W. Edwards Deming went from the USA to Japan after World War II and his ideas about continuous business improvements came back to the USA from Japan as a business management tool — kaizen: daily small improvements building a better process over time. See Deming.
As I learned about this, one thing seemed particularly counter-intuitive to me: the more standardized processes are, the easier it is to innovate. I used to think that standardization was boring and not innovative — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. If something is done consistently one way, it is easy to see if an experiment improved things. If everything is different all the time, one cannot tell which experiments are improvements and which are not.
The idea of daily improvements first had an impact on the factory floor. Now, we’re learning how to apply kaizen to complex tasks like marketing and sales. The basic concept is to have the marketing and sales effort be as systematic and full of kaizen as what a good factory does in production.
Kaizen Related Ideas That They Know in Factories:
- small, incremental improvements can add-up to large impacts over time
- when something is done consistently, that allows for experiments where you can tell if an experiment was an improvement or not
- metrics are key
- sharing data and information can really help
The best sales organizations I have seen are very systematic in their approach, also. In private education, for example, the best schools know their metrics for every step in the enrollment funnel: How many prospective students commit to appointments, how many appointments show up, how many appointments enroll, and how many enrollees actually start school.
Measure and Share: At Each Step Make Business Improvements
Each step of the conversion cycle is measured. There is a target conversion percentage. There are constant experiments to see if something can improve a step of the conversion cycle.
In software businesses, they know what percentage of website visitors sign-up for a demo or a free trial, they know what percentage of those actually do the demo or activate their free trial, and then what percentage turn into paying customers. I find that it really helps to define these steps in the conversion cycle and start to measure how many prospects move from which step to the next in different ways (during a certain time period, or by type of customer, or by type of product, or by sales rep, or whatever). See Kaizen.
A marketing business needs to define its steps in the conversion of customers. Define and prioritize your universe of prospects, but then improve the systems and processes about how you move people through the sales cycle. There are few things as powerful as steady, consistent, compounding business improvements over time.
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