“Adopt the new philosophy…”

. . . competition, we see now, is destructive. It would be better if everyone would work together as a system, with the aim for everybody to win.

W._Edwards_DemingIn his book, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, W. Edwards Deming debunks all sorts of ideas that were widely accepted in American business at the time, the above-quoted skewering of a work environment based on incessant competition being just one example.

Deming’s vision of how business processes worked departed radically from conventional wisdom of the day and was generally ignored here in America. It was only after Deming’s ideas were adopted as the foundation of modern Japanese manufacturing following World War II that U.S. business leaders began paying attention. Today, it’s clear that his thinking (including his famed Fourteen Key Principles) has profoundly transformed the entire sector of modern manufacturing all over the world.

But Deming’s work has implications far beyond the world of manufacturing. In fact, all of Teamwork Selling is based on Deming’s ideas about how to make processes work more effectively. Deming encouraged managers to look at a process as a whole rather than just assuming it would be the sum of its discreet parts. Through Deming, we’ve learned to look at manufacturing as a process but we never really tried to apply the lessons that Deming taught to the process of selling.

Dr. Deming’s efforts to change manufacturing got no traction in the U.S. until the 1970s when the superiority of his approach—as evidenced by the way that Japanese manufacturers were beating us badly in market after market—became undeniable. Traditionalists in the world of manufacturing had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a new and better model of how to make their factories work.

There’s no question about the fact that traditionalists in the world of business-to-business sales management will resist a better model just as adamantly and basically for the same reasons. They sincerely believe that a sales culture based on (1) individual sales commissions and (2) assigned accounts and/or territories will provide a beneficial Darwinian incentive for increased sales and better customer care.

It’s a persuasive theory based on a century’s worth of tradition and heaping helpings of commons sense. Unfortunately, as Will Rogers once said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” Perhaps the traditional approach to sales management was the best available one back in the days of Willy Loman. Even if it were true then, there’s a growing body of evidence that it’s no longer true today. In 2015, it’s time to apply Deming’s principles to the process of selling.

In today’s technological environment, we have the tools to create a new model for the process of selling, one that reflects the principles that W. Edwards Deming developed for the process of manufacturing. In a world of ubiquitous connection, instantaneous response, and social activity, old-style sales organizations are increasingly unable to engage effectively with prospects and customers.

The Teamwork Selling response to all of this is that the answer might call for an  interpretation of Darwin that’s considerably different from popular conceptions. Perhaps Darwinian principles really do work in business… but we just don’t understand Darwin properly. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests cooperation is at least as important as competition when it comes to all kinds of evolutionary adaptation. If that’s true then one implication might be that cultivating a spirit of competition in our sales organization (e.g. sales contests) could actually be counter-productive.

Maybe Darwin and Deming are both right in ways that sales executives today are only just beginning to understand. If so, we might be poised to see our sales organizations undertake some radically evolutionary adaptations as the twenty-first century business environment continues to change dramatically.

If you agree then please stay tuned.

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