Michael Darrish | The #1 Cause of Sales Sabotage

Pricing, contests, relationships… for years sales, departments could get away with relying on those elements to meet numbers.

But in today’s super-competitive environment you have to use a more scientific approach, says Michael Darrish. Michael’s background as an IT developer made him receptive to instilling logic in sales.

And these days, as a process improvement consultant, it guides his work with clients as he helps them understand why using a sales process is more profitable than personality or instinct.

We dive into…

  • Why process improvement needs this element – or it’ll never work
  • Using the scientific method to refine best practices
  • The danger in customer relationships
  • How to follow the why, why, why trail
  • And more

Listen now…

Episode Transcript:

Michael Webb: Some people focus on selling processes like internet marketing or selling to senior level decision makers. Other people talk about process tools, measurement of data, and systems thinking, but not many people talk about how these things can be brought together to motivate people and create wealth for everyone. That’s what we want to talk about in this podcast.

My name is Michael Webb and this is the Sales Process Excellence Podcast. Today, my guest is Michael Darrish. Michael is a very senior salesperson for much of his career. Welcome here, Michael, and please tell our audience about your background.

Michael Darrish: Sure. I usually go by Mike, but I’ll answer to anything other than being late for dinner. Anyway, so I began my first career as an IT developer and over the years, I had additional technical roles in systems administration, networking, network management, and a few other things.

I eventually moved into IT sales support for vendors. I then did bag carrying sales roles and sales management on large and startup companies. Along the way, I had roles as manager, instructor, a consultant, and a few other things. That went very well. In fact, it went well enough that in 2007, I just decided to drop out of the workforce and reinvent myself as a process improvement professional.

I earned my Lean Six Sigma black belt and began leading improvement projects primarily in large sales organizations. The way that I came to that decision we can talk about as part of the next few questions.

Michael Webb: You got this all planned out. So, that’s great. So, I mean, why were you interested in pursuing Six Sigma? What made you kind of step back and reinvent yourself?

Michael Darrish: So, ironically, to me a little bit, actually in my last sales job, the process that we used, it was called customer-centric selling. That’s maybe irrelevant, but to me, it was exactly the reason that I got so much respect for rigor and process and improving a process and could see how that was so much better than what a lot of sales organizations had done.

This was after a couple of decades in other sales roles and sales management and everything else where we used promotional contests and pricing and anything you get a deal done by the end of the month and all of that, let’s depend on personality and intuition instead of analytics.

When I saw how it worked at my last sales job and I got to the point where I didn’t have to work anymore, but it was too early to retire, I decided to do something different. It happens that my brother is a master black belt trained in GE and had done this for a long time. I talked to him about it and he said, “You might like to do what I do,” and I didn’t know what that was, so we talked about process improvement and Six Sigma and Lean and so on. I said, “That sounds really good for me.”

I dropped out of the workforce, did one-on-one training, found and led my own project, and started looking for work. That was back in 2007, so the timing wasn’t great because about the time I got done with my training, the 2008 recession hit, but nevertheless I was able to go back to a company I worked for four years. They had migrated from being a pure IT place to doing process improvement using IT.

So, it was a little bit of a match made in heaven that way. They were actually using software to see how IT-centric processes operated, specifically how people interacted with their systems, and we could now put the time factor on top of exactly what they did. In services like insurance companies and banks and so on, time is money. So, it was a really fortunate situation, especially for me, but they got a lot out of it, as well.

Michael Webb: Excellent. Okay. So, our topic is principles. How did this evolve in your mind that there were principles, and which ones were they? What kinds of things did you see happening, projects that you did that reinforced your idea of the most important principles?

Michael Darrish: Sure. So, as an IT developer writing an assembler language at the beginning of my career, logic, rigor, attention to detail, they’re just critical attributes to have. Additionally, successfully developing and troubleshooting IT, you realize pretty early on that everything’s part of a system and you can’t just operate in a vacuum except in very limited instances. So, from my time at college on, system thinking was just part of my makeup.

