Lessons from a Sales Kaizen Blitz

As we started this Lean journey I probably spoke with a dozen Lean practitioners both inside and outside sales. Many advised me to focus on standardizing the work we are doing then create a value stream map and focus on incremental improvements. This, in time, would yield significant reduction of waste and increased efficiencies.

Standardizing sales behavior is hard even in the most transactional environments. We are dealing with customers that expect new ideas, creativity and insight – not easily charted on a whiteboard. So we took a different tack and returned to our top 2 adopted Lean principles:

1) focusing on customer pull and
2) limiting non-value added activities (and WIP).

Customer Pull focus takes you away from cost and efficiency and sets your sight on effectiveness. To what extent you are delivering what the customer needs.
We set our key performance indicators entirely on this basis for the workshop:
– revenue per person
– % of net new deals (as leading indicator of new customer interest)

To visualize non-value added tasks, we captured all major tasks and activities on sticky notes and boards that the team was engaged in and categorized them strictly in customer value added and non-value added groups. Value added had to be something that a customer would pay money, time or resources for. In case of doubt, we had a customer in the meeting to validate.

Astonishingly we were able to reduce our activities by 60-70%. Some became necessary evils, what the Lean world calls “business value added”. This meant non-value added but things we had to do, like internal communication, reports, marketing (not always customer value added). All business value added tasks were targeted for delegation to other support organizations away from the customer facing roles. In some cases we delegated these further outside, i.e. outsourced.

Top Learnings from our week of Kaizen Blitz

1) Eliminate 60-70% of non-value added sales activities and that effectively triples the time available for customer value added activities, like selling. When you triple selling time, you can reasonably expect similar growth in productivity

2) Make everyone’s tasks visible to everyone else. Let the team members hold each other accountable. Including bosses and support staff. Everyone. We use Trello’s Kanban boards for this.

3) Delegate non-value added tasks to other organizations who can perform them more efficiently, faster and cheaper. Add these organizations to your review cycle and Trello board.

4) Create monthly sprints. Create tasks and projects that can be completed in 30 days and measure those. Sales likes longer horizons for deals, like quarters. Don’t let that happen. Be agile.

5) Review your board weekly. Make elimination of non-value added part of the weekly review. Reprioritize constantly to make sure no waste slips back in.


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