Friday, September 27, 2013

The Sales Process - Improve It or Lose It

In my most recent blog I discussed how the lack of empowerment can cripple a sales team and how the root cause could be higher up in the chain of command than you may actually think.  I also mentioned how the fix to this type of problem and many other organizational issues can be found by using the Six Sigma DMAIC methods for continuous improvement.  This week I will go into a bit more detail about the DMAIC methods and give an overview of Six Sigma. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.  As I write this I am already realizing that this is going to take a few blogs to cover, so consider this part one of a multi-part blog.  In this blog I will talk about where Six Sigma and the DMAIC method fit into sales and in the coming weeks I will go into detail about the DMAIC method.
                If you have never heard of Six Sigma that probably makes this blog a bit easier to read, but if you have heard of it, I will need you to let go of any possible preconceptions you may have and give what I am saying a chance.  The reason I say it may be easier to accept Six Sigma if you've never heard of it is because how Six Sigma was thought of five to ten years back.  Back then Six Sigma was often being used by a lot of organizations to justify a process re-engineering effort that was crafted by executive management and other boards to appease shareholders.  Way too often, these were implemented incorrectly and used as “house cleaning” projects to justify layoffs.  There was a lot of promoting of Six Sigma in the manufacturing world and it started to be known solely for manufacturing defect improvement through process improvement.  The two biggest misconceptions about Six Sigma and the DMAIC method are that it is just for manufacturing and that it is a way to reduce your staffing requirements (fire people). As you read on I will try to show you that Six Sigma is much more than a manufacturing line improvement project.  It can go the core of just about every organization and increasing productivity with existing resources not getting rid of them.
                What is Six Sigma?  Six Sigma is about continuous process improvement.  The name Six Sigma comes from the calculations that show us how close we are to meeting our customer’s requirements (the only real measurement that matters).  When we meet our customer’s requirements 100% we have zero deviation from our goal.  Since Sigma is the Greek symbol for a Standard Deviation we use Sigma to describe how close we are to meeting our customer’s goals.  The more Sigma, the closer we are to perfection.  Six Sigma indicates we have met our goals with 99.99966% accuracy.  Six Sigma also equates to 3.4 defect per 1 million product produced.  That is pretty close to perfection.  So, is our goal in sales perfection?  Sure, why not?  We can strive for perfection, even if we know it can’t be achieved.  Try being Catholic and you will know what I am talking about.  I am going to get some heat for that one, but I am leaving it in.  When Jack Welch introduced Six Sigma to GE he stated, “We are going to shift the paradigm from fixing products to fixing and developing processes, so we are producing nothing but perfection or close to it.”  When I look at a quote from one of the best business minds of our time I learn that there is nothing wrong with having that lofty of a goal.
 I started this blog about sales, so the question remains, what does Six Sigma have to do with sales?  I believe the act of sales is a process with a product.  When I talk about what a sales person produces I am not referring to the widget that they are pedaling, but rather the sales process itself, a sales person produces customer service.  Six Sigma is perfect for services organizations. If you ask me (and by reading this you are), sales (customer service) is definitely a process, that can be measured and improved. 
As I stated before, Six Sigma is about process improvement and sales is a process.  Six Sigma is about improving speed, quality and complexity.  Speed, quality and complexity are paramount to sales success (and the success of just about every other service related business) and therefore the process of sales (and other service businesses) is a prime example of a process that Six Sigma is perfect for.
As we look at what the Six Sigma DMAIC method will bring us, I feel I need to first tell you what Six Sigma and Process Improvement IS and IS NOT.  Refer to the table below to see what is and is not Six Sigma Process Improvement:

Six Sigma
Process Improvement for Sales
A system to deploy TOOLs to make sales people more effective and that removes barriers from their sales paths.
A tracking tool to determine whether your sales people are as busy as you want them to be.
Sales Reporting
A system or process that reduces tasks and activities that hinder a sales person's direct work in selling.  Any activity that is not directly related to sales needs to be removed.
A system that forces sales people to become report generators rather than sales generators.
Processes and Checklist
Process and systems that make sales people more effective by giving them tools to stay focused on the task of SALES.
Adding processes to account for sales people productivity regardless of the added burden the system will have on sales people.
Activity and opportunity tracking are not substitutes for supporting SALES.  The needs of the system should NEVER outweigh the needs of the sales team.

What I am trying to say is that A CRM system is not a substitute for good processes and process improvement is not a substitute for developing your sales force.  If you are considering process improvement and deploying a CRM system or if you are re-examining your process and CRM deployment you need to make sure that the processes and systems support the sales team and not the other way around.  I remember working for a VERY large company and one of the people I respect in this industry said, “if a sales person wants to submit a PO on a bar napkin then we need to have a system that supports that.”  At that time I was a gung-ho analytically driven IT type that was a stickler for the process and the confines of CRM system.  I learned then that the needs of the sales team far outweigh the needs of us sales support people (if you are not in sales, then you support sales).   The first and most important aspect of a CRM (sales reporting and data mining system) is that it supports the needs of the sales team.  I have seen too many times where a CRM system is implemented so that upper management had “visibility” and middle management has “accountability”.  If your system’s goals are visibility and accountability then your system might be missing the most important aspect – usability

Next week I will go into the details of the Define and Measure aspects of the DMAIC methods for process improvement.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Empowered Sales People Sell More

POWER – It can be given without loss.

It has been said that there is power in choice. I believe this holds true whether you are giving choices or exercising them.  The result will always be some form of shared and transferred power.  One example of such power transferred through choice is when you need to convince a customer to buy your product.  Such a situation requires that you to give them the power of choice.  This is a lot easier said than done, because if we leave too much to choice we may not have what our customer chooses or wants.  A very delicate balance is in order.  That all seems reasonable enough, right?  Great Max, you have succeeded in stating the obvious you can now share the limelight with Dr. Phil.  

