Our Senior Leadership team recently returned from Japan where they were on an educational journey to bring back ideas from Japanese businesses that had been working on LEAN initiatives for many decades. Their trip included a visit to Lexus, the luxury car maker and part of the Toyota family of brands. As they were departing for their trip I asked that they solicit feedback from the Japanese companies regarding LEAN and it’s applications to sales organizations.
One might describe the Sales Cycle as the time it takes to obtain an interested prospect through a customer purchase order and finally through the ongoing post-purchase customer engagement. If you look at the Sales Cycle in 3 stages, you may find it easier to look for waste in the sales process. Waste will reveal itself in time, motion, over processing and/or wasted human potential of associates.
The Sales Cycle -3 Stages: Pre-Sale Activity / Direct Selling Activity / Post Sale Engagement
Building interest with prospects takes research, dedication, focus, creativity and a concise definition of value for one’s target audience. Marketing and Sales teams work closely to refine these target audiences and the messages that will drive desired customer response; typically outreach, raising their hand in some fashion for contact or more information. Eliminating waste from these processes can be accomplished through building a standardized approach to the various activities required to deliver in clear, simple language – Who is our target? What is our value proposition message? How will we communicate it internally & externally? How will we measure our success? Who is accountable for each pre-sale activity? What are the desired timeframes or deadlines? A clearly defined launch formula shortens the cycle. Compressing the time it takes to complete these pre-sale activities is LEAN applied to the sales cycle. Each delay, restart or off track adventure eats time and energy. What areas of your process can be leaned out?
Direct Sales Engagements
The Sales Team has a prospect, whether obtained through the marketing engine or through direct sales customer prospecting. Are your sales team members capable of building instant rapport and interest? Do they have the skills necessary to do so? Were they measured in the hiring process or ongoing performance evaluations against a standard in order to predict their success in their role? Have they been educated on a definitive sales approach? Is leadership spending the right amount of time, watching, listening and coaching sales team members? Show me a sales person with a rich pipeline of business and I’ll bet money that they have done the hard work of preparation, outreach, communication, post visit follow up and continuous touches necessary to close deals. Direct selling without a process, a script, a consistent message, a consistent list of questions, a consistent approach to customer engagement will result in the absence of results. LEAN thinking applied here in the sales process is as applicable to sales professionals as it is to operational, manufacturing personnel. What standard work or best practices can you point to formally in the sales process that are evident across the sales team?
Post Sale Engagement
Now that we’ve received a purchase order, what systems, processes or steps do you have in place to communicate with your customer? Do you have in place automated order confirmations detailing shipment dates from the factory? Confirmations of product shipments and anticipated arrivals to benefit the customer are a great way to communicate order status and shipment. Whether invoicing at time of purchase order or at shipment are those communication automated, manual, efficient, clear and understandable? Does your marketing team then continue to touch your customer with the correct frequency according to plan, to stay in front of the customer base with information that is relevant to your customer segment? Are there opportunities (waste) to streamline these, speed them up, to eliminate time and multiple touches. MRP systems and CRM systems offer solutions in automated workflows to eliminate time spent on these activities.
LEAN and it’s application to the sales cycle is self-evident. Seeing waste in the process is certainly the hardest part of the journey. I am hopeful that this breakdown of the process might trigger thoughts for continuous improvement. I would love to hear about steps that you’ve taken in your own sales process to eliminate waste. Thank you for any insights you can share on your own journey that have helped you LEAN out you selling cycle.