Why are improvements difficult to create in sales and marketing

A reader asked: 

  • Why do improvements seem so difficult to create in sales and marketing?
Leadership listening and acting

Leadership listening and acting

This is a good observation and a good question. The VAST majority of attempts to improve in sales and marketing don’t improve anything in the end. Scratch the surface of most consulting interventions, and you will see this.

Yes, there may be a new kind of sales training, or a new kind of CRM system, or whatever. Yet, in what way did productivity improve? Does the organization even measure productivity? Do they know how to measure productivity? Can they measure value to the customer? Can they measure anything, besides end results (orders, revenue)? Maybe the managers can rank order the effectiveness of their salespeople. So, what are they doing to make sales easier, to improve productivity of the team as a whole? 

Over the years, much of my work has centered around the curious fact that there is so little data in sales and marketing. This hampers any kind of improvement effort. People tend to believe there isn’t much that can be measured in sales and marketing. Why can so little sales work measurable? The reason is there is so little about sales work that is defined. I mean, operationally defined, down to observable characteristics, respectfully agreed by the parties involved (salespeople, marketers, etc.). Ask three people in your company to define a term like a “lead,” a “qualified prospect,” or even “who is the customer?” Chances are you will get different answers, especially if they work in different departments.

The next question is, “So why is nothing defined?” (You noticed I’m using the simple 5-Whys here, right?)

There can be a couple of answers to this. Before I give you mine, take a moment and see what comes to your mind. Why do your sales and marketing people have so few operational definitions in how they do their work? Go ahead, stop and think about this for a minute. 

Ok, here are my responses:

  • They never had to do this before… Why?

  • They never had a reason to do this before… Why?

  • Management newer knew it needed to ask them to operationally define their terms and their work… OK, Why?

  • Management never thought about sales and marketing they way they think about a production system – as something to be analyzed and improved.

So, perhaps we have answered the first question, about why improvement doesn’t take place. People don’t know how to improve, and that is a skill that can be learned and applied. And this must start with the management of the company. It isn’t about the salespeople at all. 

Does this resonate with your experience?


By the way, once you figure out how to start making improvements, the challenge immediately changes to “How Do You Sustain Your Ability To Generate Improvements Long Term?

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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Nida Simons - May 28, 2014 Reply

Taken in totality, Neenah Paper Inc make what I consider to be the best thing on the market even better, helped enormously owning the entire end-to-end experience.

    Michael Webb - May 28, 2014 Reply

    Nida, can you tell us more specifically what product or service at Neenah Paper you are referring to?


April C - September 24, 2014 Reply

This hits home for sure! I’m a process improvement coach & trainer for the sales organization at my company, and even in teaching Lean classes, the tools I introduce don’t seem to hit home for the sales participants. There’s HUGE potential for sales organizations to begin to look at things with a process lens… “if there is no standard, there is no kaizen.”

    Michael Webb - September 24, 2014 Reply


    Indeed. My experience is that PE in sales and marketing holds even more potential for improvement than does manufacturing production. I look forward to hearing how things go for you. As a process excellence professional, there is allot we’re about to release that should be quite useful to you.


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