Sales departments tend to think that they are unique in the business world. Their department is treated the worst, they don’t get the resources they need, and the way they have to work just isn’t the same as any other department. They really are unique in two interesting ways compared to other functions.
One is that they are the people with the most interaction and understanding of the customer. The other is that they’re about the only division that hasn’t changed the fundamental way they operate, in more than 50 years. Yet, sales departments are much more like the rest of your business than you are they realize.
The rest of your business, while aided by the skillsets of talented staff members for each department, is not dependent on a single star performer to perform it’s function. If your financial manager left, there would be a process in place that would allow you to still get things done until you can hire a new one. If your head of customer relations left, the process in place would insure your company’s excellent support did not come to a standstill.
That’s the beauty of process in business and why companies have spent so much time and effort on developing internal processes that make them increasing better at what they do. Training, education, and experience in these departments all favor those who can learn and follow a process, as well as improve on it, to better the performance of their area of specialty.
Lean methodologies have been applied to many business functions, particularly in larger companies, with tremendous success stories. Productivity and customer satisfaction go up, and errors go down—and not by small numbers, either. Average improvements range from 40 to over 80%, and the improvements only continue to increase the longer a Lean methodology is utilized in that department.
What about sales?
Sales remains far behind the improvement curve in most companies. Training and education focus on the skillsets of individual salespeople, with the mistaken belief that investing in the people alone will translate to an increase in selling abilities (and overall increased revenue). The fact is that “salespeople may retain as little as 13% of what they learn in a sales training session after just 30 days,” referencing information in CEB, “Why Your Sales Training is Falling Short”. I discuss this in much more detail in my book, but the poor retention of new sales methods by salespeople is something I’m sure any sales manager can relate to.
So, what are we saying here? That salespeople don’t work the same way as the rest of your business, and the same processes that work for your other departments don’t apply to sales?
Actually, Lean Thinking, and the processes derived from it, can and do work as well for sales as they do in other functions. The emphasis is shifted from seller-centric thinking and efforts to a focus on the customer (a.k.a., Buyer) and what they find valuable. It’s what can allow your company to remain competitive in a world where the Buyer is making a significant part of their decision before they ever speak to one of your salespeople. This has the potential to differentiate your company from the competition, in a big way , not just in sales performance but in your customer’s satisfaction at the end of the process.
Once you implement a holistic Lean Selling process within your selling organization, you’re able to see benefits you hadn’t even considered. How many members of your sales team do more than superficially engage in a buyer’s process? Have you thought of the increase in referrals, or recognition within your industry, that could come as a result of having buyers that are happy about how you sold to them? How many of your customers feel that the process of buying from you was something they benefited from as much as you did? Do you have a way to find out?
Do you know where your salespeople waste the most time trying to acquire new leads or close deals? Do you have a way to find out?
How long does it take you to onboard a new team member to your sales team? How long before they are selling at a rate comparable to the most experienced members of your team? Do you have a way you can improve that?
There are many, many areas your bottom line can be improved by implementing a Lean methodology in sales. From accountability to reporting to revenue, there’s little within a sales organization that Lean Thinking wouldn’t improve.
However, the adoption needs to be complete. It can work in bits and pieces (many sales managers do use certain Lean methods in their teams), but it works the best when it’s incorporated top to bottom in your organization.
You can learn more about Lean concepts by signing up for the free 12 week series, Lean Learnings, below.
You can also keep the Lean conversation going by 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.