SPIF TIP #49: 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 (a well known variant is known as the Toyota Production System) is a management system that 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. Successful companies enable their team to create home-grown interactions that help prospects and customers move along their customer’s journey. The best minds in your business (your team) work out respectful agreement for how to get the customer to realize, prioritize, and solve their problems with you. The Lean approach guarantees buy-in from salespeople, because salespeople who can get customers to respond are in the driver’s seat. 

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. 

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

What would you like to know about implementing a management system like this in your organization? Please respond in the comments section below.  




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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