I was exposed to a lot of other principles once I got into sales, primarily related to human behavior rather than computer behavior or network behavior. Once I moved into sales support, at times, I was amazed and other times appalled at how sales organizations functioned or tried to function. Instead of being based on logic and principles that were all unified, it was personality and what are we going to do today to improve sales and let’s have a contest to see who can sell the most. Well, heck, everybody was getting paid to sell anyway. You didn’t have to have a contest to get them to sell. That’s how they kept their job and made more money.

So, I just saw that as a really troublesome situation, and it wasn’t until my last sales job that I was exposed to something very rigorous like customer selling where we had the tools, we had the roadmap, we had everything that you would see in a process improvement methodology like Lean or Six Sigma or theory of constraints. Not only that, but it just worked. At that last company, we just grew faster than large companies selling the same things, specialists selling the same thing.

This was a company out of Austin, Texas that they just had the right people and the right background to know that we had to bring a different plan. We brought the knowledge in house it totally changed the trajectory of the company and within 10 years, they sold it for $200 million in cash during the height of the recession. They just said, “This is the right time.” It was just very successful for everybody.

Michael Webb: Okay. So, give us an example of what you think of as principles and how they apply.

Michael Darrish: Well, so principles are essentially based on underlying rules on how the world works. They could be scientific principles, which in process improvement, we depend on the scientific method and the facts and so on to decide what are our next steps to get towards a goal, but those same things apply in sales and marketing. They apply in accounting.

There’s so much waste and defects and so on in almost any process that you haven’t really gone to great lengths to improve that it’s pretty easy early on to apply these principles, like in Lean, what does a customer pay for if he knows you’re doing it? Are you doing it right the first time? Does whatever your activity consist of move the process or move the offering from where it is to its end state? If it’s not, then it’s waste and you try to cut it out if you can.

You have other issues or principles like in Six Sigma where it’s more statistical-based that if you make a change to a process and you take a few samples and it looks like, “Wow, we got a better average rate of success,” did you really? Is it statistically significant or is it just that, yeah, it might’ve been in those three samples you took of the process, two of them were going to fail anyway, and you really haven’t changed anything.

So, there’s more rigor there. There’s more math there. They both have their places in the world as do the other improvement methodologies, like theory of constraints where the principle is you can’t speed up a process end to end unless you address the one or two constraints that keep you from moving any faster, right? So, those are the kinds of principles we’re talking about.

Michael Webb: Okay. So, now, to an analytical person, those are very attractive and very interesting, and then when you start trying to apply them in real life with other people around you, things can get a little trickier. So, tell us about some of your experiences there in doing projects and getting other people, encouraging them to improve the way they think.

Michael Darrish: So, I’ll go back to my certifying project in Lean Six Sigma when I was reinventing myself. Of course, I wasn’t sponsored by an employer or anything, so I had to find my own project and lead it with the help of my certifying master black belt. It turned out that I have a brother-in-law in St. Louis and he is one of the partners in an optometric firm. They see people and take care of their eyes, whether it’s fitting them with glasses all the way up to Lasik. So, they’ve got pretty much across the board capabilities for eye care, but in this case, their problem was in their lab where they manufacture their own glasses by grinding lenses and fitting them into frames and selling them to the patients. They had a high level of defects. They didn’t even know what rework meant.

I said, “This is what I’m trying to do. Do you have any areas that you’d like to improve?” They said, “Oh, do we,” and introduced me to the lab, where they said, “Well, we’re not world class and we’d like to be.” I said, “So, what do you think world class is in terms of defect?” They said, “Oh, 10% defects.” I fell out of my chair, having just gone through my Six Sigma training, where we measured parts per million rather than percentage. So, anyway, I got up, didn’t laugh at them, but said, “Okay, so where are you?” “Well, like 20%.” I was like, “Oh my goodness, yeah, so it looks like a good opportunity here.”

Of course, at the time, everybody had been doing their job and didn’t have much faith that an outsider who doesn’t know anything about their business could help improve them. So, some of them didn’t even come to class in the beginning. This was a situation where they had two supervisors and the manager of the lab working the line trying to save labor and not doing the job running the lab. Well, they had to demonstrate that it was serious, and so they came to class and dragged one or two of the line workers in.

