Lean thinking has its roots in the Toyota Manufacturing System – a concept brought to the attention of the world in “The Machine That Changed the World” by Womack, Jones and Roos. Also known as lean production, its goal is the relentless elimination of waste, which can be defined as anything which is unnecessary to the task of serving and satisfying the customer.
But lean can be equally effective in improving sales and marketing performance. Our epiphany in applying lean thinking to the sales and marketing process came with the recognition that organisations need to devote their attention to understanding and satisfying their prospect’s buying process, and that their sales and marketing activities should be seen as subsidiary to that goal.
The idea that companies can fight their way out of the current recession simply by “selling harder” has been comprehensively discredited, and few companies are of a mood to throw more money at marketing in the vain hope that they can spend their way out of the problem.
Lean thinking can help turn the tide. Organisations need to identify the key steps and stages in their prospects typical buying process, and develop a deep understanding of who their best prospects are, what really matters to them, and how and why they choose to buy. In our experience – and with particular regard to high value B2B sales – the stages and milestones prospects go through are remarkably consistent – but the tactics required to facilitate the buying process naturally vary across different products/services and markets.
It’s critical that organisation take pains to listen to the voice of the customer. Even that minority of organisations who conduct systematic win-loss analyses typically miss valuable learning. Of course, it’s important to understand how and why prospects made their buying decision, but in our experience it is equally valuable to understand what caused them to start searching for a solution in the first place, where they searched for solutions, who they trusted to advise them, and how their buying process unfolded.
Lean thinking can help address all of these issues, create customer value, and eliminate wasted effort. Key elements in the lean sales and marketing toolkit include the discovery process, kaizen events, value stream mapping, the hoshin kanri planning process and an organisation-wide commitment to continuous improvement and the search for perfection.
We’ve just published an eBook with our thoughts on the subject – downloadable here: http://tinyurl.com/nc5avh. I’d love to hear about your lean sales and marketing experiences.