Standardizing Sales by Peter Scholtes


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Sales and Marketing have never been against systemizing the process.
They have been against being systemized by the process.

Recently, I have been re-visiting the work of Dr. Edward Deming and a few of the people that he worked directly with such as Peter Scholtes and Brian Joiner. I am amazed at the clearness of thought that they offer, completely untainted with Japanese words and constant references to Toyota. At times, I feel like I should have been a “Deminite” versus a Lean guy.

It is quite evident in reading Scholtes and Joiner that sales and marketing were never meant to be excluded from the continuous improvement process. I believe it has been those limiting words, “Lean Manufacturing” that has caused part of the exclusion. The other part is that it cannot be validated through Toyota. I have always been frustrated that Lean has not moved more away from Toyota. Although, Toyota is the model that has excelled at applying Deming, I think the constant validation that seems to be required by citing Toyota is limiting to Lean.

In the The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done, Peter Scholtes discusses Standardizing Sales, from page 128:

Standardizing Sales

Perhaps more than other professionals, salespeople are inclined to see themselves as a unique subspecies of the human race. “This stuff may work with those other people,” they protest, “but salespeople are different. What we do is intuitive. We have to use our instincts. There is no system here. It’s an art form!”

Such was the response among the salespeople at one very high-tech product/service organization. They provided very sophisticated financial systems software tailored to the needs of the user. These salespeople also had to be very technically astute.

Do you go out and make sales calls?” I asked. They responded in the affirmative

“So let’s look at that sales call this way.” I drew on the flipchart:

Flip Chart

“What is important to do before the sales call?” They offered various answers, which I listed. Some items caused discussion among the salespeople, not so much disagreement among them as an awareness of interesting differences in their approaches.

Then we moved on. “What is important during the sales call?” I asked. They offered several items, but when one salesperson said, “The presentation is the most important part of the call!” everyone agreed.
“What constitutes a good presentation?” I asked. The salespeople started listing a number of factors. Once again they mostly agreed, though there were some interesting variations. Then I asked two important questions.

“Who decides what is a good presentation?” It took them a while to say, “The customer does!”
“And how do your customers define a good presentation’?” Silence.

If you read Scholtes or listen to him, you will find that you are learning through a series of questions that he asks. I would enjoy seeing the percentage of questions in his books versus today’s writers of continuous improvement.Not saying today’s writers are wrong. It seems that we are all looking for that template for success, the silver bullet, versus finding success within our own structures.

A good case in point is the struggles of many conferences, workshops, etc. centered on learning Lean or closing the so-called knowledge gap. These conferences are populated largely by consultants and vendors trying to sell to the learners. Another telling sign in our times is that conferences that focus on coaching, consulting, certification or in other words creation of an expert status to tell others how to do things are flourishing. No wonder sales and marketing have resisted. Do we really think that without asking them what is needed to improve or visiting their Gemba, the customer’s place of work, with them that we can improve their processes?

Back to Peter Scholtes on Standardizing Sales:

So we devised a little research project for the sales force: Talk to customers about sales presentations they have seen. What made some better and some worse? How can our presentations be improved? What are you, the customer, getting in our presentations that you don’t need? What do you need that you’re not getting?

What happened here? The salespeople started looking at their work as a process aimed at customers, a process that can be improved with feedback from the customer.

We didn’t use the words “system” or process.” Nor did we need to debate the issues of intuition and art form. But we started examining the system called selling. Also, these salespeople got excited about the exploration.

Sales and marketing have never been against systemizing the process. They have been against being systemized by the process, Lean or Lean Manufacturing. If you review, The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done I think you will find a great deal of guidance and understanding on how to include sales and marketing into continuous improvement. I would encourage you not to stop there. Brian Joiner’s book, Fourth Generation Management: The New Business Consciousness also adds additional insight to viewing our organizations from an outside-in perspective. I wonder where it all was lost?

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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