Little by little, people started going, “Hey, these guys have respect for what we do. They’re asking a lot of questions. They’re not telling us too much before they have diagnosed. They diagnose before they prescribe.” It was a small team effort that started getting results, and where are the errors taking place? Where are the defects taking place? What kind of defects are they?

Pretty soon, they’re starting to think, “What? Maybe there’s a way to analyze this stuff better and focus on the most important problem area,” like Pareto analysis. We don’t have to say it. We just say, “Which of these areas have the most problems? What are the causes?” We sent people to class to maintain machines. When lenses would fall off of a suction cup inside a machine that was grinding it, they had to throw the lens away. They weren’t even doing preventative maintenance.

So, little by little, we started working together. By the time the first project was done, one Six Sigma project, we got rid of 25% of their defects. This included all the training for getting them essentially up to green belt level, doing the improvements, sending them to school, and so on, meeting with management. We got rid of another 30 or 40% of rework just by cleaning up the place, essentially doing 5S because they were scratching lenses at the very last step where they would polish them with a towel that had the scraps of other lenses on them.

So, they didn’t even understand that it cost more to break a lens, as they call it there. If a lens can’t be repaired, they took a hammer to it, throw it in the scrap bin, melt it down, and they, “Oh, we put all that work into it. We got to do all that work over again.” If you’re going to mess it up, mess it up right at the beginning.

Michael Webb: So, just real quick, you mentioned a term there, 5S.

Michael Darrish: So, that’s Japanese in origin, and it’s basically a way of keeping a neat workplace. You look for, sorry, go ahead.

Michael Webb: I don’t remember what they are, sort, sweep, and back.

Michael Darrish: So, yeah, so you’ve got shine, sweep, store.

Michael Webb: Yeah, there we go, shine, store, stuff like that. That’s good enough. It’s just some people in the audience might not be familiar.

Michael Darrish: Yeah. It’s just a way of keeping a neat workplace. The things that you don’t use all the time, you don’t have right on your desktop and you throw away the things that you never use and that have just accumulated, because somebody said a long time ago, “You should have this tool,” things like that.

So, at the end of the day, they were so enthused with how they got results in one project with outsiders that one of the guys who was a supervisor went and became a black belt. They took the two supervisors and the manager that was working the line. They hired two full-time workers with a quality dividend that we got out without increasing their costs at all. So, they could go back to managing the lab. A few months later, they opened up a new lab that was instead of being in the back room of one of their optometric offices, it was a dedicated new facility with two lines doing cellular manufacturing and attracting all kinds of new business.

Eventually, they sold the practice for a whole bunch of money, making my brother-in-law a multimillionaire. He sent me a nice little gift in the mail, and yeah, and so it was just so rewarding to see how they went from being skeptics and, “You couldn’t possibly help us in our process,” to being enthusiastic and getting wild success out of it. So, that’s when I knew I really did the right thing by reinventing myself.

Michael Webb: Interesting, interesting. Okay, and that’s a great little example. I say little because it’s in a small company. You could be on the same project from the beginning to the end. You can see the result and because it was Six Sigma, you probably could actually measure, what do they call that, rolled throughput yield, right?

Michael Darrish: Yes, exactly.

Michael Webb: Improvement in performance, because Six Sigma is primarily focused on the measurement side of things, being able to get evidence and measuring variation and improving or reducing the variations.

Michael Darrish: Yes, yes, yes, exactly.

Michael Webb: Now, the next big question, obviously you had a sales background. Now you had chops with understanding how IT systems work, understanding how professional B2B sales works in a large corporate environment, and Six Sigma chops. You knew that that Six Sigma stuff, that process improvement stuff is a better way to run the railroad. Now, what about taking it into the sales department?

Michael Darrish: So, I didn’t have a tremendous amount of success there. I attribute that a lot to just the skepticism of the scientific method in sales and marketing that basically, “We’ve always done it this way.” Of course, a lot of the senior people are the ones who have the most trouble changing, but we had some successes when we were selling this process improvement software and systems that once we got in the door, essentially it was kind of customized without formally having them go through the methodology of customer-centric selling or one that they would invent themselves just by being there and working on a project where we had to do a proof of concept.

