Value Stream Mapping (VSM): 6 Steps to Improve Sales & Operations

Value Stream Mapping (VSM): 6 Steps to Improve Sales & Operations

When was the last time your organization evaluated your sales process to ensure it truly serves your customers and is as efficient as possible? If you aren’t sure or feel like your sales process needs a tune-up, your team could benefit from value stream mapping your sales process.

First, let’s get crystal-clear on what value stream mapping is.

By going through the value stream mapping process, your sales team can standardize your sales approach, allowing you to define and replicate the best process to land the sale. It is important to note that effective value stream mapping is a team effort. This is not an activity that should be done by one person alone — aim to have three to 10 people working on your value stream map to ensure your process improvement is thorough and complete.

Value stream mapping is one of the principles of a management practice called Lean. Originating from the Toyota Production System, Lean is popular in the manufacturing industry, but sales teams can benefit from applying Lean principles as well.

The five key principles of Lean are:

  1. Identify value — Understanding what your customer needs and how your product serves them.
  2. Map the value stream — An exercise to help you ensure value flows throughout your organization and processes.
  3. Create flow — Maximize efficiencies and reduce waste in your organizational processes.
  4. Establish pull — Considering customer consumption and how it relates to business operations.
  5. Seek perfection — Focus on continuous improvement.

Today, we’re going to focus on the second principle — mapping the value stream — and how it can benefit your sales team.

It’s important to note that value stream mapping is often compared to process mapping. Let’s take a look at the differences below.

Typically, value stream mapping comes before process mapping. Now, let’s walk through value stream mapping step-by-step.

Value Stream Mapping Process

1. Identify the process you want to improve.

Begin by identifying the process you seek to improve. This is also the time to identify key stakeholders and roles and responsibilities to keep the activity on track.

2. Define the objective and scope.

Once the process has been selected, outline the objective of improving that process. For example, if your team chooses to optimize your sales process, make sure everyone understands why optimizing the sales process is important. A common objective for sales teams completing this exercise is to increase pipeline velocity (how quickly a lead moves through your pipeline).

Additionally, you want to define the scope by understanding the specific start and endpoint of the process you want to optimize.

3. Map out the current state of the process.

Next, your team should document the process as-is. Using the sales process example, document how a lead enters your funnel, the touchpoints they have with your brand or sales team throughout the sales process (including handoffs), and all activities that lead up to making the sale.

As you document each step, make sure you also indicate who is responsible and how long each task takes.

4. Identify inefficiencies and areas of improvement.

Now that you have documented your process’ current state, use a critical eye to identify areas of inefficiency or non-value-added activities. These are known in the world of Lean as “waste.”

Common sources of waste in sales include:

  • Defects — Providing incorrect, unclear, or outdated information to a prospect.
  • Overproduction — Over-communicating with a prospect to repeatedly gather information or clarify requests.
  • Waiting — Time spent waiting on answers or information from other areas of your company (including marketing, production, and inventory) that impact your ability to share information with prospects in a timely manner.
  • Under-utilized talent — The amount of time sales reps spend on tasks that are not related to selling and engaging with prospects. This can include manually running processes, creating proposals, and looking for information.
  • Transportation — The area of sales doesn’t typically involve the transportation of parts or goods related to manufacturing. In sales, transportation waste can be equated to time wasted during the flow of information. For teams not using a CRM to automate and prioritize their communication efforts, there can be a great deal of transportation waste.
  • Inventory — As a sales rep, your deliverables to your prospects are considered your “inventory.” This can include providing quotes, pricing information, and negotiation deliverables in a timely manner.
  • Motion — In Lean, motion waste occurs when more steps than necessary are taken to fulfill a task or statement of work. For your sales process, look for ways to expedite or automate tasks to improve motion such as setting up CRM integrations to reduce manual tasks.
  • Processing — This type of waste occurs when the same set of data or information is processed multiple times. Do you find you or your team have to input the same information in several places? Do you have to go to multiple sources to pull standard reporting data? If so, these are areas where processing waste can be eliminated or reduced.

5. Map out the future state of the process.

Once you have identified the areas of improvement, document the ideal future state, improving the inefficiencies you outlined above.

As you did when you outlined your current state, indicate how long each action will take using the improved process. This will help your team quantify the amount of time you’ve saved.

6. Create an action plan for implementation.

Now that you have your new and improved process mapped out, it’s time to implement. Create a realistic action plan your team can handle to make the new process a reality. It helps to have a project manager on hand to ensure implementation goes smoothly, and to keep stakeholders accountable.

In all, here’s what your final value stream map could look like (with some adjustments that are specific to sales and not manufacturing).

Completed value stream map

Image Source

Not sure how to get started? Take a look at the following flowchart template that you can use to create a value stream map.

Value Stream Mapping Template

Value Stream Map Template

Download your free flowchart templates to create a value stream map.

At its core, value stream mapping is the same as creating flowcharts — only with unique VSM symbols, which we go over below.

HubSpot’s flowchart templates will help you get started creating a value stream map. The best part is that you can start with a simpler, linear chart, then add more complexity as you go along.

Value stream maps have unique symbols. Chart maker tools typically include these symbols, but if you’re just now learning to create a VSM, we recommend downloading symbol packs first and playing around.

Here are two icon packs:

  • PowerPoint VSM Icon Pack (AllAboutLean.com)
  • Excel VSM Icon Pack (Lean.org)

Now, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the symbols before starting to create a map. Let’s go over them below.

