What Distinguishes Sales Process Excellence from Sales Process Engineering?

The term “sales process engineering” was defined nicely in a paper written by Dr. Paul Selden in 1994:

Sales process engineering is the systematic application of scientific and mathematical principles to achieve the practical goals of a sales process. 

Engineering is practical. It applies whatever scientific knowledge is available and relevant to a given problem. In sales process, the problem is to get people in your target market to take actions you want them to take. Such actions could include giving you their attention, their information, their trust, and ultimately, their money.

 This is quite a different problem from manufacturing production, which is to add value to materials until they meet a specification. Where manufacturing converts physical products to a desired state, sales process engineering communicates messages that are relevant and timely enough to influence their intended recipients.

 Not all communications have the desired effect, of course. In fact, where manufacturing productivity is typically measured in defects per thousand or million opportunities, sales and especially marketing messages are often measured in successes (or responses) per thousand or million attempts.  

Thus sales process engineering is characterized by: 

  • Voice of Customer research to discover how the customer goes about solving their problems from both a common (marketing) and specific (selling) standpoint.
  • Use of operational definitions around the units of production, the flow of work, and observable qualification criteria (quality attributes)
  • Respectful agreement within a team around how the work should be done (sometimes called standard work, though other names for this are often used).
  • Empirical approaches to problem solving, analyzing quantity and quality data with mathematical and scientific tools to visualize the flow of value, bottlenecks, waste, and to detect signals in the noise.
  • Systemic and pragmatic tests to verify assumptions and determine such practical information as process capacity and operating limits.
  • Conservative, transparent messages that ensure value can actually be delivered and the customer relationship can be sustained.

Engineering work is typically project oriented, i.e., there is a beginning, middle, and an end. Sales and marketing, like production, is never ending. It implies a constant requirement to perform. I like the term sales process excellence because it connotes that the sales function happens continuously, that people have to try. Sales is a performance art, after all, and it can be continually improved.

I often talk with excellent salespeople who are trapped in companies that behave in very un-salesperson-like ways. The challenge for them is to get the entire organization (not just the sales department) aligned so it can identify, deliver and sustain customer value.

Often this work begins at home, helping the sales department get its house in order. Sooner or later, however, improvement work tends to point out root causes that cross functions, such as when the marketing department needs to improve the kind of prospects produced by lead generation campaigns.

The thing is you need both project work (sales process engineering) and continuous improvement to sustain and extend the gains. Either one can get the ball rolling.


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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