Mary and Tom Poppendieck in Ann Arbor

posted Jun 3, 2010, 11:30 AM by Bill Heitzeg

Mary and Tom Poppendieck were in Ann Arbor yesterday and I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with them.  Part of the day was an interactive event where teams used Value Stream Mapping to attempt to improve their processes.   I’ve seen this exercise before at several other Mary Poppendieck events and yet it’s always a unique learning experience.

What was surprising about yesterday is that all three of the presented value stream maps screamed out:  ”Improve the Sales Qualification Process!”.

What I liked best about the fact that all three really needed serious sales process improvement is that we were standing in the Joe Marr Sandler training center.  Joe Marr and Mike Wynn weren’t around, but I think they would have loved it.

So what did Lean say to do?  What would Sandler say?

First and foremost, Lean and Sandler both demand that you create artifacts as late in the process as possible or not at all.  One of our biggest cases yesterday was a map that showed the company creating a proposal and a software demonstration before securing any real intent of purchase.  After the proposal and the demonstration, then and only then was the customer asked to commit in any real way.  The closing rate was less than 30%.  There is no way Joe and Mike would have allowed that and of course Mary was having none of it either.

Second, Lean and Sandler both say that moving closer to the customer and gaining a real understanding of their problem is essential to good closes that stay closed.  Lean specifically says to break down those processes or habits that keep your implementation staff at arms length from the client.  Sandler say “No Pain, No Sale”, which means you need to understand what the client really wants of course but it also means that you won’t keep the customer or get repeat business if you don’t solve the pain.  Yesterday we saw a map that showed how the implementation staff only got involved with the client after the sale was supposedly closed and all the requirements were defined.  The people who could have understood and solved the clients problems weren’t involved in the sales process, so instead, a lot of “defensive” process was added to insure that everything was defined in infinite detail and time buffers were added (both very un-Lean things to do).  Still, with all of that, once the implementation staff finished what they thought they were suppose to do, they always had to make some changes, sometimes a lot of changes.  I certainly felt I could hear the frustration in one of their managers’ voices when they described how the “Customers are picky and always have to make us change something”.  Now obviously that kind of thing makes implementation difficult, but it’s not just implementation folks who suffer.  The Sales manager probably spends an amazing amount of time fielding calls from frustrated clients or busily trying to find new clients because the old ones seem to disappear on a regular basis. In this case, I saw where moving programmers into the sales process could make a huge difference in both departments, saving time, money, and most importantly emotional energy better spent elsewhere.

It really turns out that Lean and Sandler have a lot in common.  I plan to annoy my wife by over analyzing this to death over the next few days.