Six Sigma provides a common language and methodology for exploiting business opportunities and solving business problems. It also provides a roadmap that shows problem solvers where to start and what to do next. For a long time, it was widely believed that SS could only be fruitfully applied in manufacturing, while areas such as sales and marketing were not suitable for it. Most doubters assumed that the ability and effectiveness of applying a standardized problem-solving method could not be applied to the art of sales and marketing, because the standardized method would suppress creativity.
4 factors can be identified for the relatively late use of SS in sales and marketing:
- Facilities: In most manufacturing processes, almost any variable can be accurately controlled.Reducing errors and improving efficiency is already anchored in the psyche and culture. Manufacturing facilities provide fertile ground for the application of problem-solving methods that focus on measurement processes and strict control of input variables to achieve optimal results.Precursors of Six Sigma, such as Statistical Process Control (SPC), Total Quality Management (TQM) andISO 9000 methods, bear witness to this mindset and have been used in manufacturing for years.
- Professional backgrounds: For years, the majority of Six Sigma professionals hail from the manufacturing industry. These individuals are often unfamiliar with transaction processes and may not recognize the potential for Six Sigma application. This lack of understanding is significant, because in order to successfully apply Six Sigma, one must be familiar with both the Six Sigma tools and the environment in which they are used. After all, a car mechanic would certainly feel more comfortable using a new set of pliers in a garage than in an operating room, even if the tool is unsuitable in both environments.
- Consumer buying behavior: For a company to make an improvement effort, there must be a good reason for action. Manufacturers had this reason for action. The globalization of the world economy removed barriers to entry for low-cost producers into established markets. These new, low-cost, high-quality competitors forced traditional manufacturers to look for ways to improve their operations. The result of this increased competition was a reasonable increase in the supply of most products at reduced prices. As shown in Figure 1, this shift in supply up and price down led to additional demand, resulting in increased sales in several industries. Improved manufacturing techniques and increased sales led to record revenues, negating any need for improved sales and marketing efficiencies. The bold results prompted many sales and marketing professionals to ask, “Why should we worry about process improvements while sales and earnings are rising to record levels? While this attitude was logically achieved, it prevented the necessary action from being taken in sales and marketing. Interestingly, the same mindset delayed originally structured process improvements in many production environments.
- Existing sales culture: The entrepreneurial spirit of the sales force actively resists standardized processes and promotes independence. If Six Sigma is misinterpreted in such a way that it has a negative impact on this spirit, then it is disproved. The application of Six Sigma requires a change in both processes and attitudes. When everything seems to work well, it is difficult to convince people that a change is necessary.
How can Lean Six Sigma optimize sales and marketing?
But how can SS be used in the creative field, which so strongly resists standardized processes? First of all, it is important to raise the necessary awareness of SS among the employees.
There are numerous ways to improve sales and marketing processes. It is obvious that selling a product to a customer is the most important process in sales and marketing. This is an obvious area on which Six Sigma efforts should focus, but it is not the only area that includes additional sales processes that could leverage Six Sigma:
- Interviewing and recruitment of successful sales representatives
- Training of sales staff both for the sales process and for the different products – Definition of the most efficient way to manage a sales representative’s sample inventory.
- Identification and maintenance of the most profitable customers and territories.
These are few common processes that both sales and marketing groups need to focus on to be successful. None of these processes require the magic of relationship building or personal charisma; they simply require a strong method.