Sunday, April 27, 2014

How Our Salespeople Impact the Lean Journey

You know the sales people. Those are the people who work out in the field, do as they want, golf a lot, and are constantly bothering us with some malarkey about getting stuff sent to his or her customers. We're minding our own business, having a perfectly nice afternoon, and they HAVE to ruin it by calling in orders. They make promises that we all know we can't possibly keep, and it always seems like they are bending or breaking our well thought out rules. 

"No orders after 1 pm on Fridays"
"The minimum order is 200 gallons, no exceptions!"
"We stopped making that in red 2 years ago!"
"She knew about that order a week ago , why is she dropping it on us now?"
"I could be in sales too if I all I needed to do is drop prices!"
"Look, we shipped 275 orders last month and wiptydoo, we made 2 mistakes, what is all the fuss about?" 

And on and on it went. Until we started doing lean (really the Toyota Production System).  When I decided that TPS was to be our business strategy, the intention was to include every single person in the company. Sort of a "no employee left behind" game plan. That meant production, the office, senior leaders, marketing, accounting, IT and yup, sales. I realized quickly that the two main pillars of TPS are continuous improvement and (gulp!!) respect for people. Talk about starting from ground zero-our reps thought the plant couldn't do anything right, and the plant thought the reps golfed all day. Very little appreciation either way. One of the first steps was a program called "In each others shoes". People had to sign up to work a half a day in someone else's job. That included plant people riding with salespeople, and salespeople working in the plant. When riding with our reps, people would listen to customers calling trying to get problems solved, orders and samples out, or just calling to complain. They started to understand that the rep wasn't calling in with an order for the fun of it, or to play a trick on us.....they were trying to help the people who paid our rents! 

Now back to the continuous improve pillar. When we started our lean journey, we studied six-sigma, then started doing a few 3 day kaizan events, and we weren't making fast enough progress. Once I started doing self-directed work teams using A3 (scrum!!), we got pretty good pretty fast. One of the best parts of doing A3 was the fact that the bickering between the plant people and salespeople disappeared! How do you make good team players? Put people on lots of teams!  One of the most important people to encourage A3 leaders to include on their teams are salespeople. Why? Because they are the closest thing to the voice of the customer you have in your business. Even if they are 1099s, include them on A3 teams because they KNOW what it takes to delight (not satisfy) our customers. Dozens and dozens of A3 teams at my company had one of our salespeople on it. If they live in another time zone, they were brought in by conference call or Skype. If the project was really important, we would fly them in. So much of respect for people is getting to work alongside different people than those you eat lunch with. A3 does that. A3 is about silo busting using autonomous temporary work teams determined with a clear mission. 

It is so important to include your salespeople on your lean journey early, and get them up to speed on what it is. If you don't do that, they will use lean as a scapegoat (our reps told customers we got rid of our inventory, and that is why their orders were late). Also, many of YOUR customers are doing lean. Your salespeople need to understand the concepts. After doing TPS for a few years, we decided we wanted to share the concepts with our customers to help them. We would invite them in for a 3 day boot camp. They would learn about and  see Kanban, A3, value stream maps, etc. at work. We would follow up with them by webinar every two weeks for a year to help them progress. Customers would come in groups of 25, and we did four groups each year. And our salespeople came with them. I'm pretty sure our competitors weren't doing that!

But you know, they do all seem to be pretty good golfers for some reason.

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