SPIF Tip #4: Why You Need Systems Thinking in Sales

m415-034f4c5a-f814-4bb2-b469-ae04ba7e3da9-v2Sales used to

function as a kind of independent department. Of course, this has become less and less viable. Sales results are dependent on the company’s website, its engineers, its customer service and shipping departments.
Customers are demanding more – and more complex – services. This requires your company’s right hand to know what its left hand is doing. Your executives need to understand systems thinking.  

In Sales Process Excellence, I defined systems thinking this way:

The process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. It is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships and interactions with one another, and with other systems rather than in isolation. Closely related to the law of cause and effect.

Most VPs of Sales are acutely aware that they are dependent on the rest of the organization if improvement is to happen. Here is an example: 

  • One capital equipment company had long lead times and liked to customize its machines. Salespeople worked with manufacturing and engineering to estimate costs and schedules. Then they provided customers with quotes.

    They would get the order, and everything was fine until two or three months before the ship date. At that point, manufacturing and engineering were allowed to “change their minds.” 

    Giving customers the bad news made
     for some uncomfortable conversations. 

    Why should the sales team take any process seriously, if the rest of the company didn’t take it seriously also? 

    The president of the company had to step in and agree: At a specific point on the sales process map, a commitment was a commitment. 

Managers in some companies think nothing of optimizing their own department’s performance, at the expense of other departments:

  • A marketing department generates more so called “leads” while spending less money doing it. 

  • A sales department gives away warranties or future services in exchange for hardware orders today.  

This happens because managers allow rubberywords and stretchable concepts to suit range of the moment needs. This approach cannot improve the delivered value to the customer. 

 Many companies are built around localized assumptions of how marketing, sales, and service function. The functional managers determine what training and budgets they need.  

These companies pay no attention to whether or not deal flow indicates they are adding value, or not.

 The thing to remember is, the people in thesedepartments cannot improve things on their own.

 As Russel Ackoff said:

A system cannot detect its own problem, it must be detected and changed from a higher order system level.

Management is the only group that can possibly be responsible for this. And, this a systems perspective is not a “one-and-done” kind of thing.

 Systems thinking is a pursuit. It is a continuing refinement that engages the eyes, ears, and minds of everyone on the team. It enables everyone to keep seeing more than any one of them could see on their own.

 How has systems thinking worked in your business?


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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