Does Lean apply to Sales?


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In discussing Lean Strategies for Small Business, I asked Ankit Patel about how Lean applied to sales.

An Excerpt from the Podcast:

Joe:  That’s interesting that you mentioned sales. I talk about it in the marketing perspective and how Lean applies. How do you tie Lean principles to sales?

Ankit:  Well, we use the simpler tools. So, I like to use the KISS method, “Keep It Super Simple.” So, we try not to over complicate it. Some of the main things that we do when we’ll go into the sales department is a standardized process. The bigger thing is testing that process and methodology. A lot of times, there’s not a systematic way of testing what works and what doesn’t with sales. So, for instance, if you’re trying to sell, some shampoo items in a hair salon. Well, when do you ask for the sale? How do you go about asking? What are some things you might want to consider want to ask about shampoo? Does a person have a particular type of hair? You need to standardize that process.

Let’s ask these specific targeted questions at the right time to the right people to maximize the opportunity to have a sale. That’s just one small instance of how you can do that. There is also the standpoint of standardizing.

Make sure every single person that walks through your business is asked, “Would you like this? Or would you like that?” Or making sure that the right qualified buyers are asked about all the products that they’re qualified to buy?

Joe: The salesperson is pretty independent sort, do you get a lot of pushback when you start talking about standardization?

Ankit:  Sometimes. A lot of times what we do is we actually take the top performers, and we say, “What are you guys doing? Let’s see how we can improve on that and see if we can’t replicate that throughout the company.” Usually, there’s a little less push back with that because sales are very metric based operation. When we say, “We’re going to take the top performers and try to replicate it.” Most of the time people are very responsive to it. Now, just like any other Lean transformation, sometimes there’s a lot of push back, and sometimes there’s some attrition. That’s going to be true of any transformation or business cultural change that you go through.

Joe:  Is there a certain type of person that works better in sales, that works better in Lean than another maybe?

Ankit:  Not necessarily in Lean. Lean is actually a pretty universal type skill set. It actually hits on a lot of natural human… I guess I’ll call them human needs. Things that motivate us, motivating factors as employees are actually the concepts that Lean tries to focus in on. So, for instance, Lean gives you control of your work. Making improvements so you really have a feeling of control, and that’s one of the most important things that actually we find that motivates most employees, that feeling of respect. That’s another thing employee’s want is a mutual respect as well as a feeling of accomplishment. So, with Lean you get all these factors that help motivate people.

Along the lines of sales, you don’t necessarily need a certain psychological profile, but it really helps. What we’ve found is that you want two things and depending on what you’re selling you want either one of these, or you want both. You want someone that develops a rapport very, very quickly; so someone that you can just talk to and just instantly get a bond with.

You also want someone who can ask for the sale, basically close the sale. The person that can close the sale usually is a person with extremely high confidence. Sometimes they’re the ones that may come across a little rude just because they’re always the “pushy car salesman.”

You want a blend of the two depending on what business you’re in. If you’re in a really relationship type business, you really typically want a person that can do both. If you are in a consumer driven business, a high volume consumer-driven business, it’s not as important to have the rapport side of things. You want someone that can close the sale. So again, it really depends on the product, the market, and the business needs.

Joe:  As you make that description of that salesman I think of a good salesman, and you’re right. I mean they have the ability to build rapport and different things with me. But then at times I will say, “Give me a little bit of space. I don’t want to be pushed anymore.” They’re coming on maybe a little too strong. That’s interesting in that comment that you made there because it’s a nice model that you’ve described.

Ankit:  Yes, it’s not very easy to find those folks, but there’s actually a certain way to go about systematically finding that psychological profile. If you can’t find that exact profile, then you have to design that into your processes to say, “I know it sounds silly but sometimes you have to say make sure you ask the client about XYZ. Ask them about their family, ask them about their business. Ask them these rapport questions. Then start building that bond with them.” Or, if you have the other problem, ask them, “This is how you close the sale. This is how step by step process that we standardized to be able to close the sale.” If you’re not a naturally good salesman, then the Lean sales process will actually help you even more. And like I said, most people really don’t have a natural sales type profile. Most of us are better off in other areas of business.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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