First, we had to convince them that there was such a thing as being able to show them a process map of something as complex as a Blue Cross claim end-to-end using computers and software and they said, “You couldn’t possibly do that in the time you’re talking about, maybe not at all, because we’ve been trying to do it for 10 years.”

I got famous for saying, “Yeah, so if you put 5 people in a room and you ask them what the process is for adjudicating a claim, you won’t get 5 answers, you’ll get 10 answers.” So, they go, “Oh yeah, that’s right. We did change this and it doesn’t work that way anymore. You weren’t here.”

So, we said, “Yes, we can do it.” After we proved it to the first Blue Cross, then we had a reference that, “Yeah, they can do it,” and we brought in hardware and software and people and in two weeks, gave them process maps that they could filter. They couldn’t believe it, but it’s like, “It’s true. They really can do it.”

So, then we had to sell them on, it’s really worth several million dollars to you to do this, and here are the metrics we’re going to use and we’re going to use your cost of claims and the reducing of your cost of claims and so on. Then, we will be able to show you that doing it this way, which is not only the delivery, but the sales process of going through the step-by-step, building the confidence of, “Here’s a reference. Here’s how we do it. Here’s the actual proof, a proof of concept project,” and then close on a multimillion-dollar deal. That sales process, we used a lot of those same fact-based selling, not our personalities, but, “This is how we do it. We’re going to use your data. We’re going to interview your people. We’re going to work with your IT folks to make sure that we don’t violate any of your rules.”

We respected everybody along the way and we had some pretty darn good success. It was more successful in delivery than sales because they just didn’t want to change. They saw a few multimillion-dollar deals here and there as wildly more successful than they had been before, but it’s really hard to get people to change, especially in sales and marketing, and that’s where they can get the most benefit to the company.

Michael Webb: Yeah, isn’t that ironic?

Michael Darrish: Yeah, it is.

Michael Webb: Why do you think that is?

Michael Darrish: I’m not certain. I think a lot of it is because of the personality in the old boy club of, “We’ve got these guys and they can talk and they can negotiate and they can take their customers out and get them drunk and sign purchase orders or take them to a baseball game and use their relationship to sell.”

One of the things I found in customer-centric selling is the last thing we want is a relationship only to depend on selling because people move, and then all of a sudden, you have to start over, but if you have the right sales process and you’ve developed the right products and offerings and services based on that customer-centric approach, their journey, not your journey, their goals, not your goals, you end up with products that are much easier to sell. That’s what you use to get in the door. Of course, you want to be friendly and that relationship doesn’t hurt, but you can’t be dependent on it.

Michael Webb: Yeah. So, I think you’re right and I think you touched on something, that traditional sort of sales mentality, if you want to call it that. You would go and find people, and you’re looking for people who wanted to buy, and in some markets, especially 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, there was a sort of excess of demand, meaning people wanted stuff. If you had a decent product, then you could sell it. Particularly after World War II, the United States was the only country whose production capacity was left standing. Everybody else needed products, so if you could make a reasonable product, all you had to do is tell people about it.

Michael Darrish: Exactly.

Michael Webb: There’s famous stories of the growth in the early 1900s simply by a highway system and putting billboards out to let people know that something was available. Demand increased. If you’ve grown up in that type of environment, you don’t necessarily have to be all that analytical about why is somebody buying and somebody else is not.

Michael Darrish: Exactly. Half of sales in those days was just showing up. It was before the commercial use of the internet. When I first started using the internet, it was illegal to send an email that was promotional, okay?

Michael Webb: I didn’t know that. Wow.

Michael Darrish: When the internet first started, this was back when it was growing pretty fast and people knew about it, back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, it could not be used for commercial purposes. So, there were no websites. The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented. So, how do you get the word out well? You can do promotional material, but at the end of the day, somebody’s got to come and talk to your customer.

These days, before you ever talk to a customer as a vendor, they’ve done so much work on the internet comparing you to your competition and seeing who’s got good reviews. You may never get to talk to that person that’s got demand because they’ve decided that your website’s not as good as somebody else’s, or somebody else fits better and they’ve never talked to you at all.

Michael Webb: Right. So, I think one of the things that the operational excellence, the process mentality, the Lean philosophy, whatever you want to call it, Six Sigma, what it brings is a recognition, and you used the word at the very beginning of systems thinking, that things happen for a reason out there in reality, and we can understand what it is.

