deals. So what, then, would you consider to be an excellent Deal Win Rate? Should your sales force win 75% of the deals it pursues? Or 50%? Or 35%? Who knows?” (Page 78, location 1259)…

    Wait, what? Why wouldn’t the answer be, “An excellent Deal Win Rate is one that is measurably better than in the past?”

    Unfortunately, there are indications throughout that the authors do not grasp that this should be done, much less how easily it can be done. Their approach most definitely does NOT “Crack The Sales Management Code.” I hesitate to write negative reviews of books like this because there is so little chance it would do any good.

    You are wise to look for an organization whose executives already understand the Lean philosophy. That way, you at least have some common ground. And when you do find such an organization, you’ll hopefully have a great opportunity to walk the walk, because profitable, predictable business growth will definitely be the result.


Harri Kullberg - July 9, 2020 Reply

I read all this with great interest, but I incorporated a “lean sales system” or process when I started selling over 40 years ago. It’s a no brainer really, and I am somewhat surprised how you guys are looking at it as something totally new or different. If you are actually worth your salt as a salesperson or organization, you should’ve realized this more or less immediately.

    Michael Webb - September 14, 2020 Reply

    Harri, I disagree. A lean approach to sales requires management attitudes that are not typical in most companies. Management must have some familiarity with systems thinking for example, else it can’t identify causes for sales problems that might not be in the sales team’s control. Likewise, management needs to be extremely interested in what salespeople themselves think they can do to improve, and remove the roadblocks from their doing so. It is unfortunate, but the tradition in most companies is to focus on results. In these companies, improvement consists of asking salespeople to make more calls, proposals, etc. And that traditional approach is definitely not lean. IMHO salespeople should count themselves lucky if their company’s management is a lean-oriented.

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