Chuck Overbeck – Chapter Twenty-Two

Chuck Overbeck

Stop Guessing and Start Selling


Several years ago I was asked to attend a sales manager meeting in Dallas. The meeting had only one purpose: to improve our sales process. The meeting included management from both sales and marketing and we were to spend two days sequestered in a hotel conference room. Our hope was to emerge from that meeting with a better sales process that allowed the sales team to close more opportunities in a shorter amount of time. Everyone in the meeting knew there was room for improvement. However, we often disagreed on what the improvement should be.

At each step in the original sales process we would discuss what we thought to be the problem and recommend solutions. Not only was there debate on the solutions on occasion, there was debate as to the problem itself. Differences of opinion were frequently resolved by a majority consensus, after which we would move on. Ultimately, we left Dallas with what we all hoped would be an improved sales process. I say hoped because we didn’t know if we had improved or not. I remember sitting on the plane flying home thinking, “I know we changed the process, but I have no idea if we improved it.” In fact, we couldn’t be sure we didn’t make it worse. That little voice inside my head kept saying, “There has to be a better way.”

There is in fact a better way. The solution is the result of almost two decades of sales and sales management experience combined with an Engineering and Lean Six Sigma education, as well as countless hours of developing and modifying these tools to better meet the unique needs and requirements of a sales organization.

This chapter is intended for practitioners of Lean Six Sigma who want to transition these principles to sales and for the sales professional who wants to improve using these proven methodologies.

This chapter will help you to:

  • Understand the importance of having a clear sales objective
  • Learn what it means to eliminate defects in the sales process
  • Understand why you should use leading sales indicators instead of lagging indicators
  • Establish an Ideal Customer Criteria

The New Sales Paradigm: Defining Selling as a Quality Process

Even among sales professionals who recognize sales as a process, the term is often used loosely. We accept there are steps needed to move an opportunity from start to finish, yet we resist the need to implement a standard practice. Ironically, the reason often given for this resistance is the expressed need to adapt to unique customers and situations. However, I have found very few sales people vary their process from prospect to prospect. The greatest variation within selling exists between the top performing sales representatives and those at the bottom. In other words, variation in selling accounts for variation in performance.

To establish a quality process for any department in a corporation, two things are required. First, clearly define the product of the process. Second, design the process to reduce or eliminate defects. A sales department must do the same thing.

Quality improvement initiatives all recognize that value is defined by the customer, and only the customer. Therefore, the product of a Quality Sales Process would be something the prospect determines to be of value. I have asked many sales professionals over the years, “What does your sales process produce?” The most common response to my question is, “a customer.” Then I ask, “What should the product of your sales process be?” Some will respond with the same answer. Others know I am looking for something more and begin to ask me questions.

They are correct that I am looking for something more. After all, customers aren’t paying you to be your customers. They’re paying you for something else. That something else is the answer to the question.

The Quality Sales Process produces value for the customer. At the same time, it has to produce value for the organization selling the product or service as well. If it doesn’t, why do it? When both parties benefit, it produces value to both over the long term.

The product of a Quality Sales Process is a “win-win” result.

An accurate, well-defined objective is the starting point in building any quality process, including sales. Our new knowledge of what we want to accomplish will provide focus in how we get there. Once we have our goal, we can begin the second step, elimination of defects.

To state the obvious, you can’t eliminate defects until you first know what the product of your process is. Hence, we see the importance of defining the product of the Quality Sales Process. Once our product is defined, we can eliminate any activity that does not lead us to our desired outcome. We build our sales process around improving throughput and eliminating defects early.

To begin this journey, I will do something you’ve never seen in a book on selling. I will give you the mathematical principles and improvement concepts to ensure you increase your sales. When followed, these principles will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of a sales team. In short, sales representative can stop guessing and know they are going to sell more.

Do the Math

As I began my educational journey into quality and process improvement, I was introduced to the concept of Rolled Throughput Yield (RTY). The concept and equation are both very simple. The value lies in its implications. Understanding this simple concept forms the foundation for building a sales process of continuous improvement.

RTY is the understanding that the probability of getting something through a multi-step process is the product (multiplication) of the probability of all the sub-processes:

RTY = (p1) (p2) (p3) (p4) (pn)…

Therefore, if I multiple the probability of the successful completion of every step from qualify to close, I will know the probability of closing a deal. For example, in a four steps sales process with the probabilities of success of 80%, 70%, 90%, and 60%. We know we have a 30% chance of getting the business.

pclose = (0.8) (0.7) (0.9) (0.6)

pclose = 30%

This concept is straight-forward and there is a reason why it is important to your sales team. First, in sales we tend to only measure final results, lagging indicators. We know the pclose value, but not the values for the sub processes, our leading indicators. Because we fail to identify where in the sales process we need to begin our improvement efforts, our results can be less than desired.

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