In the case of sales and marketing, people, their behavior is governed by what they think. So, you have to have an idea of what those other people think and you follow the why, why, why trail, right, asking why 5 times or 10 times to understand what they think and why they’re motivated to do things in a certain way.

So, I think that there’s a population of professional salespeople out there who may have learned how to do that to a large extent and not been trained on process improvement, and so they don’t know how to articulate it and they just do it, right?

I think there’s also a bunch of process improvement people, see what you think about this, that they have been trained in these tools and they kind of go around trying to get people to use these tools, not changing how they think, just say, “Do a SIPOC diagram. Do a Pareto chart.” If you don’t understand why you’re doing it, you’re going to resist it, right?

Michael Darrish: It’s a lot of work to learn, and so yes, you’re absolutely right. Some salespeople are just naturals. They have rapport. They ask questions. They don’t tell the customer. They don’t assume things. Pretty soon, they come to be trusted advisors.

Now, the really, really good ones then start analyzing what works and what doesn’t and let’s get rid of the things that don’t and focus on the ones that do and they become better and better, and the next thing you know, their customers are telling their friends, “You got to talk to these guys. They can solve problems for you.”

That’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re solving their customers’ problems and making good money along the way and helping their company become world class. It’s usually what, 5, 10% of the sales force that ends up contributing 70 or 80% of the total revenue, but they didn’t know exactly how they got there because nobody ever put it all together for them and said, “You know what you’re doing is Lean.”

Michael Webb: Right. Well, and to those people who figure it out and they become VPs of sales and they’re effective and the owners and presidents of those companies depend on them, and then when they retire or leave, they try to replace them, then things start breaking apart, right, because that knowledge of the why, why, why, why we do things, what are the causes and effects, what works and what doesn’t work hasn’t been built into the fabric of the business. It’s in the minds of the people.

Michael Darrish: Yeah, it’s tribal knowledge in a lot of cases. Documentations, it’s a pain in the butt. When you learn something, do you go and immediately write it down and make sure it gets into the archives and built into new processes? No. It’s tribal knowledge, especially in sales and marketing with the monthly pressure and short-term management goals. So, these days as millennials come along and the traditional lifelong bond of loyalty between employer and employee has broken down, that tribal knowledge disappears pretty quickly.

Michael Webb: It leaves a lot of B2B companies in a position where they’re in trouble. They haven’t got a good reliable way to shore up losses and figure out what’s wrong and make changes that actually generate improvements.

Michael Darrish: Exactly.

Michael Webb: I think there’s a bigger need for process improvement now than there was before. Would you say there’s starting to be a better appreciation for needing it in sales and marketing?

Michael Darrish: It’s hard for me to say because a lot of the process improvement that I did was IT-centric, board and sales-centric. So, I can’t really say, but I know that for example, Six Sigma is fairly controversial in the industry whereas Lean is ascending because you get faster results. So, there’s probably more of the, “How do we get this done faster?”

If somebody can adapt the message of Lean, for example, or theory of constraints, for example, I know one company that they do their marketing process improvement based on theory of constraints and nothing else. I attended one of their seminars because I was considering going to work for them. I was like, “This is amazing. It really does apply just as well in sales and marketing as anywhere else.”

So, I think there’s some appreciation there, but not enough. The kind of work you do to meld those together and show successes, and it’s got to be with real-world stories that somebody will say, “Yep, we did it. It helped. You really got to think about doing this yourself,” it’s so much needed in the market. You’ve got so much latent demand, people just don’t even know they need it in some cases. So, I’m hopeful, but I’m just not sure.

Michael Webb: Yeah. Well, and when you are dealing with those people who have had successful careers, even a story or an example, a case example, I mean, that can be interesting, but the way you really make progress with them is by working with them on their own issues, right? You’ve got to help them state the problem and ask them some questions about the problem so they can sort of realize, “Wait a second. What I meant was this. Wait a second. I guess what I meant was that. I guess I didn’t really know what I meant.”

