Posts on the iSixSigma Discussion Forum reveal the common roadblocks for implementing Six Sigma in the sales department. However, the thread below also offers helpful tips for overcoming these obstacles.

franz: My company launched a Six Sigma program 3 years ago in the financial/insurance business. We are now trying to make its scope broader by embarking the sales departments, and we are struggling a little bit. Sales reps consider they do not run a process, and usually say the DMAIC methodology is too heavy, too complex. Sometimes they are ok to consider SS and DMAIC, but they ask for a tailored version of DMAIC, with less stats, less process map, less everything. Can you help me to find new ideas or best practices to convince them that SS is made for them too? Thank you very much!

Mike Carnell: franz, That is a pretty normal response from a “sales” person. They see you in the middle of the process where they are face to face with the customers. Wrong spot.

There is an entire process called inside sales. Qualifying leads is a process. There is also a huge follow-up process that needs to be executed when they actually sell something. If in fact there is no process to take what your sales person just sold and communicate it back to your organization and then they deliver on that sale – you probably have a high percentage of really angry customers.

What you are seeing is resistance to change. You created this problem or at least aggravated it when you made the decision to just roll out in financial/insurance part of the company. Now you had better figure out how to undo what you actually created. When you delayed you sent the message that management wasn’t that committed and worst of all you weren’t sure it would work.

BTW – the sales people that scream the loudest? Typically your worst sales people. Guess why they don’t want it. Check the sales guys with the cowboy hats.

Just my opinion. Good luck.

franz: Thank you, Mike. It is true that it is probably a change management issue, which I have to deal with anyway since I’ve just joined the company…

Anyway, the request for a lighter version of DMAIC is still high, even from the “best” sales persons, the ones that are the less reluctant to new ideas. Even if GB is not in place in the company yet, I’ve heard about a program called sales green belt. Do you have any idea about what it is, and if this program addresses this need for a lighter or tailored version of DMAIC?

Bill: I am doing 6 sigma project, but I just from BPR practices. I think you need different approach to DMAIC instead of lighter version of it. Sales could be seen as a starting point of your supply chain, or as a implementer of marketing strategy.

As your firm seems a service firm, I would say it would be proper to see as a latter. Well, if you look at other innovation methodology like process innovation, BPR, etc, there are some methodology for sales and marketing, and so forth. Those methodologies have different using different tools. I am not so sure if you using “mentoring” approach to that, though.

Well, if you still want to use DMAIC, I suggest that you use only D/M parts, in A you will use more FDPM, and logic tree, etc other than fancy Minitab stuff. Also I propose you start one part a bit earlier than normal DMAIC schedule as you need more time in pilot for sales than production.

It would be still difficult to persuade sales people as a process is not a vital factor to sales functions. There IS a process, but considering the ultimate and strong goal of sales is M/S, or revenue, I think it is not so easy to get attention from them. It is not new only in 6 sigma, it was not much different in BPR or PI, any other methodology where process was main innovation target.

I suggest that first you try to separate strategic issues from sales process and transaction issues using CPCI (Consumer, Product, Channel, Infra) Framework. Then, you need to have closer look if you are ever going to do it with DMAIC or in a separate project. If you can select some proper project at this stage-UNLIKELY-then you can use “lighter approach” as I just mentioned above.
In a current issue of HBR, there is one article called, “Six Sigma pricing”, you could refer that article.

Greg Hohner: I implemented SS in Sales six years ago in a medical device company. My initial strategy was to bring in DMAIC/PDCA into the sales process and it, too, was met by resistance. Over time, I refocused on a consultative sales approach that got rid of the jargon, drove decision making and aligned goals between us and the customers. It was more lean practices than DMAIC steps. Sales and profits took off.

Likewise four years later, DMAIC was applied to specific projects related to growth and profitability barriers identified through the sales/goal alignment process. The challenge is to find the right mix of tools and processes that flows into the current work and then use the success to drive change in a sales force, i.e. results drive bigger commissions and paydays.

Justin: My advice is to divide the DMAIC process into extremely small chunks and give them generic process maps, which they can customize for themselves.

I have done the majority of my Six Sigma within the sales force and certified over 100 GBs from sales. Another good tactic is to make sure you are in line with their managers and that the projects focus on meeting the overall sales goals. Then equip the managers to ask specific questions – Do you have your Cause and Effect matrix completed yet? Having them ask how is your project going is counter productive, because most are unsure of that answer until improves are getting put in place.

Just using a process map with a critical and complex customer can be an eye opener, but unfortunately they will want proof. You will need to rely on your innovators of the sales force to get things rolling.

DMAIC is very successful for issues controllable within the sales force (i.e. quotation time, call schedules, specific customer plans) and can be frustrating when items are out of their control (i.e. policy issuance, UW, billing).

Good luck. It is a long process, but being in line with sales management and helping them achieve their goals is the key.

Slim: I would recommend starting with understanding the challenges and opportunities across the sales organization. Understanding the perceived performance gaps and priorities across the functional silos (marketing, manufacturing, finance, sales, etc.) and levels (regional, hierarchical) will foster productive discussion about next steps and implementation hurdles. Basically assess the performance gap.

Assessing the performance and relative importance will allow sales leadership and sales professionals to identify the most impactful opportunities to improve sales effectiveness.

It would be a good idea to read Improving Performance by Geary Rummler and Alan P. Brache and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell for ideas on how to make a big difference.

Remember, get everyone to define and agree on the opportunity for improvement. Once you have done that then Lean 6 Sigma for service and transactions will be a good tool for the next steps.

Michael Webb: As far as Six Sigma in sales, yes, of course it applies, and the salespeople may have reason to resist it, at least in the short term.

The main problem in sales environments often isn’t the salespeople, it is the environment salespeople live in. The analogy to the factory is this: salespeople are like production machines. Sure, if they are out of whack they are not going to make good parts (i.e., customer orders). But if they are fed poor quality raw materials, there is only so much they can do to compensate.

The “raw material” in marketing and sales is people in the market place (of a certain kind). You find or attract them to your company and add value to them until they are ready to buy.

Often the first step in improving the performance of a factory is to get a handle on the quality of the raw material coming in. So it is with marketing and sales. That means thinking through the entire way you find, gain and keep customers (marketing, selling, and servicing) with this question in mind: “What value does this create for the customer?” Of course, that is Lean thinking, and good marketing and selling is always lean.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things assumed in the manufacturing culture that do not yet exist in marketing and sales cultures. For example, you assume raw material, WIP, and finished goods inventory. You measure the heck out of it because managing that asset is critical to everything.

The marketing and sales culture does not yet recognize its “inventory” in the same way. It exists, but they are not yet sophisticated enough to measure it through the stages of production (leads, opportunities, and deals).

So, to be successful in educating the sales culture, I agree with what Justin said earlier in this thread: “make sure you are in line with their managers and that the projects focus on meeting the overall sales goals.”

If you can help them sell, their hearts and minds will follow. My experience agrees with what Greg Hohner said also earlier in this thread: “I refocused on a consultative sales approach that got rid of the jargon, drove decision making and aligned goals between us and the customers. It was more lean practices than DMAIC steps. Sales and profits took off.”

The secret power in his statement is the words “aligned goals between us and the customers.” Customers have free will, and that is the root cause of most problems salespeople struggle with. Salespeople will be suspicious until your approach recognizes that the focus of process improvement MUST be to create more value for the customer (in order to make sales easier, help them recognize the value, get them to buy, etc.).

As soon as you do realize that, everything falls into place.

Do you have a question about using Six Sigma in sales and marketing? Post it on the iSixSigma Discussion Forum!

About the Author