Is Lean Certification Effective for Practitioners in Sales and Marketing? If not, How Does it Need to Change?

A recently asked question from a LinkedIn Group titled “The Shingo Prize:” 

Lean Bronze Certification – Is it Effective for Practitioners in Sales and Marketing? If Not, How Does It Need to Change?   (Note: this link requires you to log into the Linked-In website.)

Sales and marketing does produce value – for your company and for the customer. However, many questions must be answered before you can apply evidence-driven approaches that incorporate respect for people. Here are some of the questions:

  • What value, exactly, does sales and marketing create (for the customer and for your company)?
    – how do you know when value is created? How can you measure it?
  • How can you tell if a salesperson or a marketer are creating value or waste?
    – for instance, if a salesperson is calling on a customer for six months?
    – or, if a marketing, branding, lead generation, or trade show campaign is initiated?

In manufacturing, you produce to a specification. That is what the customer will pay for. Waste is what the customer won’t pay for. If your company has a ready market to fill with its products (i.e., the product sells itself and you don’t need lots of value add from sales and marketing), perhaps the focus should stay on manufacturing.


  • If customer needs are changing,
  • If a lot of work must be done with your customers BEFORE THEY SIGN an order,
  • If prospects don’t know about your company, don’t appreciate your unique value,
  • If they have challenges aligning or motivating themselves to solve their problems, etc…                                                            

… then applying Lean and operational/process excellence principles to sales and marketing can be incredibly valuable. In this sales and marketing world, you often don’t know what the customer wants, much less what they will pay for.

The value-add is entirely different: your job is to get people you may never even meet to pay attention to you, and ultimately, to give you their money. No wonder most Lean and six sigma practitioners don’t know what standard work in sales looks like – most have likely never had to do it for a living.

Process excellence DOES apply to sales and marketing, and you CAN make the sales force stand at attention for it. You can only do that, however, once you have translated evidence-driven principles into the specific context sales and marketing people face. That is the reason sellers and marketers are so reluctant to embrace process thinking: they don’t understand how it will help them sell. No one has shown them how.

In this world, you have to earn the customer’s attention, their time, their information, and their trust long before you get the opportunity to earn their money. All those are actions on the part of the customer. They are the value stream. Anything that promotes those actions creates value. Anything that does not is waste.

As soon as you point this out to sellers and marketers, they start listening. I have never met a sales force that did not respect this point of view.

It is a great foundation, because it enables everyone, regardless of what department they are from, to start examining whether they support this goal. Then the real challenge – the most important cultural change – is in getting managers (up to and including the president) to manage using PDCA

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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