Discussion: A New Perspective on Sales and Marketing


Why process excellence isn’t
just something you “try.”

Perhaps you recognized some of the alarming management errors described in chapter 1? You likely hope to avoid similar situations. Or you may just want to make managing your firm less difficult. 

Regardless, if a book is to be of value it must explain and simplify things. This is not easy in the field of management. I repurposed of an old joke to illustrate the point:

A CEO questions his VPs of Operations and Sales. “Ok boys, the growth we need is not happening. What is the problem?”

The VP of Sales looks over at the VP of Operations saying, “Well, it’s not a sales problem.”

The VP of Operations glares back. “Well, it’s not an operations problem either!”

Exasperated, the CEO stands up. “Well, what the hell is it then? Is it a spiritual problem? … Do I have to call Ghost Busters on your asses?”

Of course, management is not a spiritual problem. It is very much an intellectual one however.

The managers whose horror stories were related in chapter one knew their goal was to stay in contact with the facts. They believed they were being scientific. Their aim was to create value. Yet, they created waste instead.

They “mistook motion for action”, to paraphrase the Hemingway quote at the beginning of the chapter. And that is the trouble.


Assumptions make progress and improvement tricky

Assumptions about human beings and the world we live in are at the center of everything. These assumptions impact not just how we interact with the physical world, but also how we interact with each other. They are at the heart of sales and of management itself. It is these assumptions that make progress and improvement tricky.

As the Western (i.e., scientific) mindset dawned during the Renaissance, scientists and businesspeople began producing more of the values – the food, shelter, products, and services – people needed to survive and thrive. Today, producing these products and services is becoming more intensely intellectual. Consider the complexity of global supply chains, for example, or the systems required to support them. Consider the nature and implications of artificial intelligence.

Now, intellectual complexity should not be a barrier. The Greek’s discovery of reason enabled them to begin grasping unseen mechanisms of the universe. They knew reason begins with observation. And since the Renaissance, we know critical thinking and experiment can reveal ever more deeply “hidden” causes at work.

We also know that knowledge takes the form of concepts (which identify various aspects of reality) and propositions (which relate various aspects of reality). These are how we grasp every fact and determine every value. Facts and values rest on the same base – observations of reality.

Consider a simple example. Cultivating a fruit tree in a suitable environment causes it to produce fruit. That is a simple fact. Likewise, this fruit is a value – it is good to eat. That is also a fact. We are constantly surrounded by propositions of facts and of values, and we must constantly determine whether they are true, or not.


Injection molding and active listening

Consider a modern manufacturing example. The cause of a hidden flaw in a plastic injection mold (a fact) might be difficult to discover. Why is it hard to discover? Because although the machine is working perfectly, the product intermittently contains a flaw. Something else is going on that must be discovered. Ultimately, you learn the flaw only appears when a certain operator sets the machine control to their preferred setting (a mistaken value belief).

The same thing happens in sales. For example, a customer might lack knowledge about a certain kind of problem they are having. This is just a fact, but it can obviously create frustrations for salespeople. It can cause customers to ignore the qualities of a certain product (i.e., its value). Likewise, a salesperson’s lack of active listening skill (which can also be a fact, and intermittent) can cause frustrations for customers. It hinders their ability to develop trusting relationships with decision makers (an important value for both parties).


Why process excellence isn’t just something you “try”

The issue is always, “How do you know this is a fact, or that is a value?” In other words, this is an intellectual problem. It is about using your mind in the proper way.

This is why process excellence is not just something you “try.” It is not a cost-reduction tactic (like replacing brochures with a web site). Nor is it a “best practice” (like sales training). Or a motivational technique (as compensation is sometimes used). All these get process excellence – i.e., rationality – backwards.

Just as the scientific method requires self-awareness in how your words tie to reality, managing and leading people requires leaders to become aware of how individuals are using their minds. If they need assistance, what manner of interactions will be most effective?

It requires asking the right questions, such as, “What evidence makes you think such-and-such a change will create improvement in the first place?” If knowledge is a value, then process excellence is the virtue, the pursuit of that knowledge. It is knowing how you know what you know. It is the voluntary commitment to whatever it takes to identify, and adhere to, reality.


The purpose of this book

Successful businesses are generally the product of some solid insights and acumen over the years. Unfortunately, most business cultures also include plenty of myths and falsehoods. And, whether in operations or in sales, pulling obsolete beliefs out by the roots requires reason, effort, and patience. This is called leadership.

In the field of operational excellence, practitioners have known these things for years. But the scrupulous use of reason in commercial functions can look quite different in manufacturing than it does in sales.

The purpose of this book is to identify the underpinnings of process excellence in manufacturing so they can be extended into the commercial world – sales and marketing in particular. It will introduce you to crucial frameworks, concepts, and tools. Leading your team through their implementation of these will continuously improve your sales results.


Are your customer-facing people ready for the journey?

Fortunately, in our experience, they are readier than you think. So, as you begin exploring this, what are your biggest concerns? And, what are you hoping to find in its pages?

We’ll be on the lookout for your comments. And to provide timely responses.


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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