What is Lean sales? – Identify your external customers!

Continuing from my last blog

By “External Customers” I mean customers outside the boundaries of your own organization. In sales this is who you define as your lead/opportunity/customer.

I admit that this area is out of my depth, all I have is the theory about haow to define a market, but I know what you need to use this for, so the requirements are not a problem to define. You need to have a clear aim on what types of customers you will be targeting, what the markets that will supply you with leads are. This is probably not something you do very often and I brought it up because of the importance this step has for the rest of the work.

When working at IKEA I was part of the teams in development of new products. My role was to assist with the forecast information regarding the potential of the new product and gather knowledge about the product so that I could make a plan for how the forecast for the new product and other products in the range will change once we launched.

This was about understanding who our customers are and how they would react (e.g. cannibalization on other products). This was also about understanding what customers we did not have, how the offer potentially would create a new customer base and how we could reach as many potential customers as we could.

I don’t see that B2B sales can be any different. If you have a clear idea of who you are targeting, the rest of the work becomes so much easier.

Usually when I talk to people about the problems they are facing at work I can hear that the client base is so diverse you wonder how they managed to find the deals and if any of the deals made any money. “Selling all we can to everyone…” is not being fair on your organization.

Once you have decided on who your customers are you should write down your assumptions. You have assumed that this group is correct for your company because… (fill in the blank). If you write down your assumptions it will make it easier to see what you might have missed over time.

This customer description needs to be communicated throughout your organization. Everyone needs to be in line with who your customer is. Now there may be parts of your organization that views the customer different e.g. Customer Service, because they deal with another part of the customers organization, but marketing, product development, project teams, production, logistics, and so on, need to have a collective idea of who you talk about when you  “the customer”.

“Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.” ~ Kevin Stirtz

In the next step you will need to create a Sales Plan in order to reach these customers, so you need to put some real effort into getting this right, because if we get all the other steps right, it will be a waste of time if we don’t target the right customers. The perfect execution of a misdirected plan is not something you would want…

First, let us get look at your internal customers.

//The picture is from my infochart over Lean Sales

What is Lean sales?

To get to a Lean sales organization requires a few changes in how you as a manager view the role of sales and the roles your sales people have in your organization.

First off, this is as much culture as it is management. This is the really big uphill climb. Changing culture is not the easiest thing to do and it is not something you do very often. The culture you need to truly succeed in Lean is the idea that change comes from the people. It is the voice of your employees that needs to be the source of your future development. It is about teaching your employees to voice any activity that does not function within their area of expertise.

The second thing is that Lean is about money. Either you save money by cutting out an unnecessary expense or you gain money by removing time spent on something meaningless and using it to make money.

The third thing is that Lean is customer driven. You might think “We’ll duh, I work with sales, no one in the company understands the customers as well as I do. We live for our customers.” You might be right, but to be Lean you cannot try to push leads thru your pipe, hoping to transform them into customers. Lean is about working with the Leads that are partly on their way, Leads that you can turn into a profitable customer. You need to be good at giving your customers the tools they need to walk towards your sales pitch on their own, you need to make sure you are targeting the right markets and you need to have correct criteria for your qualification procedure (and NEVER deviate). Part of this goes back to how you market and communicate your brand, so get your Marketing department on board!

To make this possible you need to define in what area people work and what they do. You need a clear description of how the job is to be done in order for someone to flag if it is not working as intended or if there is a way of doing things better.

I know that in sales you have your key performers the lead sales person, the one that lands more deals than any other sales person and that they can sell manure as chocolate bars. You forgive them for all their eccentricities because they bring home the bacon.

“There are no heroes!”

There are no heroes in Lean, this is a team effort. You cannot be dependent on individual players and if you allow rogue behavior, how can you motivate the rest of the tem to follow routines and guidelines? Besides, top sellers can give feedback on how to improve the routines (share some of their magic) and use their creativity and drive to support the team improvement, move from being “I” focused to “we” focused. As far as team effort is concerned, let me put it this way. If you have 5 sales people and one of them is the top seller scoring 30% over the average group revenue, if you can increase the other 4 with 10% your top performing sales person can drop 20% and the team is still making more revenue than before. If the top performer quits because they miss their hero status and you hire another average Joe working according to your routines, you are still making more revenue. The time it takes to get Joe into the job has also been reduced do to clear routines and structure.

“Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost of teamwork is too high” – Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix

As I understand most sales people are a bit competitive to say the least, so this is a bit tricky. As a manager it is important to have clear measurements and goals to be able to stimulate these thoroughbreds, directing their individual competitiveness to achieve the common goals. I understand if this is intimidating, it’s OK to be a little scared, but rise to the challenge!

With this way of working anyone within the same roll can do any other persons job within the group. This makes your job so much easier when someone quits or goes on vacation. You can still lift your individual players, good work should always be recognized. If you as sales person meet your goals, follow routines and find new and better ways of working, you should be rewarded. Just do not put the individual in a cape and lift them up on a pedestal…

Another important fact about standardization is that if you simplify a lot of the everyday work, there is more room for thinking and creativity that can be used for making your process even better and more efficient. Time that can be used to research your leads better in order target the right leads, make a better case or to present a better deal.

You also need to have a clear understanding of who your customer is. Not only externally but also within your company. External customers should be found by managing well targeted leads and correctly qualified opportunities. Internal customers can be any department your team delivers information to like forecasts, specifications, time lines for projects, administrative work and so on.

In the blogs that follow I intend to give my thoughts on how you can create a structured approach to a Lean way of working in your sales organization. This Infochart is my map. There will still be alot of valid points, even if you do not make your sales organization Lean, so if you are not convinced don’t stop reading, our journey has just begun…

// Featured image from http://www.almir.biz/lean-business/