Although manufacturing comes to mind when "process" is mentioned, every business has a process or a system of processes at its core even if it does not churn out "widgets." Process is at the heart of service and product delivery in every business and industry, yet it's true power and potential in growing a business and commanding a market is often overlooked outside of manufacturing.
Real estate, construction, interior design, mortgage lending, and related industries all have core processes that characterize that industry and that are customized by companies within the industry to attract target markets. In solving the company's signature problem for clients, there is a start, middle and endto the process that, respectively, takes clients from struggling with their problem, through problem-solving, to the final problem-free stage. Each company process is further personalized by front-line professionals and the teams that support them to create stand-out delivery and client service.
What problem do you solve for clients with your signature problem-solving process?
The more that professionals understand about the process at the core of their business, the more useful they are to buyers and sellers who rely on guidance to make up their minds and end second guessing. This is true whether the clients are individuals, businesses, or organizations, and whether yours is a small organization or a large one.
If you are a mortgage broker, developer, interior designer, real estate professional, or work in a related field, the first time you went through your profession's or organization's decision-making process with a prospect or client, you contributed a lot of concentration, thinking, remembering, and analysis to genuinely engage and serve the client. Each subsequent trip through the process seemed to require less conscious thought, even though details varied for each prospect and client.
When a professional is selling services or products by following a standardized, frequently-repeated process, the prospect or client may be placed at a great disadvantage.
Hold on…isn't an experienced professional more valuable to prospects and clients?
After years of experience, many service delivery processes become second nature to those who can effortlessly go through the paces. When professionals have memorized all the steps, the process does not seem to require their full attention. Have you have reached this "auto-pilot" stage because the process offers few challenges? How can you deliver excellent client service with a less than excellent approach to the process?
In reality, conscious effort is required to continually search out opportunity for improvement, and to identify weaknesses or redundancies in the process:
- What are you missing that clients, who are not as jaded by repetition as you are, would value?
- What are you missing that competitors who are anxious for opportunity are willingly to contribute?
When did you last take a long look at the process that is at the core of your professional service or business? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a common business strategy when it comes to well-established "we've always done it that way" procedures and processes. In assessing the core procedures you take clients through, do your responses to the following 4 Essential Sales-Process Questions represent your valuable expertise, or proof that this depth of understanding eludes you in spite of your experience?
- How many decisions are there for prospects to make from first prospecting contact until the transaction is finalized and follow-up is complete?
- Do you have a flow chart or similar visual outline of this process to share with prospects and clients? If not, how does that lack of perspective foster continuous improvement to clients' benefit?
- How is each procedure documented, analyzed, and checked for compliance with legal and ethical standards to protect the interests of the prospect and client?
- How frequently and thoroughly is each decision-making procedure reviewed and revised?
If you or your organization lack a deliberate process for continuous improvement of the core process, LEAN may be the answer or, at least, a great place to start.
Originally directed to continuous improvement in manufacturing, LEAN thinking and systems offer a flexible perspective on process analysis and continuous improvement that allows those at any level within an organization to adopt a LEAN outlook and start thinking differently.
The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) brings together leading LEAN authorities and practitioners within a not-for-profit organization "dedicated to the journey of continuous improvement and enterprise excellence." AME Conferences call on an impressive network of member volunteers intent on creating practitioner-to-practitioner and company-to-company shared-learning experiences that focus on LEAN principles and instruction.
The following excerpt from a podcast interview with AME CEO Paul Kuchuris (AME/PK) delves into the LEAN concept to share transferrable insight:
PJW: What is LEAN Manufacturing?
AME/PK: LEAN Manufacturing is basically processes that address waste in the process. This is waste from the stand point of material waste, as well as the stand point of time, money and effort. So, LEAN will go through a process of saying, "How do you do this?" and walking through step by step by step, and "Why do you do it this way?"…"If we take this out of it, it cleans this up, and it's a lesser probability of mistakes, plus it saves us time, trouble, and money."
By the way, LEAN applies to manufacturing, it applies to accounting…it applies to virtually any particular industry you want to look at. In fact, healthcare is very involved in LEAN process improvement.
PJW: What would you say is the most important thing to know about customer-centric thinking when we come to LEAN manufacturing techniques?
AME/PK: Asking. And listening. I mean actually thinking about what the customer wants and needs, and asking them to validate that. Not thinking that you know it allis probably the most important thing about being customer focused. The other thing to keep in mind when you look at LEAN process improvement, is, "Who is the customer?" Number One, you have internal customers. Anybody who receives what you are doing is the customer....The thing is that the mentality is continually being focused on what the customer expectation is, and how you can meet that, but it takes a continual asking and listening to the customer.
PJW: I notice you are saying "mentality." In my experience, articulating value is not always easy for business leaders.
AME/PK: I think for those business leaders...it is a matter of patience and structure. People will begin to relate to you if they are comfortable with you, so establishing a relationship is the number one thing that has to be done, whether it is internal or external. But the next step is asking very specific questions about needs, about issues, about pain, about process improvement for your customers. And, being disciplined enough to not respond quickly until the customer totally shares with you his feelings and thoughts and issues…and, obviously, where's the pain?….It is a matter of focus. Too many individuals today and organizations, internally and externally, want to push what they've got instead of supply what is needed - that is probably the crispiest, most succinct way of putting what I mean.
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For more on LEAN, visit www.ame.org LEAN Conferences promise "Strategic Success through People-Powered Excellence" and participants believe they deliver:
- AME Jacksonville 2014, November 10-14: www.amejacksonville.org.
- AME/CME 2015 Canadian LEAN Conference, June 1-4: www.LEAN2015.com
And listen to the full podcast with AME CEO Paul Kuchuris.