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Trimming the sales fat: A leaner sales process improves efficiency

Kaizan and lean principles have been applied to manufacturing processes for years. One voice is promoting their use for getting the sale. Here’s a brief look at how to do it.

When it comes to lean, most manufacturers look to the production floor. Now, some are looking to the front office to trim waste and become more productive and efficient. Applying lean principles to the sales functions of a company can help accomplish this.

When surveyed about sales activities, one of the most common complaints from key management personnel at molding and moldmaking firms is that the sales team isn’t out in front of the customer or potential customers often enough. Comments range from “the salespeople are in the office too much” to “sales gets too involved with the day-to-day production stuff when they should be out selling.”

It’s common for most molding and moldmaking companies to combine the tasks of marketing and sales because it isn’t economically feasible to hire a person for each function. This means the time that the salesperson spends on each area is often fragmented. For example, sales is commonly dragged into “customer service.” Not a bad fit; however, customer service can take up a lot of time: finding out where in the pipeline a job is, checking on production schedules, confirming that parts were or weren’t shipped, and acting as a go-between for engineering and production. In some cases, sales is even asked to be the collection agent for past-due receivables. All this takes time away from selling and/or marketing activities.

Sales: Art or Science?

Even though there have been many changes on the production floor such as ISO and QS certification and lean manufacturing techniques, very little has changed in the way people sell. Chuck Reaves, a sales trainer and owner of XXI Assoc. (Atlanta, GA), says that during the quality revolution of the mid-1980s, sales was relatively ignored. But, he adds, there is a legitimate business reason why previous quality programs did not accommodate the sales process. “Sales involves people doing business with people, not people doing activities with machines and processes.”

Therefore, it was perceived that the sales process was not predictable or measurable like a manufacturing process, so ISO or lean principles didn’t apply. Reaves explains that companies typically don’t get anything tangible out of ISO or lean techniques—just a way to lower prices. “Management is convinced that sales is an art form and we can’t control artists,” says Reaves, who teaches a program called Kaizan for Sales and believes that sales is “virtually a pure science and therefore both predictable and measurable, so the rules are changing.”

Kaizan has brought with it the ability to define and measure almost every aspect of a sales call. As in the manufacturing model, says Reaves, improvement happens as each incremental step in the process is examined, measured, and improved repeatedly.

Preparation and Focus

Here are some areas in which lean practices can benefit sales:

  • Quoting. Ask any molding or mold salesperson and he or she will tell you how time-consuming quoting can be. In some instances, engineering does the quoting, leaving it up to the salesperson to get the order; in many cases salespeople are a part of engineering and therefore they get in on the quoting. For those salespeople who participate in this process, being more efficient in quoting requires that you should have a marketing plan in which you have a specific profile of the ideal customer. Quoting anything and everything that comes in the door is like throwing spaghetti at the wall. Obviously some of it will stick. But how much time do you waste quoting projects that are not the right fit for your capabilities?

  • Sales calls. Strategies can be employed for making sales calls that save time and make being on the road more efficient and more effective. Reaves suggests that it is easy for sales to become rote. “We do what we’re comfortable with, so we go to every sales call with the same pitch,” he says. “We need to get salespeople to think differently on every call; the next sales call has to be different, and the next one different from the last.”

    This is where precall planning can be a valuable way to achieve lean sales. “Instead of starting the process when you walk in the potential customer’s door, start by finding out what’s going on in their company, their market, their industry,” says Reaves. “Can we find out something we didn’t know yesterday about this company and position ourselves differently?”

    Precall planning also consists of using the Internet to find out what products a company makes, so you can pinpoint up front whether or not the company is a fit for your capabilities.

    Make appointments with specific people. Very few companies will give drop-ins any time to see them. In fact, there’s a general distaste for salespeople among those in purchasing. And, with recent downsizing of many companies’ personnel, everyone’s time is stretched.

  • Target marketing = sales hits. A strategic marketing plan that tells you who your ideal customer is in specific markets, or specific companies in those markets, enables you to pinpoint your promotions, such as direct mailings and e-mail promotions, specifically to those companies that you have prequalified. Target marketing equals more sales hits at a lower cost-of-sales. The rifle-shot approach saves time and money. The shotgun approach means you’ll chase a lot of rainbows before you find your pot of gold.

    The rifle-shot approach of target marketing saves time and money.
    “Kaizan selling requires that the entire process be reviewed,” says Reaves. “Like the folks in manufacturing who examined each little element associated with making the products, professional salespeople are going to need to sit down and look at the entire sales process.”

    Editor’s note: For more helpful hints on developing a marketing and sales strategy, see Clare Goldsberry’s three-book series on that topic available through the IMM Book Club (www.immbookclub.com).

    Contact information
    XXI Assoc., Atlanta, GA
    Chuck Reaves; (770) 979-3321
    www.chuckreaves.com
    [email protected]
    TAGS: Business
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