Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is Sales Six Sigma-proof?

The great myth in business today is that sales organizations are Six Sigma-proof. That is, sales organizations are by definition immune from standardization because salespeople will not conform to a prescribed set of streamlined processes. The argument goes that in fact they should not even be asked to, or you will scare away the superstars who are comfortable with a maverick approach to their work. In other words, salespeople need to be coddled, not have their worlds interfered with, or they will flee to what they perceive as greener pastures. But it is a myth.

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by finding and eliminating the deficiencies, inefficiencies, and defects in processes. It has been extremely successful particularly in manufacturing, but also in design, project management and even executive management. For the record, I am only talking about the principles—what Six Sigma represents—rather than a codified, black belt approach to perfecting the sales process.

During the recession, many companies have been seeking to become lean and agile. This requires not only trimming excesses, but streamlining processes. New technologies and IT innovations are rapidly allowing savvy users to accomplish almost anything.

So why should sales be exempt?

It shouldn’t. With a caveat. And that is that sales can be lean and agile and follow a particular process if, and only if, that process can not only be shown to be good for the salesperson individually, but actually proven to help sellers sell more efficiently and effectively. If the case can be made that the process can actually help sales or at least increase the time that can be dedicated to it, then salespeople worth their salt will follow it. So, if you are struggling to implement a CRM or drive acceptable adoption levels, then show how it not only provides visibility to the management (which doesn’t impress a salesperson), but that it eliminates busy work and duplicative reporting for the salesperson. Prove that if they follow the process they will be more successful.

More and more the push is on for predictability when it comes to revenue forecasting which can only be achieved by greater levels of insight which CRMs can supply. Predictability is the Wall Street mantra. Project the numbers, but do not fail to meet projections. Be predictable.

That’s why sales is theoretically so difficult to manage. Mavericks are by definition unpredictable but if you can show them how the CRM helps to increase their selling time and reduce ad-hoc reporting and duplicative review calls with management, then you are another step down the road to a lean and agile sales organization.


  1. Great post, John. I appreciate your comment about the spirit of the principles, not necessarily the rigidity of LSS. Engaging a market ought to be a repeatable process, meaning the actions taken by the practitioners should be known, and documented at least at a level that can be constantly improved upon. I believe the process must also include creativity or out-of-the box thinking, as a part of it, so structure and creativity can coexist together, as part of a plan. Even selling to the intelligence community (IC) I have found this to be true.

  2. A unique approach and very well written article. I am working with a process improvement software and am researching unique idea's to map my processes, your article has helped a lot.