We Misunderstand Lean—But It Is So Important!

I was having a conversation about the “state of sales” with some colleagues recently, some of the smartest people I know in looking at sales performance. I asked them, “How are you seeing sales organizations leverage Lean concepts?” The reaction was quick, “Oh you’re talking about eliminating waste……”

It’s a natural reaction but a real misunderstanding of Lean and Agile methods. Sure, in Lean we eliminate waste–it’s important, but that’s not the value of lean. And I think this misunderstanding, is why so few sales and marketing organizations don’t understand the power of Lean.

Lean has huge traction in about every part of organizations except for sales and marketing. But if you really understand lean, it becomes compelling for sales and marketing–purely because of the clarity, focus, and simplicity it drives.

I’m not a lean expert (Actually, I think that’s goodness), but to me what is so compelling about Lean is every conversation ALWAYS starts in the same question—Who Is The Customer? The next step in the Lean discussion ALWAYS goes to the next question—”What does the customer value?”

The ultimate in simplicity. In the Lean conversation, until we can answer those questions, we can’t go further. It is impossible to talk about solutions, we can’t talk about processes, we can’t talks about systems, tools, or programs.

Two questions and the answers to those questions form the context for everything we design and do in our Go To Customer Strategies. In Lean, we focus only on delivering what the customer values–no more–no less. Delivering more is not adding value, but in Lean terms it is adding cost. When we add cost, we create waste. The magic of Lean is the intensity of focus and clarity these two questions drive—and how much it simplifies what we need to do to serve the customer and create the maximum value

But this isn’t how organizations tend to approach their Go To Market approaches today. Classically, its’ internally driven, we tend to start with, “These are the products we create,” “This is what we do,” “This is how we do business,” “This is how we go to market.” We build our Go To Market strategies based on what is best for our organizations, with the customer the “victim” of how we have designed the engagement process.

Eventually the customer gets involved but they are at the end, not at the beginning. We go inside-out. And this is where we get into trouble. Inherently, it’s not customer focused. We experiment for a while, if we aren’t achieve our goals, we rework and redesign our approach. We keep adding, we keep layering on, we keep thinking that “more” adds value, instead of creating cost. We guess, we make assumptions–they may be informed, but they are still guesses. We may test and get customer input, but we always start the process with our strategies, our goals, our products, our programs, our go to market strategies.

Many organizations are trying to change this. Many are becoming more customer focused, many are focusing first on how the customer buys, taking the outside-in approach. That’s why Lean is so compelling. If every Lean conversations starts with the questions, “Who is the customer and what do they value,” it forces customer focus.

The Lean approach always has us start from the customer’s view, designing our engagement processes from the outside in. Lean introduces another important concept–Radical Simplification. See, we tend to think more is better. But Lean forces us to be very precise. We have to understand what customers value and deliver compelling and differentiated value. But we can’t deliver more–it’s meaningless, the customer doesn’t want it, it adds complexity, confusion, and cost.

Imagine how simple things would be if all our product, market, strategy, and Go To Customer conversations started with two simple statements: Who Is The Customer? What Do They Value? Answering those questions puts us so much further ahead.

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