Quality is a word I almost never hear in a discussion about selling. Sure, sometimes we sell the quality of our products and selling, but I almost never hear the discussion of quality in selling or marketing.
It’s a sharp contrast to discussions I have with manufacturing, engineering, development, and even financial executives. Quality is an ingrained part of everything they do (at least in high performing organizations). When I ask sales and marketing executives about this, usually the answer is “We’re different.” Sometimes, it’s amplified, “Our work flow and processes need to be flexible and change with the customer,” or “Sales and marketing is more of an art.”
What I’ve come to learn, is too many sales and marketing professionals don’t understand what quality is really about. While many of the quality zealots will shudder with my description, quality is really about performance and results. It’s focus is on effectiveness/efficiency in achieving the desired outcomes for the “customer.”
In “quality speak,” the customer is the downstream step, or the recipient of the product or service I supply. So the concept is, “I provide my work product to you, error and defect free, enabling you to do what you need to do and not waste time, resources, or money in correcting it.” And that thinking goes through every step in the process. The result is, we design what we do to have no waste, no error, nothing that doesn’t create value for the “customer.” The result is high effectiveness, efficiency, and performance. More importantly, everything we have done contributes directly to value the customer has defined, and no more.
Step back for a moment and think about those principles. Applied to what we do in selling and marketing, it makes a lot of sense. What if we defined how we work strictly by doing only what creates value for the customer and nothing more? What if we looked at eliminating anything that doesn’t contribute to that value? Think of how much time, effort and money we could save, think of how that might translate into more sales to more customers?
What if we looked further, thinking not only about eliminating unnecessary steps and initiatives, but eliminating errors and defects in our work? What would the impact be on how we work with customers and their perception of us? What would the impact be on our own personal effectiveness and efficiency?
Just the other day, I saw a very simple example of this–a sales team was on their third iteration of a major proposal. The first two hadn’t met the customer requirements. When I drilled into it, the customer hadn’t really locked in on what they needed—and the sales team hadn’t gone through the process to help the customer lock in. So both were shooting at a moving target. They would recognize it when they got there, but it was hit or miss until that point. It was an enormous waste of customer and sales time. But we see examples of this all the time.
So quality principles (and with that lean/agile principles) can be critical to our performance, how we engage customers, and the results we produce.
There’s another really important concept to quality.
“Quality cannot be inspected into a product or service, it must be built into it.” Dr. W. Edward Deming. (Dr. Deming is famous for his work in Japan, notably the Toyota Production System. Much of what we think of in quality and lean has roots in Dr. Deming’s work.)
Think about this a moment. So much of what we do in sales and marketing is inspecting and correcting what we do. We sit in countless deal reviews, inspecting our strategies, correcting what we do. We spend mind numbing hours in pipeline reviews, figuring out what’s wrong, why we aren’t hitting the numbers. Then there are the endless “discussions” between marketing and sales about lead quality, and we each spend lots of time looking at and arguing about leads.
It seems the more and more we fail to achieve our goals, the more time we spend inspecting and correcting things. Fixing a deal strategy, fixing the pipeline, and so forth. But those quick fix approaches don’t look at the root problems, and they decrease our effectiveness and efficiency.
We’re called in to look at many of these situations—sometimes when it’s almost a matter of survival. Usually, the root causes are very simple. No sales process (or the wrong sales process). No pipeline integrity. A “go to market” rather than a “go to customer” strategy. The wrong people or the wrong skills. No execution discipline. Poor metrics, poor accountability.
We don’t fix sales and marketing performance problems by inspection and review. We don’t fix performance by adding layers of software tools for better reporting and monitoring. We can’t inspect our way into performance improvement, we must build it into our culture, values, people, programs, systems, tools and processes.
So quality concepts, principles and tools are very important to our performance as sales and marketing professionals.
There are a couple of things that I really like about these tools. They always start at the end–with the customer and work backwards. They focus on simplification and great clarity. They focus on clear metrics and accountability. They change the role of managers from inspectors to problem solvers. Most of all, they are common sense.
Think about applying quality and lean thinking to what you do personally and within your organizations. You’d be amazed at how powerful and how quickly you can produce results.
Some after words and thoughts:
1. If you need help in some great resources to look at, just contact me. There’s a lot of great stuff out there, free or near free. The tough part has nothing to do with the tools, but the thinking and analysis in applying the tools.
2. Stay away from the quality zealots. Yeah, I know I’m making a gross generalization, but I’ll stick with it. There are a lot of great quality professionals that can really help you. But there are also too many quality zealots that don’t understand sales and marketing and don’t have a clue how to apply quality principles to improving the function. I’ve seen too many failed Six Sigma and Lean efforts led by zealots.