At Lenses and Levers, we look at things through the prism of Lean-Agile principles and methods, which largely revolve around the notion of identifying and eliminating waste. But “waste” means different things to different people and is dependent largely on context.

So to begin, let’s start with a definition. We define sales and marketing waste as a financial loss incurred due to one or more of the following conditions:

1. Performing activities that do not improve the mental and physical appeal and/or availability of your product, to your customer.

Sales and marketing can be thought of as building and maintaining the channels (marketing, communications, sales, distribution, etc.) that enable the exchange of value between your product (or service) and your customer. Any resources that are consumed that do not support this value exchange must be scrutinized. What’s “working” and what’s not have to be explored on a macro level (themes, campaigns, channels, etc.) as well as on a micro level (small disconnects, inconsistencies, friction points, etc.)

Here are some common examples of this type of waste:

  • Disconnects in the sales funnel. Do you have a marketing team that’s developing warm leads, but no accountability in place to ensure those leads are properly handed off to the sales team?
  • Frictions within user experience. Do your customers experience a dissonance between the messaging they see on your website and the messaging they encounter in your retail store, or from an outdated sales sheet?  Frictions within the customer experience are extremely common.
  • Sales people not selling. Sometimes sales people are tasked with jobs large and small that don’t relate directly to putting points on the board, such as being asked to spend too much time reporting or in meetings. 
  • Marketing teams given competing priorities. Do executives or members of the sales team approach members of the marketing team with “urgent” requests on a regular basis? These small interruptions can have the effect of a traffic jam for the broader marketing team.
  • Partially completed work. When priorities and direction are inconsistent, a resulting form of waste is partially completed work which ultimately contributes no value.

2. Any spending for which you receive a negative return or less than fair market value.

Not every dollar spent on sales and marketing is going to yield a positive return. As the customer and competitive landscape changes and evolves, companies must try new things, some of which will not work. That’s not an unforgivable sin by any means; the problem is when companies either continue to do those things that don’t work, or when they simply don’t have the metrics in place to know what’s working and what’s not.

Note: To receive less than fair market value may indicate that a vendor is charging too much for their products or services. However, we extend this definition to also include spending on unnecessary products or services, as well.

Here are some examples of this type of waste:

  • Failing to set pass/fail conditions. One of the most common and damaging types of waste stems from simply failing to identifying the purpose of a project, campaign, or tactic and what will constitute success or failure.
  • Duplication of assets or tools.  Some companies make purchases that essentially duplicate assets or tools they already have and in so doing create a waste event.
  • Relying on metrics which are disconnected from dollars. A good example of this is spending on social media and using “engagement” as the defining metric. Engagement is important only as it relates to sales and profitability and thus engagement should never be the final measure of a campaign. When real dollars are invested, the final measure should always be real dollars returned. 
  • Overvaluing creative, undervaluing reach. Most people enjoy indulging their creative side, and often overvalue the potential impact of a creative idea vs reaching a large audience. Spending too much on creative, and not enough on reach is a common source of waste that can easily be remedied. 
  • Overpaying for vendor services. If you’re paying more than what the market dictates you pay for, say, creative work, or for technical work, that’s waste. This happens often, whether because there are multiple decision makers or because purchasing authority is spread too broadly within the organization.
  • Underperforming assets. Broadly speaking, an asset can be considered something for which an organization can obtain value in a well understood way. When assets are either not used, or used ineffectively, this constitutes waste.

3. Planning and workflow structures that stifle business agility.

The ability to plan, do, check, and adjust rapidly is essential in today’s rapidly changing environment. This means traditional planning and project management models have become obsolete and costly. Companies must develop a new playbook to become leaner, faster and ready to pivot when a new direction is required. Traditional planning must be replaced with a strong bias towards action and continuous improvement, all while safeguarding against compromised quality and overwhelming its workforce. 

Some forms of waste that fit under this definition include:

  • Attachment to the status quo. In more established companies, sales and marketing activities sometimes persist unquestioned, simply because it’s the way things have always been done. When a path is well worn, we sometimes stop looking for a faster route.
  • Unevenness in workflow. Inconsistent production, or seasonal shifts in demand, can be a major contributor to waste within the organization.
  • Lack of agility. How nimbly can your company pivot to capitalize on new opportunities in the marketplace, or vulnerabilities identified in a competitor? Lack of agility is another manifestation of waste.

Problems Can Be Opportunities

A lot of the waste we’ve mentioned above can be nearly invisible to management. What’s more, even seemingly “small problems” can add up to a lot of cumulative waste over time; as such, small problems can become the big problem.

This may sound discouraging, but there is good news. Identifying and eliminating waste from sale and marketing may not be simple or quick, but it is actionable and its benefits will be significant. YOU CAN FIX IT.

Kaizen – Continuous Improvement

While Lean-Agile frameworks may not have been developed specifically for sales and marketing, they can be used quite effectively to address waste and inefficiency in these areas. Through the concept of Kaizen (the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”), sales and marketing teams can implement a Lean-Agile culture, guide decision making and innovation at both the micro and macro levels.

A Final Thought

The types of waste we’ve identified here are typically not the fault of any one person or department within an organization. They are found in organizations where sales and marketing teams are well staffed with qualified people who possess specialized knowledge within their fields and industry. Addressing waste is not about blame, but rather continuous improvement. The efficiency revolution has taken place over the past two decades in the world of manufacturing, and in many ways this work is merely an extension of that. 

At  Lenses and Levers our specialty is helping organizations find and eliminate waste within their sales, marketing, and communications activities—addressing those little problems that turn into big problems. To find out more, we welcome you to contact us today.