It is not the Process, it is the Conversation
Joseph Juran observed, “There should be no reason our familiar principles of quality and process engineering would not work in the sales process.” In Management of a Sales Force, a sales process is presented as consisting of eight steps. These are:
- Prospecting/Initial contact
- Pre-approach planning the sale
- Need assessment
- Meeting objections
- Gaining commitment
This is your typical marketing funnel or a sales process describing an approach to selling a product or service. We may even choose to call it sales process engineering. Along comes a Lean consultant or a Six Sigma Black Belt saying that we can apply Lean or Six Sigma to the sales process. What they are really saying is that they can show you how to engineer the process. If they are somewhat current, they will throw in discussions about agile, iterations, uncertainty and flexibility. But they are still trying to engineer the process. I know this all too well; I have done the same.
I started out creating product/markets or value streams. The next step of the process is to map the customer journey and then start defining the individual reaction or internal processes to it. The rational for having a well thought-out sales process is that you can standardize customer interaction. From a consultant’s (internal or external) view , it offers the opportunity to use design and improvement tools from other disciplines such as product development (Agile) and manufacturing (Quality). It is a good learning exercise and helps you understand your process and may even be a starting point to help you understand your customers. However, it is a mistake to create a sales and marketing process around this thinking. As you may know from my previous writings, Kill the Sales and Marketing Funnel, I believe linear planning will increase the risk for a customer to engage in an inappropriate course of action. I encourage you to read that post before continuing.
In today’s world, you may not know or be able to identify the decision makers anymore. Decisions are being made in committee and every one of those committee members are influenced by many others. It is becoming a very collaborative process. There are still people that carry more influence than others though it is not the perceived hierarchy that an organizational chart depicts. Rather, it is through a network of tangible and intangible deliverables, a network of value.
The conversation is at the heart of the Sales and Marketing process. Through the above mapping exercise, you should not be attempting to find a step by step process rather you should be identifying the conversation and interactions and prioritizing the moments of truths that take place. Just as Lean in the 3P process development process has moved away from stage gate reviews to an event, see blog post, Eliminate your Stage Gates in favor of Events, we need to make a similar move in sales and marketing. I prefer not to call it an event rather a conversation as I described in blog post, Sales and Service Planning with PDCA. A conversation of wiling participants who have demonstrated a willingness to address a job that needs to be done. This conversation has several paths one of discovery through CAPD and another through continuous improvement of PDCA. It is not restricted to a funnel that will limit participants and the sharing of knowledge.
You may ask, how does that deliver sales? What is the ROI of the Lean Sales and Marketing? Dave Gray, discusses this type of hierarchy and sales structure in his new book, The Connected Company. He calls this structure a POD. In the book, he mentions a few companies like Amazon and 3M that operate in this manner. He also mentions Semco, a Brazilian conglomerate that has grown from $4 to $200 million or Rational who was acquired by IBM for 2.1 billion and others. Whether you call them Pods or Value Stream Teams it makes little difference. They are built through a clearly defined vision and supporting processes that empower them in the conversation they have with customers.