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Becoming a Sales-Driven Company

Take control of your production processes and become a sales-driven company.

One of the goals often discussed in business is becoming a sales-driven company. This is indeed a great objective, but unless you're able to get control over your production processes and workflow you'll never quite get there.

You first have to identify if your company is production-driven. Let's take a look at some of the 'symptoms' of this type of shop: A production-driven business will typically control the flow of work based on its production capacities. The communication will usually flow from production management to the sales force, letting the sales reps know how much they can or cannot sell at any given time due to production constraints.

Because production capacities dictate the flow of sales in a production-driven company, there often is no compelling reason to improve workflow and, hence, increase production capabilities. The result: a false sense of security that production must be working great since sales are being managed.

While that process can work for a time, you will never really achieve significant growth as a company as long as production dictates what you sell. And if you don’t grow in your business, you can easily die.

A philosophy shift
So how do you convert your organization to a sales-driven company? The first requirement is a change in mentality. As always, this begins with a commitment from top management. A good initial step is to establish a six-month to one-year sales goal for your business that will push production beyond their current capabilities. We'd be naive to assume that sales will come just because a goal has been set, but since we're dealing with production processes here, we'll assume that your sales organization has the ability to increase sales to the desired level.

Once management has committed to this philosophical change, you must then communicate and commit the entire organization to the same goals and attitudes about your organization. Everyone has to be on the same page. All relevant decisions need to be based upon the sales mentality.

Having set and committed to a sales goal that will create overcapacity in your production flow, it’s now time to break down your processes and identify what you can do to create efficiencies and resulting capacity.

As your production begins to be burdened by the increase of sales, your first reaction will be to merely add more people. You can certainly do that, but typically throwing more personnel at a problem won’t solve it-it merely camouflages the issues in a particular area of production. Instead, step back and analyze why your system is inefficient. Is it really because of a shortage of personnel? Probably not.

The philosophy shift we are talking about here is really a change from the belief that you are a job shop where each order is unique, to a manufacturing mentality where each job has the same process applied to it as the previous one.

I've heard colleagues in our industry express frustration about the difficulties of dealing with different jobs every day, wishing that they could just produce "widgets.' But, realistically, are you really producing anything today that you didn’t produce yesterday? It may be a different file and it will probably be a different color, but it runs through the same processes in your shop. Once your production team makes that mental transition you will begin to think like a manufacturing company and not a job shop.

A couple of years ago, our company hired a new production manager who had Six Sigma training. One of the first things he did was to arrange for lean-manufacturing training for our entire production management team. Interestingly, he refused to actually sign up for the training until all senior management and owners had agreed to also attend. He knew he needed that kind of commitment.

As the training began, the majority of us involved questioned whether this really applied to our company. After all, could we really create batches and process workflow that way? As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the answer was yes, we could! As a group, we began to think about the areas in our shop where we could apply the principles we learned-from the way our jobs were entered and the way they were handled in the prepress department, to how they moved through printing, and finally to how the jobs were fabricated and shipped. It was an enlightening experience and, since then, we continually strive to apply these types of principles and others we have learned to our production processes.

The value of persistence
While lean-manufacturing training was the avenue we chose at the time, you may opt to go a different way. Several choices are available. For instance, shortly after our lean training our management team read the book, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. That particular title helped us identify different bottlenecks in our production processes. Whatever training or methods you implement, the change in your shop’s approach to the way you produce work will begin to shift and your employees will see the effectiveness by which they approach their job.

A word of warning, however: As our instructors cautioned us, efficient and effective production systems will take anywhere from three to five years to fully develop. At the time, we scoffed at the notion that it might take that long. Now, after two years, we believe it.

It's a difficult task to develop effective standard operating procedures. It will try your patience and make you believe that perhaps these types of systems really don’t apply to your shop. Don’t believe it. Hang in there and be persistent. Don’t allow your leadership to think otherwise. Your commitment to the process will be critical. Once your team begins to see the fruits of good systems, the energy will be there and they will become committed to processes that will enable your company to not only grow sales, but to successfully produce them.

Marty McGhie (marty@ferraricolor.com) is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.

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