Michael Darrish: Yeah. There’s a discipline called high impact consulting where you learn to find out what they need, not just what they want. When you convince them of that, it’s like, “Oh, this guy knows more about me than I knew about me before we started this conversation,” then you become a trusted advisor and they’re open to going to uncomfortable areas to discuss their problems, not just their goals. So, yeah, that’s just all part of operational excellence in sales. Get inside your customer’s head. Find out what he wants, but if you could find out what he needs and you can convince him of that, even better. If you don’t have it, say, “I can’t help you, but here’s somebody who can.” They’ll trust you.

Michael Webb: Yeah, yep, because you’re actively doing something that’s in their interest, right?

Michael Darrish: Exactly, exactly.

Michael Webb: You build a trusting relationship from that, by being a good person.

Michael Darrish: Exactly. Absolutely.

Michael Webb: Now, I think sales is a little trickier because there’s this hidden sort of unseen thing going on where it used to be that the salesperson could do everything necessary to find and win and keep customers. Today, customers are looking in places on the internet, and salespeople often can’t control the website. They can’t control the social media. They can’t control where their company appears or what the customer finds about them. So, customers are going around salespeople. It makes it much more difficult for salespeople. The whole company needs to behave in a more salesperson-like manner. If they don’t know it, that can be some pretty huge changes necessary in a company if you try to do it all at once.

Michael Darrish: Yeah. It’s like any of these other process improvement approaches. You don’t try to boil the ocean. If you do, all that’ll happen is the temperature will go up a hundredth of a degree and two years have gone by and everybody goes, “Well, why are we even doing this? Nothing’s happening.”

Michael Webb: Exactly, yeah.

Michael Darrish: So, yeah, you’ve got to go for the early wins. In a lot of cases, that’s where it’s the easiest in any case because there’s so much waste in processes, especially sales and marketing processes. Some of the behaviors aren’t actually that hard to change.

Right now, the joke was, “If you have three sales guys from the same company presenting to the same prospect, it’ll look like they came from three different companies,” because they don’t use the same material that was given to them either because it didn’t work for them in the past or they’re just, “I know better than the marketing guys,” whatever the reason. They didn’t have what is called sales ready marketing messaging. They didn’t have the right material. So, why would I use it? It doesn’t work, so I’m going to keep my job. I’m going to invent my own and at least if I fail, it’s not because I was depending on something that I know didn’t work.

So, there’s a whole lot of those kinds of behaviors that help you avoid wasting time as a salesman that is by not qualifying properly and just trying to go after every deal because you really can’t. You have to spend your time focusing on the ones you have a good chance to win, and you have to have measurements of those things. You have to have experience that says, “We’ve tried all these things and these are the ones that work, so unless you can come up with a reason why we should do it differently, follow our process. After you become an expert in our process, then you can tell us what we’re missing.”

That’s what we did in my last role and it was just amazing. We could take average people who were technical in network management and more particularly relationship-type people, they were more nerds in some cases that understood the software and the customers’ problems and turn them into star salesman. Unbelievable that we could do that.

In a lot of companies in that same space, you could take an experienced guy that had lots of Fortune 500 customers and he’d fail to sell the products, in some cases because the products weren’t developed with the customer in mind but with the subject matter expert in that area in mind. So, yeah, it gives you all the information you need, but you need 60 extra clicks to get there and it’s a pain in the butt to use.

When we use customer-centric selling throughout the entire organization, customer support and development and sales and marketing, it just really ended up being a virtuous circle where we would bring customers in and they would show us how they used our products and we’d use that to make it easier the next time around. They would tell their friends and they would buy it, and there was more good ideas.

It really works to the benefit of sales and marketing, even if you use it in accounting. It’s like, “A customer’s got a problem with a contract. Let’s figure out a way that we can both be okay,” rather than going, “Sorry, that’s our policy.”

Michael Webb: Right, right. Well, so you get to this situation, and I know you had it in that company too, you’ve got to get more alignment among all the different people, to be thinking about the problems the same way and solving things, doing the work in a similar way. That can be a difficult task. Interesting. They face it in Lean manufacturing or Lean in engineering or theory of constraints and logistics or whatever. They face the same problem when they’re dealing with a sizable organization. They got all these people and they have to try to get them to do things the way that makes sense for the whole business, not the way that may make sense to some of the people in the different corners of the organization. One alternative or strategy of doing it is force.

