By Shelley Hall, principal, managing director, Catalytic Management LLC
Sales executives consistently are told to “build or rebuild your sales process to match your customer’s buying process.” This is sound advice that can shorten your sales cycle, but the question is how?
By deploying “Value Stream Mapping,” or a more in-depth version of a process flow chart, you can create a picture of your current sales process and your customer’s buying process, and then compare the two. Value Stream Mapping is a tool most often used by manufacturing companies implementing Lean manufacturing principles. But this graphical tool increasingly is being deployed to examine non-manufacturing processes such as order entry, shipping, product development, customer service, and other critical business processes.
The foundation of Value Stream Mapping is to identify waste in your process. Waste is defined as activity that does not add value for your customer. Applying the principle to a sales process can do more than just eliminate waste—it can help you:
- Reconfigure a sales process to more closely resemble how your customer buys
- Identify “customer touch points” where marketing can enhance the process
- Identify decision points giving your sales team time to influence the criteria and the final decision
- Build a skills/competency model for your sales team
- Increase efficiency, thereby reducing costs and improving margins
- Increase revenue through a higher closing ratio
There are two aspects to undertaking a Value Stream Mapping initiative that must be addressed:
- Designing a Project Plan
- Understanding how to build a Value Stream Map
Designing the Project Plan
When designing the project plan, using the basic framework of another process tool, Six Sigma, will keep the project on track and insure success. The Six Sigma methodology is as follows:
Define >> Measure >> Analyze >> Improve >> Control
Your Value Stream Mapping project should be planned using this methodology.
Define: Define your different customer segments. Examine them for buying differences and select the segment that either most closely resembles the norm or select the segment that represents your highest margin contribution and focus on this group. Once identified, invite two or more customers in this segment to participate in a joint Value Stream Mapping of their buying/decision process. Customers benefit in two ways: By highlighting opportunities to eliminate waste in their process, the process itself will be improved, and by having a partner who is willing to change their selling process, customers will find it easier to buy. (Note: focus on one customer at a time.)
Measure: In this step, the goal is to objectively examine and understand the current buying and selling processes and their performance. Using Value Stream Mapping, you will map your customer’s “current state buying process” and your “current state selling process.” During this phase, you should focus on the reality and not what you want the process to be. Focus on what it is without judgment.
Analyze:In this step, you and your customers analyze the buying process map to identify redundant activities, reworks, multiple approvals or reviews, and gaps where the process slows downs. The goal is to work with your customers to improve their buying process and gain insight into how to make your sales process mirror their buying process. Upon completion of the analysis, you should create a “future state buying process” map that will become the customer’s new and improved method of buying.
Improve:Improvement now focuses on your selling process. Examine your selling process in comparison to the new future state map of your customer’s buying process and the variances and differences will become obvious. You are likely to see that you have placed emphasis on the wrong steps in the selling process. You’ll see where the customers may “wait” for you to take action and, thus, where you slow their buying process. Armed with the knowledge of where your process doesn’t align with theirs, you now can reconfigure your sales process to streamline the activities and get to “yes” faster and more efficiently.
Control:The new selling process should be documented and the sales team should receive training in skills that now may have increased in importance based on the critical touch points of the buying and selling process. Your CRM and CDM systems should be customized to accommodate, support, and speed the new selling process.
The Tool: Value Stream Mapping
Value Stream Mapping is the critical tool used in measuring and analyzing your selling process and your customer’s buying process. As mentioned above, Value Stream Mapping is a more in-depth version of a process flow chart:
- Define start and end of process
- Create the Current State Map of sales and buying processes
- Analyze and compare sales and buying processes
- Rebuild the sales process to reflect the buying process
- Create the Future State Map of the sales process
The addition of mapping the communication flow in a Value Stream Map distinguishes it from a process flow map and gives it additional value over the basic process flow. Don’t listen to the skeptic who will tell you that Value Stream Mapping is overly complicated and beyond what you need. In the hands of experts, it can be. But there is no need to make the project difficult, and even a simple Value Stream map will help you rebuild your sales process to parallel your customer’s buying process. Here are some suggestions on how to approach the mapping project:
- Create your own Current State Map of our sales process before you work with your client. The practice will be invaluable, and it will help you assess the variances in the two processes as you conduct the mapping with your client.
- When creating the Current State Map, reinforce that you want the reality, or how the process actually does function at this moment—not how people think the process is supposed to work.
- Assure your staff that truth telling will be rewarded, but finger pointing will be punished.
- Select a “mapping team” to list the high-levelsteps in the process and then do much of the detail in a spreadsheet before creating the pictorial map. For instance, type each high-level step into a “cell” in the spreadsheet and then ask each person involved in the process to list what activities he or she performs under each step in the cells below the step.
- Once you have used the spreadsheets to create the Current State Map for your sales process, repeat this process with your customers to create their buying process maps.
- Analyze where your sales process varies from the customer’s buying process. For instance, if your customer needs product or service specs faster than your process currently produces them, you have found an opportunity to adjust your process to provide what your customer needs whenthey need it.When your analysis of the variances is complete, create a proposed Future State Map of the new sales process. Use this map to “beta test” the process with the customer before you pull the plug on the current process.
The greatest value in Value Stream Mapping is its view of the communication flow—a practice always ripe for improvement. I recommend taking things one step further once you have created the new sales process and adding the communication flow to the process map (this flow is depicted above the main process flow blocks). My bet is you will find several “aha,” moments when you look at the strings of communication and see how much it resembles a plate of spaghetti. This is your opportunity to improve internal efficiency by reducing approvals or reviews, eliminating reworks, combining information, and limiting ineffective back-and-forth communication as much as possible.
Creating a sales and marketing process that mirrors your customer’s buying process will shorten the cycle, increase your closing percentage, reduce sale team frustration and create happy long-term customers. Value Stream Mapping is the perfect tool to accomplish this.
Shelley Hall is a successful entrepreneur who has built, reinvented, and turned around companies for the last 20 years. As principal, managing director of Catalytic Management, Hall delivers velocity-driven consulting that accelerates business growth through sales effectiveness, customer loyalty, and process improvement. For more information, visit www.catalyticmanagement.com.