Value Stream Mapping Symbols

Value stream mapping symbols

1. Customer/Supplier Icon

Consumer and supplier value stream map iconWhen placed at the upper left-hand corner of the value stream, this symbol represents the supplier. When placed in the upper right-hand corner, it represents the customer.

2. Dedicated Process Flow Icon

Dedicated process value stream map iconThis represents a single department, process, or operational machine a material flows through.

3. Shared Process Icon

Shared process value stream map iconThis represents a department, process, or operational machine that is shared by multiple value streams.

4. Data Box Icon

data-box-value-stream-mapping-symbolOn a value stream, this symbol is placed under other icons in the system that require more data for analysis. For example, a data box could go below a detailed process flow icon to show CRM data reporting cycle time.

5. Workcell Icon

Work cell value stream map iconThis icon indicates multiple processes integrated together to improve the quality, speed, and cost of product creation.

6. Inventory Icon

Inventory value stream map iconThis symbol can represent inventory counts that need to take place within the value stream.

7. Manual Information Icon

Manual information value stream map iconThis indicates the flow of information through written content that is not shared electronically.

8. Electronic Information Icon

Electronic information value stream map iconThis icon indicates when information is shared electronically through mediums such as email.

9. Push Arrow Icon

Push arrow value stream map iconThis icon represents material or product pushed from one process to the next.

10. Verbal Information Icon

Verbal information value stream map iconThe verbal information icon indicates the flow of information that is shared verbally.

11. Kaizen Burst Icon

Kaizen burst value stream map iconA kaizen burst highlights problem areas on a value stream. It is designed to indicate areas of waste that can be improved to optimize the entire process.

12. Other Information Icon

Other information value stream map iconAny additional information that doesn’t fit into the categories above can be communicated through the other information icon.

At this point, we’ve covered the key steps and symbols you need to know to facilitate a value stream mapping exercise. Let’s put it all together with an example.

Value Stream Mapping Example

The enterprise sales team at a SaaS company recently completed a value stream mapping exercise. They first mapped their current state, then mapped their future state.

Current State VSM

When mapping out their current state, the enterprise sales team realized, on average, each customer was being passed off to three different sales reps during their buyer journey. They also realized the handoff points were where they saw the greatest leaks in their sales funnel.

By handing prospects off from sales rep to sales rep without sharing context or information each time, customers were having to repeat information. Additionally, the team realized they didn’t have a central system in place for managing customer data, so each rep was responsible for keeping their own records of customer interactions. This led to inconsistencies in their reporting and in the experience of each prospect.

Future State VSM

As the team mapped out their sales process’s future state, they outlined a new structure involving the implementation of a CRM. This helped them manage their data and serve as a single-source of information for reps. This would decrease the amount of time it took to make the sale because reps were spending less time hunting for data, and it resulted in smoother hand-offs because all reps had access to the same information.

By implementing these improvements, the enterprise sales team was able to cut their average conversion time in half, while increasing their sales month over month. Because the improvements were so well-documented, they were able to share best practices that were easily implemented by their mid-market sales team as well.

Value Stream Mapping Tools

While some teams prefer to use pens, paper, and sticky notes to complete their value stream map, there are helpful digital tools available as well. Here are some value stream mapping tools to check out:

1. Lucidchart

Lucidchart value stream mapping

Image Source

Lucidchart is a web-based collaborative platform that allows your team to create digital value stream maps. With helpful templates and drag-and-drop features, your team can improve processes quickly and easily. Lucidchart also integrates with HubSpot through Zapier, so you can easily plug your CRM into your new and improved process.

Pricing: Free; $7.95/month (Individual); $9.00/user/month (Team); Custom (Enterprise)

2. Microsoft Visio

Value stream mapping tool by MicrosoftPart of the Microsoft Office Suite, Visio is a tried-and-true tool for creating flowcharts and value stream maps. With Office 365, anyone in your team can access the web-based Visio application to build a robust value stream map.

Pricing: $5/user/month (Plan 1); $15/user/month (Plan 2)

3. SmartDraw

Value stream mapping tool by SmartDrawSmartDraw is an easy-to-use drawing program that can be used to create comprehensive value stream maps. They also offer helpful templates and pre-made diagrams to help your team flow through the value stream map process, providing helpful tips and information if you get stuck.

Pricing: $9.95/month (Single User); $5.95/user/month (Multiple Users)

4. Creately

Value stream mapping tool by CreatelyCreately is a data visualization tool that you can use to create a strong value stream map. It provides all the standard icons for the map, and the best part is that it includes a large library of VSM templates to get you up and running in no time. You can collaborate with others on your VSM by inviting them to edit the file.

Pricing: Free; $4.95/month (Personal); $6/month (Team); $15/month (Enterprise)

5. VisualParadigm Online

Value stream mapping tool by VisualParadigmVisual Paradigm Online is another data visualization tool that has a dedicated VSM feature within its platform. It offers multiple VSM templates that range in complexity and area of focus. This one, for instance, focuses on current state mapping, while this one focuses on future state mapping.

Pricing: Free; $4/user/month (Starter); $9/user/month (Advance); $15/user/month (Combo)

Create a Value Stream Map to Improve Processes at Your Business

If you’re looking to improve your team’s processes for greater efficiency and increased sales, going through a value stream mapping exercise is an effective way to do so. That way, you can pinpoint areas of improvement in your overarching functions and ensure that your department is as efficient and profitable as it can be.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

New Call-to-action