3 Lessons to Learn from Amazon to Increase Sales Productivity
I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on what Amazon is doing to prepare for the coming holiday season - and improving productivity at the same time. From the article, the challenge they face is to expand their workforce by about 40% by adding 120,000 temporary workers at its U.S. warehouses for the peak sales season that runs roughly from November through December. This hiring, which must be done in a couple of weeks, also requires everyone be trained, ideally as fast as possible.
Their solution is to use technology ranging from touch screens to robots to shrink the time it takes to train their new hires to as little as two days, a process that can take up to six weeks for a conventional warehouse job. That is an improvement of 95 percent!
Adding further pressure and difficulty, Amazon isn’t alone with its hiring goal – they must slug it out with rivals like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and package-delivery companies like United Parcel Service Inc. as they all try to staff up for the holidays at the same time.
Sales managers tasked with building a team face similar challenges – but likely not to the extent of what Amazon faces. What can we learn from Amazon, in their relentless pursuit for process optimization and worker productivity? Here are three tips that came to mind, after reading the article:
- Automate as much as possible – in Amazon’s case, they implemented an army of robots to improve package throughput, increase accuracy and reduce breakage or lost items. Along with this ruthless push for automation came incredible performance improvement. Interestingly, as facilities became more robots-oriented, more human labor was hired to process all the orders (while output went through the roof).Process automation doesn’t necessary remove humans from the process, provided they are doing value-added work. Providing tools to automate sales processes, track time management or automatically set up client appointments could make a big difference in sales force productivity.
- Standardize processes – this is a strategy that manufacturers now clearly recognize; so too does Amazon. If you take the time to train a warehouse worker, and they can then work in ANY warehouse, then your training time was well spent. Because Amazon’s warehouses are fairly uniform, the company can introduce the same training programs across its buildings and multiply any efficiency gains. Consistency drives future productivity, reduces future training time and improves output quality.This strategy can be applied to the sales process. What does a sales rep on your sales team typically present during an introductory call? How do they explain your value proposition and how your company differentiates itself from the competition? Do you have a standardized approach to teach this story and process, and do you execute upon that strategy with every new hire? Can you readily share how every member of your sales team spends their time, with applications such as Prodoscore? What sales productivity improvement could you achieve if your training time was reduced from six weeks to two days?
- Empower workers to self-learn – at Amazon, orange, pallet-sized robots move faster than humans while carrying shelves full of merchandise to stations where workers can reach them. Screens show the workers what the desired item looks like and where it is placed so they can pluck it off the shelf quickly, safely and accurately. After taking an item off a robot-carried shelf at one of Amazon’s new warehouses, the worker scans it, and a light flashes to show which container to place it in to get it ready for shipping.What can sales professionals learn from this productivity strategy? To start, visual prompts and reminders can have an enormous impact on process consistency and time efficiency. Marketers have made much progress with this concept, with automated responses coming after prospects download white papers or attend webinars. Perhaps sales professionals could too, with alerts sent to their desktops when an ideal time is to reply back to prospects? This type of activity could only be accomplished with complete visibility into how a sales professional spends their day, to then understand when the best time is to present such automated follow up responses.
The quote “Necessity is the mother of all invention” is attributed to Plato. It suggests that inventiveness and ingenuity are stimulated by difficulty, likely in direct proportion. Global competition, extreme price competition and an incredibly diverse population can make the life of a sales professional very difficult – especially when tasked to achieve quote on a recurring basis. Much can be learned from companies that face equally, if not greater challenges, to offer insights on possible solutions. In the field of process consistency and worker productivity, few companies have achieved higher performance breakthroughs than Amazon. Perhaps there is something we can learn from their hard work, perseverance and success?