Are You Prepared to Scale? How a Systems Change Can Ignite Sales Growth
Reading time: 3:56You’ve gone as far as you can. Sales have either plateaued, declined, or are slowly rising. Too slowly rising.At this point in your promotional products sales career, you’ve won by smarts and sheer tenacity. But now, you’ve hit the wall. You’re busy from sunup to sundown, at best, you hope to hold on. Keep clients happy. Reduce churn.Ironically, we think we can overcome stagnant sales with more activity, despite the obvious logic that we can’t sell our way to efficiency. Or, as one world-famous mountain climber put it, “Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.”Most entrepreneurs make the fatal mistake of thinking that if they land more business, they’ll just add more support help, but they only postpone the inevitable: because of bottlenecks in your business, you and your team will hit the wall again and you’ll arrive at an all-too-familiar familiar place, a dead end.One of the most surprising and simple secrets to growing your sales is having the right equipment so that you can scale.In a recent survey of promotional products professionals -many who are at the top of their game- we asked a question about priority, which topic was most important to them. Sales? Marketing? Social media?The #1 response was not landing a new customer, nor how to do social media better, it was:
“Help me scale my business.”Growth is stifled because you are plagued by two problems:(1) Bottlenecks in your system: You have inefficient processes that prevent growth. Maybe they are spreadsheet-based purchase orders or project management tools or (worse) paper-based processing. Maybe you have too many hand-offs with your team, leading to duplication of efforts. Double data entry. (2) Unwritten protocols or too many different ways of doing the same thing: If you are small, it’s normal to adopt unwritten processes, you’ve developed your “system” on the fly, as-you-grow. But, as your business increases, you become immune to the adverse effects of unwritten processes because they are mitigated across multiple teams in small, semi-dependent business units. You rely on their smarts, but there are too many different systems, too many different ways of doing things. You can’t duplicate success because you can’t scale dozens of methods at once. You have no center of gravity, and no way to replicate the best method. Both problems make you feel powerless. As if there’s nothing to be done but to persevere.But there is something you can do, and it’s much easier than you think.Your baseline for future growth is in systems. Systems are your foundation. Just like a commercial high-rise building, without a strong foundation, you cannot build higher. Without a solid base beneath you, you are limited; you will reach maximum capacity.
A 10-Minute Exercise That Can Boost Sales GrowthThis exercise takes only 10-minutes and can be as simple as a drawing on a scratch pad, but after this exercise, you will have an action plan for change.The key to this exercise is to capture the who and how of each step of your process, highlighting who the key stakeholders are in each process and how that process is done currently while looking for bottlenecks.
Step 1Grab a pen and paper and sketch out all the systems you currently use. Don’t forget to include your quoting system, your art management system, your ERP, your CRM, your accounting package, and even your task management tools. Create a map like the image below. The blue arrows represent the flow of the project.
Step 2Under each system, list the departments that work with each of these systems. If you are a small business, you might have the same department under multiple categories. Example:
Step 3Now include the names of your colleagues in those departments. Draw an arrow between each handoff. A handoff is where you and your team transfers information from one system to another to move the project along. This might be from a quote system to a purchase order system, or from a purchase order to an accounting system. Handoff’s are bottlenecks.
Step 4Now, circle the systems that have duplicate (or triplicate!) data entries. An example: entering a quote for the customer in one system and then turning around and entering a purchase order for the same project into another system, is a duplicate entry. Another bottleneck.
Step 5Now, the most important part: identify which areas are the most frustrating to you and your colleagues. (Example: see stars below). This might be because the process is too slow or because there are too many errors due to data transfer, regardless, it’s a constant source of irritation, takes the joy out of sales, and represents a serious roadblock to efficiency. Like weeding a garden, identifying and removing systems that choke the fruitfulness from your hard work ensures future growth. Once you identify which systems need replacing, you can put together an action plan to remove bottleneck processes, which then make it easier to codify your new system across the entire organization. Then, by baking them into the muscle memory of your company, regardless of your size, you become lean, fast, and thanks to a strong foundation, you will soar. You will free up time to focus on mission-critical objectives like proactive selling. And there are fringe benefits, too. Eliminating bottlenecks will build unity with your team and reduce stress on you and your colleagues. Moreover, just as a new bike or a new pair of running shoes inspires us to hit the trail, replacing your gear (improving your systems) give you fresh energy, restores your confidence, and emboldens you to scale the mountain, making entrepreneurship fun again and worth the adventure!
“While climbing with another mountain climber who had a really old, worn-looking rope, I asked him how often he changed it. 'Every time it breaks' he said.”
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