Improve your sales: Implement a sales system that works

By Mark Wardell

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you’re already familiar with the fact that a business needs to be structured around systems in order to operate as effectively and successfully as possible. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, chances are you arrived at this conclusion by ‘winging it’ to a certain extent at one time or another. That’s how many of us learn just how important systemization is. Systems introduce a necessary amount of consistency into an otherwise unpredictable environment.

In fact, systems are what make it possible for you, or any of your employees, to improve your business in a more permanent fashion. Without systems, your business can rise only to the level of the individuals involved. If someone improves their own performance, then the business improves in direct proportion to their efforts, but if someone decreases their performance, then the business will deteriorate in direct proportion to their lack of efforts. Systems don’t leave success to chance—they make sure that standards are maintained across the board.

I find it surprising that while most people can see the benefits of a systemized approach to running their business, many feel that Sales is the one area that cannot, or should not, be system­ized. The prevailing thought is that salespeople must be free from the confines of structure in order to do their best work. In other words, “Hire the best people and let them do their jobs.”

Yet, isn’t this the definition of “winging it?” The Sales department, like your other departments, can and will benefit from being systemized. Here’s how.

First, take a close look at the people in your sales department. Of course, if you’re setting out to improve your sales, your first task is to reduce the number of individu­als in your sales force who have no aptitude for selling, and to increase the number who do.

Like your other departments, you will end up with some superstars. But no matter how good your recruiting system is, you may not end up with a whole team of superstars. That’s ok. Developing a system will ensure that each of your salespeople is doing their job as effectively as possible.

Next step: shadow and document. If you followed your best salesperson around for a few days, do you think you would begin to notice any patterns to her approach? Would there be some consistencies in the way she organizes her time, looks for new business, asks for referrals, or explains the features of your products or services? How about if you followed the best salesperson around from a competitor’s company, or even a company from another industry? Could you identify any common patterns within their various approaches? Sure you could. And you will. You’ll want to shadow and document these important details when developing a system for your Sales department.

It’s all about consistency. Now imagine your worst salesperson. If he made a genuine effort to emulate those patterns, would he improve? Of course he would. From this perspective, it is easy to see the potential benefits of designing a sales system that helps improve your weaker salespeople, but what about your best salespeople? How will a sales system benefit them? The answer is consistency. Even your best salespeople will probably admit that they occasion­ally get sidetracked and make a mistake. They might forget to mention a special introductory offer on a new product, for example. We all make mistakes of course, but a good sales system will keep them to a minimum.

And the right amount of flexibility. Another argument against introducing systems into the sales process is that no two sales are exactly alike; after all, no two customers are exactly alike. But while this may be true, it doesn’t mean that sales can’t be systemized. It simply means that your sales systems must be designed with an appropriate amount of flexibility; how much flexibility will depend on your particular business. You’ll have to use your best judgment.

A sales system for a fast food restaurant, for example, will require less flexibility than a sales system for an architectural firm.

For instance, one of our Wardell clients sells office supplies to two distinct target markets. One requires the sale to be made to a C-level executive, while the other requires the sale to be made to a purchasing agent. The executive sale is more complex, depending on highly trained sales reps and interactive presentations, while the purchasing sale is more structured, incorporating significant scripting.

In the end, the most comprehensive approach to sales takes into account both peo­ple and process. In other words, you need to keep your salespeople and sales systems front of mind as you set forth to systemize your department. Do this, and you’ll be celebrating higher numbers in no time!

MARK WARDELL is president and founder of Wardell Professional Development, a business consulting firm, focused on the unique needs of private growth companies. You can reach him at [email protected] or

By Adam

February 10, 2012