Selling is a Process, Not an Event!
Friday, May 27th, 2011
Sales Efficiency and the “Lean” Process
Traditionally the Lean Process focuses on principles related to efficiency in manufacturing. The purpose of the “Lean” approach is to continually improve all processes to increase effectiveness and productivity in an effort to positively impact the company’s overall performance. The goal is to reduce waste (e.g. time, raw materials, and redundancy), improve quality, reduce inventory levels and reduce lead time. This approach requires a very different culture incorporating a multi-departmental synergy, teamwork and a strong commitment from “C” level managers.
The reality is that “Lean Principles” can provide significant benefits to all business processes and that includes marketing, sales and customer service. If for no other reason, consider the impact that sales people have on the overall manufacturing system. How often do sales people change or delay production and delivery times? How often do they make changes to the original order and disrupt lead times and inventory levels? How accurate are their sales forecasts and their predictions about selling cycles? I think you are getting my point.
For the purpose of this article let’s focus on the sales process and how a “Lean” approach can improve sales effectiveness and productivity. Begin by acknowledging the variety of activities that sales people are involved with that impact overall business efficiency. They include sales workflow, contact/client management systems, sales reporting, forecasting and budgeting, sales management, correspondence to clients and prospects, a wide range of administrative tasks and of course the actual process of selling. Each of these activities when performed inefficiently increase costs, generates waste, dissatisfy internal and external clients and negatively impact profitability.
When designing a Lean approach to sales efficiencies there are so many areas to address. Counter-productive to a predictable, repeatable process, sales people typically operate as independent contractors functioning with an informal, non–documented approach. In many cases each sales person in an organization follows his/her own personal selling style and most of their activities are non-measured. Unpredictable results are common and minimal accountability to the organization and management is a source of frustration for all.
If your organization is attempting to institute a “Lean” management approach, a sales department operating as I’ve described will create major problems in managing workflow and process improvement. The sales department should be totally connected to all of the other departments. The competence and skill level of your sales team will significantly impact predictable revenue, manufacturing workflow, the type of products you will produce, who you do business with, the resources required to support client(s) and certainly the organization’s profitability.
If you want to apply some of the “Lean” principles to your sales team consider these questions:
- How do your sales people spend their time?
- How much time is spent in face-to-face selling?
- How about traveling and what time of day do they travel?
- Do they spend an inordinate amount of time problem solving and by the way, who causes the problems?
- What about non-selling, administrative activities? Are they preparing for their sales meetings and when do they prepare?
- Do they prospect for new clients and do they follow a consistent approach to increasing the business with their existing clients?
- Do they maintain a client database (not in their Day-Timer) and share it with the entire team?
- Here’s an extremely critical question; how effective are they when they are in front of a client and finally selling?
In too many companies, the sales people determine what you sell (manufacture) and who you sell to. I think you will agree, not all clients are created equal: and not every product they sell makes good business sense. As part of a well defined sales program these issues should be addressed and sales people should be filling the pipeline with sales that fit your business. Establishing procedures to identify the “right” clients for your business is crucial to planned growth. They should know what the client buys, when they buy it and the resources required to support the business.
If you are considering incorporating a lean manufacturing program do not exclude your sales department from this all too important business strategy. Revenue growth, efficient workflow, productivity, employee morale, profitability and overall performance will clearly be impacted by the activities and processes carried out by your sales organization