How can a methodology originally developed to reduce manufacturing defects be used as an effective business strategy to increase sales and cultivate new business prospects? The answer lies in Lean Six Sigma’s unique approach to gathering data to improve essential processes and increase productivity.
Lean Six Sigma (LSS), developed in 1986 by Motorola, was created to improve the company’s manufacturing processes. Fast forward to the end of the 20th century, and more than half of the Fortune 500 companies had adopted it to improve business processes beyond the manufacturing floor, and it’s estimated to have saved those companies $427 billion. Eager to see the same improvement with other key processes, companies are increasingly employing LSS in the data-intensive arena of business development.
As part of his membership on the Forbes Technology Council, DTG founder and CEO Steve Shaheen recently wrote a Forbes column to share his insights and first-hand experiences on the role Six Sigma plays in the business development process. His best practices include three primary steps:
- Start with the questions.
Asking questions that help you better understand your customer or potential customer’s essential processes will help you identify the sources of waste, quantify the real costs of that waste, and identify lost opportunities. The answers to your questions will also arm you with the information you need to clearly articulate how your product or service improves the quality of their products or processes. From that informed position, you are working backward to identify the problems, validate your solution and calculate the anticipated ROI so you can take direct aim for the win.
- Go to Gemba.
Gemba typically translates to ‘the actual place’ in Japanese, and in lean practices, it refers to ‘the place where value is created.’ Going to Gemba ensures you see firsthand your customers’ operations, witness the waste and inefficient processes, and identify areas with the greatest need for a solution — ideally your solution. An added benefit of these on-site investigations is that they enable you to more fully understand customers’ needs beyond those that they have articulated, which can often lead to new product development initiatives for your own company.
- Remove objections through data.
Data is increasingly understood as one of the most crucial aspects of your business development process. It provides you with the proof points. It’s the exclamation point at the end of your pitch. A lot of things are subjective, but data is not. The data enables you to illustrate your prospects’ pain points, even those they are unaware of, validate your company’s value proposition and quantify the productivity gains of your product in terms that directly relate to the customer. Through this process, you can identify the root causes of waste in their processes and illustrate the ROI of your solutions.
Unlike the typical transactional approach to sales, an investigative and consultative approach – one built on Lean Six Sigma principles – enables you to more fully understand your customers’ needs and even potentially see problems they haven’t. Understanding where the waste and bottlenecks are in the prospect’s productivity, workflow, labor, raw materials and safety processes provides the perfect segue to a new solution and a sure bet for closing the deal.