The assembly line method of manufacturing—a sequential arrangement of specific production processes—is an effective and efficient means of reliably producing products of consistent quality. It was first mechanized in the U.S. by Eli Whitney in 1797 and more notably adopted by the Ford Motor Company in the early 1900’s to produce the Model T.
To ensure that the finished products rolling off the assembly line meet established standards, quality control (QC) inspections are conducted at key points during the production process. If the work in progress doesn’t meet the QC standards, it is rejected—pulled from the line for corrective action. If the number of rejects exceeds a predetermined threshold, the line is stopped and adjustments are made to the process causing the defects, thereby ensuring the quality and consistency of the finished products.
While “selling” is not technically an assembly line process, it has many of the same characteristics.
- It requires “raw materials”—prospects.
- It utilizes “production” processes—identifying, analyzing, and qualifying prospects’ needs, wants, and desired outcomes.
- It creates a “finished product”—a completed sale (i.e., a customer to whom you provide an appropriate product or service).
- It requires timing, sequencing, inspection, and supervision—to meet quality, profitability, and quota requirements.
Analyzing your business development activities as an assembly line process affords two benefits. It provides a perspective for improving efficiency by identifying potential production bottlenecks and out-of-sequence or repetitive activities. And, it provides a framework for improving effectiveness by facilitating the implementation of a “nip-it-in-the-bud” strategy. That is, being able to trace “defects” (roadblocks to successfully completing a sale) back to the specific assembly line processes from which they developed. Once identified, the processes can be fine-tuned to prevent those defects from recurring.
To analyze your selling process from an assembly line perspective, start with the raw materials—prospects. What benchmarks must they meet before you start them on the assembly line? Is their “interest” in your product or service sufficient? Or, are your quality control standards more stringent, perhaps requiring that you only begin the process with prospects that have recognized and acknowledged the need for your product or service?
Once a prospect enters the assembly line, what are the subsequent production processes? The Sandler® sales opportunity development model, for example, includes specific processes for analyzing a prospect’s needs and desired outcomes; determining a prospect’s sense of urgency and priority for obtaining those outcomes; uncovering a prospect’s expectations or limitations regarding the resources required to obtain the product or service; and identifying the people involved in making the buying decision along with the process and timing for making it. Each production process has a quality control benchmark that must be met in order for the opportunity to move to the next process.
What specific production processes are included in your development model? Are those processes performed in a particular sequence? Have you defined the intended outcome of each process and determined how you will measure it? And most importantly, what do you do if a prospect doesn’t measure up?
Suppose, for instance, that the service you can provide for the amount the prospect is willing to invest is not in total alignment with the scope of the service the prospect desires. It’s a reasonably good fit, but it’s not a best-fit, not only in relation to what the prospect wants, but in relation to what you know others competing for the business will present.
What do you do?
If you have stringent QC standards which dictate that you only move forward with opportunities where you can present best-fit solutions, you’ll pull the opportunity from the assembly line and send it to the reject bin.
If your standards are less rigorous, you might continue to pursue the opportunity and eventually make your presentation, hoping that the prospect doesn’t send you to his reject bin.
Analyzing your selling activities as a series of assembly line processes will give you greater understanding and control of your selling efforts. It will enable you to more accurately connect outcomes to the activities (and associated QC standards) that created them. And that makes it easier to find remedies for unsuccessful outcomes and duplicate successful ones.
In enterprise selling, the buyer network is wider, more diverse, and much more complex than in simpler, more traditional sales interactions.
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