3 Core Operational Principles To Drive Sales Success

Imagine a big manufacturing plant. Its network of conveyor belts moves products through a cavernous maze of workers and machines, and at the end of the assembly line, the product is complete and ready for distribution.

Across the business world, companies live and die by operations, spending billions of dollars and countless hours streamlining their processes. Yet, operations management is not just for businesses that exist in a warehouse — the same fundamentals can be applied to all businesses to ensure a sales process is operating at maximum capacity.

The following three principles can help guide your business to sales success:

Find Your Flow

In an operations process, a flow unit is the basic unit of analysis that a process is designed to create or serve.

For example, a sandwich shop may categorize its flow unit as a customer because it seeks to design a system that ensures an efficient customer experience.

If the sandwich shop categorized “sandwiches” as its flow unit instead of customers, it would maximize how fast it makes sandwiches and neglect other parts of the process such as receiving customer orders.

While sales cycles offer a more fluid process then a sandwich shop, there is value in labeling the flow unit.

A good way to determine the flow unit is asking yourself, What is the most critical aspect of achieving a sale?

If you are in a highly transactional sales role, “volume of calls” might be the answer.

For longer sales cycles, “influence” may be the chief driver.

Regardless of the length of your sales cycle, identifying a flow unit will provide the necessary clarity for making decisions that optimize your process for more sales.

Identify (and Relieve) the Bottlenecks

A bottleneck is an operational term that describes an element of a process that is holding the entire system back.

Using the sandwich shop example, if an employee is slicing the deli meat for each individual order instead of using pre-cut slices, the process experiences a bottleneck.

When examining a sales interaction, lack of product knowledge, an inability to build rapport or simply talking too much may inhibit the process from achieving its maximum capacity.

To alleviate a bottleneck, first identify where it exists and then allocate resources to ensure it can catch up.

Next, relieve the bottleneck by taking actions such as attempting a new sales tactic, introducing creative pricing structures or highlighting specific product features.

Finally, since it’s not uncommon for bottlenecks to shift, continuously evaluate your process to identify what is getting in the way.  

Invest in Inventory

If inventory is the lifeblood of operations, sound inventory management is the heart that keeps the blood pumping.

Thinking back to the sandwich shop, if the shop runs out of bread, the process of making sandwiches and serving customers halts. Just like bread is inventory for making sandwiches, “self-development” is inventory for sales professionals.

One way operational experts manage inventory is by demand forecasting — a process of analyzing future demand for products and making adjustments to inventory based on the demand.

Apply demand forecasting by thinking about what sales skills you will need to develop and leverage for future sales interactions.

Methods for “stocking up” on necessary sales inventory include reading books on the human condition, following blogs of influential thought leaders and receiving coaching on innovative sales tactics.

Applying the techniques of inventory management will keep your sales repertoire fully stocked and in the best position to close a sale.  

Just like a manufacturing plant relies on operations management to maximize production, sales professionals can rely on operational principles to boost their sales efficiency.

Adhere to these three principles and you will be on your way to becoming a sales factory.  

Gary Whidden leads a sales team at Facebook. He spent 11 years in the Army in various leadership and operational positions. He holds an undergraduate degree from West Point in Political Science, a graduate degree from Columbia University in Organizational Psychology, and is pursuing an MBA From the University of Texas at Austin.

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