We all know that improving processes will dramatically improve your quality, reduce your costs and make you more efficient, but can it help us sell more? This was a question put to me recently while I was giving a presentation at the British Library and it raises an excellent point.
Lean Six Sigma can undoubtedly help a sales function. You could reduce the time to generate a proposal, you could plan your staff’s time better so they have more hours dedicated to selling, rather than paperwork. You could organise your computer so that you can locate important documents, such as collateral, more easily. You could introduce standardisation to letters and emails, saving time as only 10% will need to be altered to fit the customer’s needs. You could speed up the production of collateral and improve the quality as well as making it easier to plan visits to clients. All of these things and countless others will make your sales function more productive which, in turn, will give you more time to sell.
But what about sales conversion?
Successful selling is really all about converting an interest or need into a sale. Traditionally we think of Lean Six Sigma as a way to streamline a process or production line – so how can it help in this context?
Develop the mindset
For me the first way Lean Six Sigma can assist is by improving your understanding of your customers. Conducting a Voice of the Customer exercise and a Kano exercise will tell you what is actually important to your customer, rather than what you think is important – which can often be two very different things.
It will show you where you are missing opportunities not only to delight your customers, but sometimes just to ensure they are satisfied. Using Lean Six Sigma tools we have helped companies dramatically improve their sales approach, sales collateral, pitches and selling style.
Adopting the mindset of Lean Six Sigma will ensure that we put the customer at the heart of everything we do. This can only ensure that we can sell more products and services.
Using Lean Six Sigma to reduce costs or improve quality is also a key way the methodology can increase sales. It’s like showing each of your customers a badge of excellence saying you are dedicated to improving the product and service they receive, and passing on your savings to them.
I know I would much rather work with a company where they can demonstrate how they have improved their products or services over the last year than one which can’t. Furthermore, in an increasing number of tenders, procurement departments are asking for proof that you are using business improvement. Let’s make this more proactive and use it as a sales weapon. Let’s not wait to be asked, let’s tell them upfront.
Lean Six Sigma can be used as a proactive sales approach which will prove to customers you are dedicated to passing on cost reductions and make it even harder for your competition to complete. The result is, with a Lean Six Sigma stamp of approval, you’ll sell more.
Prioritise the right customers
The next way Lean Six Sigma can help us win more business is through the use of Little’s Law. Little’s Law tells us that the more things we work on, the longer it takes to complete them and the poorer the output quality becomes. So let’s put in place a process to prioritise the sales we go after, the proposals we choose to complete or the tenders we enter. We have finite resources so use them to maximise the return. The scatter-gun approach is not efficient or effective in most cases.
We have worked with a number of sales teams where they seen conversion ratios increase from one in ten when they started to one in three. These staff say they can now provide a quality service as they are only working on opportunities which they have a chance of winning. Morale improves and win ratios sky-rocket.
Work with them
You could also offer to work with your customers so that you can make your products and services even more fit for purpose. In many cases we have found that processes at our customers’ end make doing business with them harder than it needs to be. They increase the costs we incur because of their inefficient working methods, ultimately increasing the end cost of the works.
With skilled Lean Six Sigma personnel you can offer to take cost out of the process and increase quality by improving their processes – a kind of reverse supplier development. Offer to send a team to run a Kaizen in you customers’ processes. Provide the this as an added value service to your clients. This will make you stand out from the crowd and show the desire for real partnership. The results will be dramatic and can include an improved business relationship and closer partnership, in turn leading to more sales.
Another way of increasing sales would be to start using QFD to reduce the time to market of a product, enabling you to offer shorter lead times to clients. QFD is a highly powerful tool which is not truly utilised in businesses today. If you can reduce your lead times or enable customisation later in your processes you can offer products at a lower price, make more profit and provide an improved service.
You can offer products quicker than the competition, offer more customisation and outshine the competition. This will give you a new marketing angle and lead to more sales.
Sell more, sell better
Lean Six Sigma can be used in any function in a business to make it more effective but I believe that sales functions can use it to sell more. We have talked about just a few ways it can aid your sales effort but there are countless others. Lean Six Sigma can help you transform your sales function and increase sales. This is surely the goal of any Sales director in any business? As a sales director in a company once you really understand how Lean Six Sigma can help your function, you will sell more and your staff satisfaction will increase. You will also realise that every other part of the business should be utilising these techniques and develop it through the rest of the company. It’s easier to sell if you are quick off the mark with high quality and the best price.
We have worked with sales functions in manufacturing, legal, facilities management and financial services in the last year alone. Lean Six Sigma is no longer constrained to manufacturing; it’s time to start thinking outside that box.
Let us know of any instances where you have seen Lean Six Sigma used to transform sales, what industry was it in and what were the results?
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