Manufacturing Sales Success

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In today’s world, manufacturers have long understood the concepts of process and measurement as they apply to engineering, quality, and manufacturing.  Methodologies such as Lean, Kaizan, Six Sigma, and Continuous Improvement have been around for years as has the software used to plan, track, and measure those activities.  As we all know, the proper implementation of these systems can have a dramatic impact on cost, efficiency, predictability, quality, and profitability.

So, why is it that most manufacturers don’t apply the same rigor to their sales organization?  In sales, we tend to focus most of our efforts on what we’re selling rather than how we go about selling it.  Quite often we attribute success or failure to the experience, attitude, and relationships that our sales people have and we hope to replicate that success by hiring someone with same set of soft skills.  But, how often have you hired someone with a great track record, the right attitude, and the right relationships only to see them struggle to sell in your business?  And, what would happen if your top salesperson left the company?  Do you know what steps they are taking to generate results?

Just like in other areas of your business, the secret to developing a successful selling organization starts with process.  We begin by understanding the steps currently taken to convert a lead or opportunity into a sale.  From there, we can break things down into the detailed activities and behaviors that need to occur at each step.  It sounds simple enough, but like any other exercise of this sort the variances across team members will quickly begin to surface.  Early on, identifying which activities are the most beneficial can be difficult because many companies don’t track sales behaviors, they track sales results.

This is where CRM software (Customer Relationship Management) can help.  CRM systems are specifically designed to organize and manage the data and activities across the entire sales organization.  A CRM can start to tell us which upstream activities ultimate lead to the results we hope to achieve.  For example, what steps have to happen to take a lead to a prospect, a prospect to a proposal, and a proposal to a deal.  We can start to look across our sales team to identify what behaviors increase the likelihood of closing a deal and how often we need to perform those behaviors.  Once we start to collect this data, we begin to identify areas for improvement and replicate the improvements across the entire team.  It also provides us with a blueprint for new sales reps to follow.

Over time, this exercise could involve most all of the functional areas and will likely yield benefits across the entire company.  For example, we can begin to identify which marketing activities generate the leads that ultimately convert to sales.  Marketing, sales, engineering, service, and operations can all share a 360-degree view of the customer, enabling world class support.  Data driven sales, forecasting, and planning can improve decision making throughout the organization.

It sounds a bit overwhelming, but, the good news is you can start small to begin seeing immediate benefits.  And because manufacturing is all about processes and systems, you have experience to draw upon and apply to the exercise within your sales organization.