How to Get Sales & Marketing Leader’s Commitment in Lean Initiatives

A reader asked

  • How can you get sales and marketing leader’s commitment in Lean initiatives?

SocratesI get this question all the time from lean process excellence leaders. Here is the simple answer: 

  • You cannot win salespeople’s hearts and minds unless you can help them sell. 

Here’s the critical thing: Sales and marketing work is fundamentally different than that of production manufacturing. Sales is not just another department, like production, legal, or engineering, or customer service. 

  • The value add of most functional departments, like manufacturing, is to meet the specification with the least amount of waste possible (I know there is more to it, but that basically characterizes it). People in manufacturing use a rule of thumb “what the customer will pay for” to judge what adds value and what is waste.
  • The value add of sales is to get other people, whom you may never have met, to give you their money voluntarily. By definition, most of the time sales and marketing people do not know what the prospect will pay for. By definition, sales and marketing has zero control over the thing they are trying to control. 

This does not mean there can’t be accountability or that data and measurement are not possible. Far from it. But it does mean that to the sales department, bringing in revenue is job one (it is quite easy for this not to happen). How to do it more effectively is secondary (at best), and just somebody’s opinion (at worst).

The ironic thing, as I wrote in my article “How to Avoid the Four Most Common Mistakes in Sales Process Mapping,” is thank goodness salespeople think this way!

You want your salespeople riveted on figuring out what the customer wants. Unfortunately, most people familiar with Lean do not understand the sales world and so cannot help them do this. So, even though Lean can reduce waste and lead time, minimize mistakes, etc., the examples and applications are merely tangential to sales and marketing work.

Pushing Lean (or Six Sigma, or anything else) on sales managers is the wrong approach. The only thing that works is to recognize and respect that sales and marketing is different. Then, like Socrates, figure out what their most critical problems are. Do you know? 

It helps to understand the typical cause system in sales and marketing. Working with hundreds of sales and marketing organizations has taught us what some of the primary challenges are. In my article “How to Diagnose What is Going Right – and Wrong – in Your Sales Production System,” I wrote about four of the most likely root causes of the symptoms most sales executives struggle with. Here are two:

  • Identifying what is working and not working in the field with salespeople.
    Sales and marketing executives are often frustrated by having no data – whose opinion is better?

  • Understanding what our customers really value about our offers.
    It turns out no one is actually studying this in most companies. Salespeople do their best to sell based on value, but how do they know this, exactly?

Of course there are many more issues that make it difficult for sales managers to help salespeople better prioritize their accounts, to sell based on value, to forecast accurately, and so forth. They also hamper efforts at finding the right kinds of prospects in the first place, and nurturing relationships until they are ready to talk with salespeople.

No doubt, your sales organization’s problems and challenges are going to have a different nature. But it will have some flavor like this, and by asking good questions, you can “get inside their heads.”  

Once you do, you may find they don’t have as strong a grasp on their problems as they think they do. At that point, you’ll have them where you want them.

That’s because the quality and productivity sciences have a great deal to offer sales and marketing, especially when it comes to defining problems in more productive ways, and in helping them develop simple, sustainable improvements — improvements that help them sell. 

You’ll need to explain “How is Lean Different From Other Sales Process Methodologies?” because it is different. 

But, once you have helped them sell, I can assure you their hearts and minds will follow.

Michael Webb

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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