Here is my dilemma; what happens when you as the sales person do not have the power to give a reasonable amount of options to your potential customers? Whether it is price, product offering or support programs, I believe the customer must have choices.  In a case where you are limited in what you are allowed to offer, you are not empowered.  When you are not empowered the customer loses their power and you lose your customer. Here is why.  Everyone wants to believe they are dealing with THE person who can give them what they want and need. Think back to when you bought a car or other big ticket item. If you ever had to deal with the sales guy that developed a great rapport with you, listened to your needs and developed a solution that gave you what you needed and wanted, but when it came to a fair price he had to "get his manager's approval."  Didn't you feel like you were wasting your time?   

This does not change in complex sales.  Customer’s needs still remain the same.  All customers have the need to feel they have choices and if they don’t get them from you they will find somewhere else to get them.  Regardless of the relationship you've built, the support you give and extra effort you go through, you need to be able to offer the choices and you need to be THE guy you customer can get everything they need from. Of course our customers also need to know you are willing to solve problems (as addressed in one of my previous blogs).

If you are a sales manager reading this, I plead to you now.  Please give your sales team the power they need to make your whole organization successful.  When you create this environment of success (where choice is the number one sales tool) you will flourish in the rewards.  If not, you simply have a team of purchase order takers and administrators.  Don’t get me wrong, order entry and administration are the heart of an organization, but without pro-active sales people who have the power to offer choice the organization is limited to transactional business at the maximum bandwidth of the person who controls the choices.

Here are 3 steps to helping you determine if you are empowering your team:

1.  Ask yourself (or better yet your team) if you are you a bottleneck. – Are there sales and/or negotiations that are not taking place because you need to be a part of it?  Are you aware of every detail of every opportunity?  If so, could you be too aware?  A microscope does not help a team as much as a pair of binoculars.  If you spend too much time looking at what is going on you will never see what is coming. 

2.  Check to see if you create an environment that allows risk. - Does your team feel they can stretch and/or make a mistake and know that you will have their back?  If your team member does the wrong thing for the right reason, will you support them?  Your team needs to know that you will always support them as long as they act in accordance with their conscience and the collective goals and strategy of the group.   As long as they are doing what they believe is right to help your company win the kind of business you need, the team needs to know that you will support them.  If this holds true then the course corrections you need to make when something goes wrong won’t always be to reprimand a sales person for a mistake, but rather to correct the lack of empowerment and understanding of organizational goals that you have allowed that enabled the mistake to happen.

3.  Where is the power? - Are you a middle-man?  Do you have to constantly (more than once or twice a week) check with your boss about budget, strategy or positioning?  Do you even know what your cost is and profit goals are?  You can’t transfer power you don’t have.  This is a bigger problem than just acting as a buffer.  A team that knows you are not the decision maker is just as demotivated as you are and this must be addressed.  If you find yourself being bypassed by your team and your leadership is allowing this to happen, you may be in that tough spot of being a middle-man.  This needs to be addressed head on and tactful conversations need to take place ASAP.

If you have taken the time to evaluate whether you have transferred your power to your team and created an environment that breeds success or not, you are half way there.  Here is what I mean by that; the Hawthorne effect states that anything studied changes its behavior.  So, by merely evaluating yourself to see if you empower your team, you will empower your team.  If you already empower your time, stop here and share/comment how you do it and (if) why it works.  If not, decide to change it and change it.

For tips on to make these changes and other organizational improvements check back next week.  I will be writing about some of the key ideas from the Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology and how those can be applied from a sales management perspective. 

Happy Selling,


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Project Management and Life Lessons

Project Management and Life Lessons

I am a life-long learner.  Recently, I have focused a lot of my evenings and weekends to gaining more knowledge (and certifications) in more areas.  I recently added the PMP certification to my list of certifications.  I spent some long evenings studying and memorizing things I thought I knew from years and years of experience.  There is one thing that holds true of about almost every certification I have obtained.  That thing is that regardless of how much you know (or think you know) and how much experience you have, you always have to study for a certification exam.

I would like to share with you a small, but (to me) significant revelation I had while I was working on my PMP studies.  The revelation came to me one night when our instructor said that a project is a living and dynamic entity that must be taken from its beginning to its end.  To me this seemed to be giving projects way too much in the realm of personal traits and since I was recently reminded by my sixth grader is that personification is used too much these days, I was hesitant to take this information to heart.  But, then I gave this a lot of thought.  I realized that if we as project managers did just that (give our projects a persona), we would be more inclined to properly guide and develop the interests of the project and protect the project in ways that we wouldn't otherwise. 

If we approach our projects with a sense of needing to address the projects needs and developing its path to success as if we were dealing with a living thing, it would enable us to feel free to defend its best interests even in the face of having to disagree with or offend others.  If we look at project management as our responsibility to always do what is best for the project, we can direct it efficiently, interact with resources and customers clearly and manage the outcome effectively.  In this mindset we can even close the project early if needed to so we would be doing what is best for the project and not necessarily what is best for ourselves.

When I gave this more thought, I found it was a logical and effective way to address projects and I decided it was worth sharing.  I hope this helps someone out there who is struggling with a conflict in their project.  I now have a better understanding and respect for the passion project managers have for their projects.  Some treat their projects as “their baby” and now I see why.  Great project mangers give their projects a persona.  They develop and guide that persona and have hopes to one day, watch it grow and flourish under its own power.

To me that is a project management life lesson.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D, CTS-I, PMP, CQT, CCENT, CCNA, CCNA Security,  MCSE, DSCE 
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 15 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 26 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting A/V systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm.