An article on Six Sigma in Selling Power’s newsletter caught my interest. We are all quite familiar with Six Sigma in manufacturing and engineering, but Six Sigma and sales? It seems a little far fetched. The article is based on Michael Webb’s (founder of Sales Performance Consultants) sales process which is broken down into 5 steps. Webb contends that Six Sigma “applies science to the art of sales to consistently improve results.”

The 5 steps are:
Step #1: Define
Step #2: Measure
Step #3: Analyze
Step #4: Improve
Step #5: Control

Interesting. There was a link to his website so naturally I clicked on it and poked around a bit. I came across an article titled What’s Wrong with Six Sigma? in which Webb discusses why Six Sigma is an effective method for impacting sales & marketing. He makes some great points that I would like to share with you.

First, Six Sigma characterizes business problems through precise identification of data and facts. It translates these measurements into mathematical, cause-and-effect relationships. This drive for hard facts ties every project to a measurable result, ideally on the financial statements. He goes on to say that the Six Sigma tool kit is not yet complete. Because it is rooted in manufacturing, Six Sigma’s tool kit is heavily weighted toward statistical validation of sampling techniques and design of manufacturing experiments. Where as in sales and marketing, the core process involves intangibles and transforming people’s behavior.

Webb gave this example which I thought illustrated his point nicely:

Suppose the belief that “sales is a numbers game” drives a sales office to generate a large number of quotes, which end up not closing. An inexperienced team might jump too quickly into process definition and measurement work. However, lean techniques (which focus on work flow and value to the customer) might lead the team to ask why the process is set up that way in the first place and ask these questions:
What value is a quote to a customer who is not likely to buy anyway?
How might we find more likely prospects before we go through the effort of generating quotes?

If any area in business needs a scientific method to improve operations and results, sales and marketing needs to be put at the top of the list. He contends not only will you be able to ask the following questions about your organization, but have a measurable answer for each one.

  1. Don’t know which 50% of your marketing expense is generating a return? Now you have a way of finding out whether you are getting bilked.
  2. Can’t tell which prospects have the best chance of leading to sales, and which ones are probably giving you a ride? You can learn the characteristics of each set of prospects, and have salespeople spend more time with the former and less with the latter.
  3. Is your sales force blocking attempts to measure activities and results? If so, they are protecting something. You might not know what, but now you have a way to find out.

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