Michael Darrish: Yeah, it’s top down.

Michael Webb: Top down, “This is how you have to do it.” That can work for a while, right? Ultimately, however, the market is going to shift. The technology’s going to shift, and the company needs to be able to change. If people are complying because they’re required to, then that can expose some weaknesses. That can be some difficult things to overcome. I’m sure you’ve seen that, right?

Michael Darrish: Agreed. However, if it is the right process, the people that are there and that are executing that operationally excellent process will see that it does work and they will use force of personality or their own success stories to say, “Look, this is why you want to do it, not just because the boss says you have to. It’s really better for you to do it this way.”

Indeed, they had tried it other ways, and until they went to this CCS, customer-centric selling, they were struggling to stay alive. Actually, they were on this ski slope trajectory, just unbelievable. So, I think one of the things you learn in process improvement is to get people to change without formal authority over them.

Michael Webb: Right, correct.

Michael Darrish: You know the radio station, WIIFM, “What’s in it for me?”

Michael Webb: Yeah.

Michael Darrish: What’s in it for you is you’ll get a raise, you’ll get to keep your job, you’ll make more money, you’ll get to go home, watch your kid’s soccer game on time, things like that. So, yeah, you’re right, strictly force, you don’t really need to do it if it’s the right process. If you respect those people and understand, yeah, everybody is resistant to change, especially if they’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time, but if they see results from doing it a better way, eventually they may come to be a little more flexible.

Michael Webb: Yes, and also, the other lesson in there I think you’re implying is that if you’re trying to get people to follow a process and you think it’s the right process and the people are resisting, there might be a reason for that. You might need to dig a little deeper and figure out a process that the people won’t be so resistant to.

Michael Darrish: Agreed. I think it helps if you have facts to back up, “We’re doing it this way because here’s what happened the old way. We experimented. We knew we needed to do something to get better. We experimented. We tried several different things. This is the one that the experience and the facts showed us was the best so far.” No, “We would ask that you would try to use this one.” No, “You really need to use this one because that’s the rule now, but keep your eye out for better ways to do things, and if you can see something to tweak the old process instead of this one, then we can experiment. We can do a plan, do a check act cycle and see if you’re right, but we’re going to use facts. We’re not just going to use intuition.”

Intuition’s important because it gives you ideas about where to go next. There’s the Money Ball movie. A good friend, you may know him, Peter Sherman uses excerpts from Money Ball to show facts alone and experiments, not experiments, but experience alone with using these facts is not enough. Sometimes you’ve got to bow to how people think because they know something that the facts don’t show.

So, add that intuition in to give you direction on how to make things better, but use the facts to say, “At the end of the day, this is the process we’re going to use,” or, “This is the process we’re no longer going to use because it’s not as good as the new one.”

So, they both need to be there, and if you respect the people and say, “Think about this stuff. We’d love to have your input,” I think they’ll be a little more compliant. They know that if they go to the effort of trying something new, maybe on their own time because they’ve got to do any experiments along with their full-time job, pretty soon I think they’ll get the idea that, “You know what? It’s worth doing. It’s worth trying these experiments. It’s worth using the best of what we’ve found so far, and I’m not going to dig in my heels just because I did it this way for 10 years.”

Michael Webb: Super. Well, this has been great. Any other observations or comments that you think the audience ought to know about if they’re thinking about process improvement in sales?

Michael Darrish: I think that the most important thing that isn’t often taught is that most of process improvement is about people, not tools.

Michael Webb: Excellent. Perfect. Super. So, if someone wants to ask you a question or follow up with you, how can they get a hold of you?

Michael Darrish: Ask them to come to you and then feel free to give them my contact information.

Michael Webb: Okay. All right. I will be happy to do that. I want to thank you for your time. I thought those were insightful comments. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy listening to them. We’ll have to stay in touch and see how things are going with your new career.

Michael Darrish: All righty. That sounds good.

Michael Webb: All right. Thanks a lot.

Michael Darrish: Thanks, Michael.

Michael Webb: Right. Take care.

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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