Why Make It Hard to Buy?


Sigh, crabby mood… for those of you who don't like the “Crabby Mark” blog posts, here come a few today.

It's often commented about here (and Jamie Flinchbaugh makes this point in his first podcast discussion with me), that lean MANUFACTURING can only do so much for you if your focus is only on improving waste on the shop floor. The lean ENTERPRISE has to incorporate lean methods not only from “order to cash” but also during the sales process.

I dealt with a company this week that is NOT getting my business for some new benches for a lean laboratory project I'm currently working on. They seemed to have great product. They could even have a very lean factory for all I know, but the selling experience was horrible.

I called yesterday, with a catalog in hand, to try to get some prices and quotes on standard products (these aren't customized products at all). First off, I could barely hear the sales guy I was talking to. He apologized about some problem with his headset/ear-piece, yet he continued to talk on it. When he called back again, he was still on his crappy headset, so I often had to ask him to repeat himself. A different sales person called and had a similar crappy headset. They asked if the problem was with my phone. Um, NO. How can you sell if people can't hear you? How can you expect people to sell (or do anything) if you don't give them good tools?

The quote didn't come, as promised, so I called back today, to get a smaller quote (as we had already decided to give our business to a different company that was VERY responsive and communicated well). We wanted just a quote on some standard LCD monitor arms. The “Regional Sales Manager” I was talking to didn't have any prices handy. First off, he wanted to know who I worked for and what industry. I guess they're trying to stick it to, pricewise, if they think you can pay more? After a very frustrating discussion, the Sales Manager said “he wasn't comfortable quoting a number without first checking with accounting.” ARGH. How can people sell if you don't give them information that customers would want?

I finally got a quote emailed to me. They quoted “14 days” to ship. I called back and asked “Don't you just ship these from stock?” “No, we build everything after it's ordered.”

OK, clearly not even a lean factory. For one, if you have standard products and a customer isn't always willing to wait 14 days, you STOCK FINISHED GOODS INVENTORY. Yes, this is a lean approach. In the TPS approach, if you can't “build to order” within customer required lead times, then you stock FGI and use lean/pull methods to replenish that inventory after it's been sold. You don't get rid of all your inventory in the name of lean (or whatever manufacturing philosophy they follow). Lean means being responsive to your customers first and foremost.

Secondly, with a 14 day lead time, they probably aren't building the product using lean methods. I picture an MRP system, lots of batching and delays, all of that.

Needless, to say, the company that was easier to work with is getting our workbench business. We're going to buy monitor arms through a distributor who, guess what, holds inventory so we can get those sooner, rather than later.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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