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Maset News
March 18, 2010

When the leadership of organizations decides that a quality initiative should be implemented, they tend to leave the sales and marketing sections out of the new initiative. Unfortunately this decision insures total failure of the initiative. The following article really addresses this issue specifically. We welcome your comments.

The Truth About Sales and Quality

By: Miriam Boudreaux

Many different quality initiatives can improve your processes, but can they also improve your sales?

When a quality management system (QMS) is implemented, results are evident immediately: reduction in warranty cost, reduction in rework, reduction in scrap, higher profit margins, etc. Would you agree that ISO  9001 and other quality initiatives such as lean, Six Sigma, and 5S can significantly improve any company’s processes—if requirements are correctly implemented? Why, if you know that a good quality management system improves your processes, are you reluctant to include all company processes in this system? Why would most companies barely include sales on any quality initiatives? If and only if you apply the same quality standards and quality concepts to the entire sales process, inside and outside sales, you stand to see significant improvements.

The truth about sales and quality

For most companies, there are two distinctive sales areas: inside sales and outside sales. Inside sales is typically the area where customer requirements are met. Therefore, inside sales tends to get more face time with QMS. However, outside sales usually gets less thought with regard to the QMS or gets left out. In fact, unless there is no other department handling customer requirements, they usually get a pass when it comes to implementing the corporate QMS program.

If we know that Quality Management Systems improve processes, why are outside sales and inside sales rarely included in the QMS?

Most companies just don’t think of sales as anything that can be improved using the same principles, insofar as obtaining customer requirements. Perhaps they think of sales as an art and as something better left to the sales experts. However, every time quality managers leave sales out of a QMS, they are then gambling with the company’s profits and leaving the process in the hands of the sales experts alone.

Quality Management Systems effect on sales

Although an argument could be made that QMS indirectly affects sales as a whole, we can only truthfully narrow the direct positive effect to a few areas. The table below provides a list of key QMS requirements and their ultimate effect on sales.

Quality Requirement Purpose Effect in operations Effect On sales
Quality policy Set company direction Increase employee’s pride  
Quality manual Summary of processes and procedures Better presentation of processes Showcase of company processes
External audits Monitor QMS and keep certification Eliminate deviations and promote adherence to policies and procedures Maintain orders or obtain new orders from customers who require having a QMS System
Focus on customer satisfaction Monitor QMS and keep certification Make decisions to support improvements Increase in repetitive business
Tracking objectives Monitor QMS performance Improve efficiency of processes Increase profit margins
Procedures Normalize processes Improve consistency and reduce process errors Increase profit margins
Corrective and preventive action Correct or prevent systemic issues Improve overall process Decrease customer returns or complaints

Mapping the sales process

So are you ready to include your outside sales processes in your product realization processes? The first thing you need to do is map your processes. Here is a good example of what a simple sales process may look like. The inputs and the outputs are depicted in black. The outside sales process steps are depicted in blue. The arrows show the sequence and interaction. In this case we are assuming the process happens in a straight line.

Mapping the sales process

The benefits of a straight line is that you are forcing the process to go a certain way, and although adjustments may be made if you get the contract after the inquiry handling step, the idea of mapping the process is that you do not submit a proposal unless you have conducted a presentation—and not after the first inquiry handling step. 

In order to explain this better, let's look at each step in detail. This will help you create a robust procedure for your sales process.

Inquiry handling. Here you can explain what you expect to be said upon receipt of a call or how you expect to answer an e-mail.  Obviously every case is different and every customer is different, however having some guidelines will help even the receptionist become a good sales call handler. Here are a couple of things you can also prepare:

Scripts: Prepare scripts for answering calls by product or service type or for answering e-mails.

Forms: Prepare forms that can be filled out by anybody who is receiving a call, such as an inquiry form, pre-quote, etc.

Presentation. Depending on what kind of sales you do, presentation will most of the time work to your advantage. So this step should allow for either face-to-face presentations or online presentations. In either case you can let each sales person do some customization, however, having a consistent and basic presentation is key to ensuring everyone will show what is considered important.

Proposal. This step should provides guidelines for providing a good proposal. Of course, templates will also be necessary to ensure that your sales team looks professional. Even if you submit proposals as part of an e-mail, having a template will help maintain consistency.  

Closing. Follow-up in the form of e-mails, phone calls, and so forth could be covered in this step. You could also implement logs to keep track of follow-ups. Of course if you own a sales software package, then the software should help you keep track of the follow-up steps.

Benefits to Expect

The following chart shows the benefits that you should see after mapping and defining each step of the sales process. 

For example if you look at the Presentation step, one of the benefits you should see after formalizing this process is improved consistency among sales personnel, improved confidence by sales employees that the presentation is true and tested, and finally an improved understanding by the customer of your organization's products and services.

Quality objectives

Ok, we all have something like "we need to increase sales by 50 percent," and we all know that is not exactly a quality objective. So what could be a quality objective for the sales department? Well, once you have mapped the process and outlined the procedure and created any associated form and templates, you need to set up objectives to help you measure if your sales process is actually performing well.

Here are a few sample objectives that could go with the process above:

Proposal turnaround time: e.g., 15 days from inquiry

Presentation turnaround time: e.g., Seven days from inquiry

Decrease proposal errors: e.g., Zero changes on the proposal due to wrong or misinterpreted requirements

Improve rate of inquiries to presentations: e.g., 90 percent of inquiries handled translate into quotes

Yes, some of these metrics will make your sales team work hard, but isn't that every employee's duty, to work hard in order to achieve their goals? Also, no, you should not have to hire a new employee just to keep up with your metrics. So define the metrics that apply to your company, measure what means most to you, and concentrate on what can actually improve your sales process.

Include sales in your product realization processes

When was the last time your sales department participated in a management review? When was the last time your sales department used the corrective and preventive action system? When was the last time your sales people had a formal review or had a defined training plan? When was the last time sales was involved in quality? If the answer is never, then how in the world do you want quality to help your sales? It only starts when you allow this to happen.

Of course the case presented here may work for some organizations and not for others and may apply more to some organizations and not for all. But I hope that it gives you a good idea that even your outside sales gurus could benefit from some basic process mapping, documenting and objective setting. After all, your organization has the right to expect every one and every process apply the same world-class quality principles your company deserves.

If your corporate quality management system is good for your processes, then make sales become part of it.

This article appeared in "Quality Digest Daily", an electronic publication from Quality Digest magazine.

Maset has the ability, the resources, and a history of successes, making us confident in our ability to deliver superior results for your organization.

For more information on how Maset implements a major initiative please read the following:

Contact Charles Loew today to begin the journey.

Charles Loew
Maset, LLC

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