Part 1: What is Flow?

There’s a problem that plagues most CEOs and Sales executives when asked about how long their sales process takes. The answer is inevitably that it takes too long, and is rarely, if ever, consistent. The issue is usually that you really have no control over how long it takes your Buyer to make a decision.  It takes a long time for people to make big decisions, it often requires juggling different departments and budgets to confirm the purchase, and there’s always competitors whose offerings have to be evaluated and compared against.

These are things that happen, true, but they’re not necessarily the best way to look at them. For an in-depth look at shifting your mindset, you can read in detail about why the sales process takes so long in a previous blog post. What we’ll talk about instead is the plan you can implement that will enable your sales process to Flow – a Lean concept discussed in more detail in my book, but I’ll summarize for you here. Once you understand a bit about Flow in a process, you can easily craft a plan to try and keep it in the sales process for your own team. It’s how you keep buyers moving through your pipeline at a consistent rate.

The thing about Flow is that it is exactly like the first image your mind probably conjured up—much like water in a stream. Water in a stream flows, never stopping, simply moving around the landscape and obstacles without pause. That’s the kind of movement you’d like to see in your sales process, right?

The way Flow is defined when it comes to a Lean process (what we want to apply to your sales system) is that once the process starts, the subject of the process moves through it without pause or interruption. In manufacturing, that’s the goods or materials being produced. In service delivery it is often, as in our case, people: the Buyer moving through your sales system. The second requirement for Flow to be achieved in a Lean system is that the process is capable of moving one item at a time through the entire process.

In sales, it probably feels like you have a handle on the second requirement. It’s not terribly difficult to move one Buyer through the process at a time; it’s probably how you’ve been handling each Buyer before this. It’s the first part that’s tricky, keeping them moving through the process without pause or interruption.

Getting Flow into your selling system requires a certain amount of commitment. In product or service production, Flow is often impeded due to a misguided emphasis on a particular piece of expensive equipment. To try and get the most out of that piece of equipment, manufacturing ends up focused around that one particular machine, often leading to inventory piling up before and after that machine’s step in the process.

While this may cut down on the cost of each unit coming out of that one machine, you should also consider the overall cost of production. When you account for the entire process, rather than just one step, placing such emphasis on a single machine doesn’t actually save much money or time after all. The goal is optimizing the entire system, not just a single machine.

This perspective on looking at the process as a whole, not only a single step, can prove extremely valuable to you as you consider ways to solve that quintessential sales problem: making the process faster.

Reconsider your challenge of speeding up the sales process. Consider it through the lens of trying to create Flow in your process. While there’s a lot to be done before a sales process really can Flow, this should get you in the mindset of evaluating which activities, people, or tools that may not deserve the amount of emphasis placed on them. This is the start of a Lean Thinking mindset!

You may be thinking that your sales process would Flow just fine, if the Buyer would just cooperate and tell you what they want. This kind of thinking empowers your Buyer, but leaves your Seller at a disadvantage. It’s fatalistic, and seems to give permission for the Seller to treat the whole process like there’s nothing they can do to improve it.

We’ll discuss the first step you can take towards enabling a sales system that Flows in our next blog post.

To keep this lean conversation going, consider joining the Lean Selling Group on LinkedIn.

About: Robert Pryor is a Lean Selling author and community builder as well as a CEO, speaker, and educator on cutting-edge sales processes. His new book is Lean Selling: How to Slash Your Sales Cycle and Drive Profitable, Predictable Revenue Growth by Giving Buyers What They Really Want. Follow by joining the LinkedIn Group “Lean Selling” or on Twitter @LeanSelling.

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