Monday, June 05, 2006

Making Six Sigma Work IN Marketing: 7 Things the Black Belt Can Do

According to marketers who are admitted reluctant converts to Six Sigma, there are a few things the Black Belts can do to ensure a faster adoption curve and achieve better results within marketing.

  1. Learn the language. Six Sigma is as foreign a language to most marketers as marketing is to Six Sigma. If your background is in operations, engineering, IT, finance, or any related functional area, you had an easier time absorbing the concepts and lexicon of Six Sigma than the marketers will. Your ability to understand the key drivers and challenges of the marketing department will springboard your acceptance. You need to make the effort first.

  2. Emphasize the common ground. Both Six Sigma and marketing place a premium on getting at the voice of the customer and seeing it reflected throughout the company. Work to understand the perspective marketing has on that voice and compare your notes (and the notes of others around the organization) with theirs. Frame your questions, observations, and suggestions in the context of the customer and you will be readily accepted.

  3. Start with some visible victories. Nothing builds success like success. So when it comes to defining and selecting projects, start with a few that seem tailor-made for quick success. Start small if necessary. It’s important that the first few projects be seen as quick, focused, and relevant. It also helps if your initial focus is on topline growth vs. efficiency so your efforts aren’t seen as a prelude to budget-cutting. Be careful not to get drawn into trying to solve the biggest, hairiest problems facing the marketers — many of them appear seductive but are sinkholes with ambiguous outcomes. It’s unlikely (and maybe unwise) that you’ll succeed immediately where generations of MBAs and Ph.D.s have fallen on swords before.

  4. Don’t preach, teach. If your audience was infected with Six Sigma enthusiasm, it likely would have volunteered for training much sooner. Enthusiasm will build in proportion to the relevancy of your examples, not the abstract appeal of the concepts. Introduce tools in the context of pursuing projects with the highest priority. Otherwise, leave them in the bag.

  5. Avoid the square peg/round hole syndrome. Evaluate projects to determine their fit with Six Sigma. If the fit isn’t right, don’t force it. Find ways to help adapt your Six Sigma skills to solving the problem, even if the approach isn’t right out of the playbook.

  6. Embrace variability. Black Belts have been taught to see variability as a process defect and stamp it out in favor of standardization and reliability. Marketers have been taught to avoid standardization (which they equate with commoditization) in favor of differentiation. Find ways to separate good variability from bad without being seen as the enemy of creativity and innovation.

  7. Promote the learning dialogue. Remember that the value in analytical models is rarely found in the numbers themselves, but often in the dialogue they stimulate.

Overall, recognize that your marketing audience has skills very different from yours. Marketers are more likely to be goal-oriented than task-oriented, conceptual than analytical, and appear unstructured or undisciplined when in reality they are processing decisions on the basis of years of experience, filtered by a large community of conventional wisdom.

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