SBWA — Selling By Walking Around


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Tom Peters and Robert Waterman introduced the world to the acronym, MBWA–management by walking around, in their 1982 book, In Search Of Excellence.  Apparently, term can be traced back to practices in HP in the 70′s.

The concept is that executives get a much better understanding of what’s happening in their organization through informal visits–random tours of factories, facilities, meetings with groups or people/customers.  Rather than structured visits, heavily scripted and prepared, the ability to observe and assess what’s really happening is critical to making progress.

Today, as we struggle to find Insights and create value for our customers, I think SBWA, Selling By Walking Around, is critical.

This doesn’t mean wandering around an organization, pitching everyone that you see.  As with MBWA, SBWA is really about observing, discovering, and learning.

SBWA is an opportunity for sales people to create unique value for their customers.

For various reasons, executives are often isolated from their organizations.  They know what they see in reports, meetings, or what they are told—but the may not be aware of how things really get done.  Or they may not be aware there are better ways of getting things done.  When they wander around, they may be prisoners of their own experiences–not knowing new technologies, processes that can improve their operations.

SBWA gives sales people the opportunity to take their Insights to a different level–they can explain how the Insight directly impacts the customer and the results they can expect to see.  I’ve told the story about wandering around a bank’s credit card operations–operations the execs knew very well.  But I was able to see problems that resulted in the purchase of a new $20M computer system.  Had I not spent the time wandering around the operations and gone directly to the execs with an idea, I would never have had the data or specific examples to get the execs to understand the nature and magnitude of the problem they faced–they thought things were operating smoothly.

SBWA enables us to focus our discussions on the things that really concern executives–their own operations.

Too often, sales people don’t take the time to really understand what’s going on in our customers.  At best, we may do research–visiting their websites, analyzing the company from a distance.  Perhaps we make educated guesses based on financial performance or what we’ve read.  But we lack the context of what really is happening in the organization.

SBWA is pretty easy to do–it requires genuine curiosity, a pad of paper, and a pencil/pen.  All we have to do is start talking to people in the organization.  It starts with the receptionist at the front desk, or the person on the loading dock.  It may continue with meeting someone in the cafeteria–asking them what they do, how they do it, what problems they encounter, learning.  It can go on to wandering around a manufacturing floor, watching the work flow in an administrative operation, sitting at someone’s desk looking at how they work.  We may want to sit in their customer service organization, listening to calls from their customers.

Nothing can transform a relationship with a gatekeeper more effectively than by starting your SBWA with them and engaging them in the discovery process themselves.

SBWA doesn’t need to be face to face, though if you have the opportunity you learn so much more.  Talking to people on the phone, learning about their worlds, their perceptions and what they see happening gives the sales person insights about the business and operations.

SBWA isn’t done randomly–it’s done in a very purposeful, focused manner.  We are looking at the parts of the organization, the functions, that are most likely to have the problems we can solve.

To do SBWA effectively, we have to understand what to look for, questions we should be asking, things we might want to measure, how to understand and analyze a workflow.

It doesn’t take a lot of time–it can be a few visits, some short conversations, enough to get a good feel for the issues the organization faces.

SBWA profoundly changes the way we engage, create/construct value with our customers.  If you really want to catch the attention of executives and engage them, try Selling By Walking Around.

(As a side note, for those who have been following my writing on Lean Sales/Marketing, SBWA is a form of Gemba)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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