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T Q (S) M = Total Quality (Sales) Management

By Paul Varga, SME-Cleveland Member

Ever wonder why Total Quality Management (TQM) is usually implemented only in the manufacturing end of a business? It's because sales and customer service are so difficult to change that many companies never get it done. Yet sales is the contact with the customer and the aim of TQM is to meet and exceed customer expectations! As sales managers we need to address this problem area.

If we work on just the following aspects of TQM we can accomplish real gains:

  • Identifying and removing barriers to hearing the customer

  • Satisfying rising customer demands

  • Viewing your company as a big team composed of smaller teams all working toward one common goal: customer satisfaction.

  • Analyzing relationships with customers-both traditional external customers, and other internal teams. Continuously assessing what is working and improving what is not.


Salespeople resist TQM for some serious reasons. First, they have always been told that they are "special," which of course they are. It takes a special kind of person to enthusiastically sell after being turned down, sloughed off, and misled by customers all day. Their motivation needs to be frequently freshened by financial and emotional incentives, fun-and-games, and inspirational sales managers.

Because of all this attention, many salespeople view themselves as being "above" their fellow employees in accounting, manufacturing, purchasing, R&D, etc. The sales manager needs to soften this attitude in order for the teams to all work together successfully.

Next comes lack of technical support. No individual can have all the expertise needed in today's complex world. Success is built on the pooling of everyone's area of depth; technicians often need direct access to the customer's technicians. Basically, salespeople need to have a good understanding of the technical side of what they're selling. Additionally, they need to be computer literate as buyers swing to ordering electronically, even directly accessing sellers' inventory/production data bases. Unfortunately, many sales managers don't provide for enough of this technical training and support to achieve TQM in sales.

Another reason for the resistance is money, to the degree that compensation is based on commissions. Why take the time to really understand and meet customers' needs when the same time can be applied toward meeting sales quotas that earn commissions right now? Some sales managers have gotten around this by changing to compensation systems blending commissions with incentives for new account development, customer retention, and increased volume with existing customers.

Finally, some sales managers just don't wan to make the effort to implement TQM. Others don't want to face the costs that go up as TQM is implemented and the company's culture starts to change. However, as the months pass, the financial picture will start to look better as the new "total TQM team" shortens response time, reduces waste, devises ways to exceed customer expectations, and increases sales.


The first step to bringing the sales force on board with TQM is through education on what it is and what its benefits are for themselves and for the company. Of course, they should already be familiar with the company's goals and its plans to achieve them. You do have these written up, don't you?
Next, salespeople need extensive training in your technical areas. In today's world they must be able to thoroughly discuss exactly how your equipment, capabilities and talents can help each customer achieve his/ her goals. An ideal kind of training is an "internship" within your company, which also fosters development of team relationships between the various workgroups. Beyond technical knowledge, salespeople also need training in sales skills and customer analysis, which is available in SME Cleveland's Eight Week Sales Course. This course is sponsored by SME especially for those members (and their sales staffs) whose companies don't produce their own sales training.

Another way to help sales and provide value-added services to clients is through customer training relative to your industry. This involves meeting with customers, determining what they are trying to accomplish and the equipment/capabilities/talents they have, then designing and delivering the required training. Customer training is usually beyond the scope of the salesperson, requiring the direct involvement of the sales manager or a support staff. But guess what happens when you extend TQM this way? You really understand the customer, and he/she becomes convinced that your company is an extension of theirs!

TQM can make your company stronger, but applying it to just your manufacturing departments gives you less than half a loaf. Only with the inclusion of the sales department will this innovative technique become your competitive edge.

About the author.- Paul Varga has been President of Service Graphics, a printing company, for over 20 years. He is currently on SME Cleveland's Board of Directors and prints the SME newsletter.

This article appeared in the May 1995 edition of SME Focus. It appears here with the permission of SME.

Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.

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