The Quality Goes In Here, Too
Companies have a hard time configuring departments like sales and marketing to quality standards, and quality analytics can be the solution. "Improving the Quality Function: Driving Organizational Impact and Efficiency," a new study from research and consulting firm Best Practices, indicates that quality analysis and management should migrate from the assembly line to the sales department.
For the study, Best Practices interviewed executives at 38 companies like 3M, Bank of America, General Mills, Kraft, and Coca-Cola for their input on implementing quality practices beyond the factory floor. Their own experiences have shown that most sales and marketing departments can benefit from quality analysis systems like Six Sigma.
"Quality measurement functions can be focused on growth driving activities like sales and marketing," says Chris Brogan, CEO of Best Practices. "Here you need to understand customer issues and priorities. Then you use those insights to focus on your processes and how those impact sales and marketing functions."
Changing processes isn't as simple as having knowledge in hand, though. As always, managers and executives must overcome departmental reticence. "These functions aren't traditionally the first to raise their hands and volunteer when it comes time to carry out a Six Sigma or quality project," Brogan says.
Survey information in hand, Best Practices acts as consultant to help companies implement quality systems across those nontraditional departments. Clients have worked with Brogan's company, for example, to shrink the time it takes to get a new salesperson up and running in an established territory. That reduction process can mirror the efforts a manufacturer might make when slashing time-to-market. Best Practices works with clients to analyze their replacement and training process. It then isolates areas where that hiring process and learning cycle can be slashed in the future. The consultancy applies process management tools and metrics to the analysis. "We look at the places where bottlenecks occur," he says. "We look at whether there are ways to have someone cover a territory more effectively."
But factories and sales teams aren't the same. "A hidden Achilles heel for achieving sales quota is that if you have a transferee or retiree in a territory, the speed to replace and ramp up that territory can be nine months," Brogan says. "So you effectively lose a rep for nine months in a territory."
Past clients have used analysis results to find creative ways to get a new salesperson up to speed faster than in the past. "That might include having a sales rep cover the territory from a home office or making biweekly calls in the territory," Brogan says. "Things like that become the tactics that are used to ramp up faster."
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