Systems to Leverage Your Business
Why can some people maintain consistently higher sales levels than others? Ask any good salesperson and they’ll probably say they’ve got a system for selling. They ask particular questions, have certain answers prepared, implement strategies for customer relationship-building, and use tools and techniques that add value and build trust with customers.
Exceptional salespeople have worked out, through trial and error, what works for them in maximising the likelihood of a successful outcome. You may have experienced this yourself. A customer comes into or phones your business; you say all the right things and you make a sale. Ten minutes later another customer comes in; you say something different and that customer walks away without buying anything.
Nearly everything you do in your business should be systemised to increase the probability of a positive result every time.
Fast food chains usually have it right. There’s a system for everything they do – from ordering stock, to preparing food, to serving customers. Everyone knows the, “Would you like fries with that?” routine. Why do they do it? Because it increases sales.
Having systems in place doesn’t guarantee continued success, of course. Systems comprise only part of a business, but certainly an important part.
Your business may not be fast food, but systems will be just as important for you. They’ll help ensure you achieve the best results you can, not only in sales, but also in error reduction and efficiency.
Let’s consider some business areas that should be systemised to achieve better outcomes. While some may seem more important than others, you should nevertheless develop systems in all of these areas for best results.
Your sales methods should be systematic. If you have sales teams on the road, at a store, in an office or selling over the telephone, make sure each group has a system. The best way to develop one is to get the sales people to do it. Ask them to consider the most successful and consistent salesperson they know, and write down what they do. Get them to identify the most common objections, issues, frequently asked questions and hurdles they come up against, and have them brainstorm scripted responses. Scripted answers are much more professional than stammering, “I don’t know” or making up flimsy answers on the fly. There are many tactful ways to say, “I’m not sure but I’ll find out, and come back to you with the answer.”
Customer Service Systems
One of the reasons for fast food chains’ great success is that people know what to expect when they visit a store. These chains know all about consistency and customer service. Regardless of whether people visit a location in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne (or Rome, London, or Los Angeles for that matter) they know they’ll get a clean environment, friendly faces and quick service. To keep your customers coming back, you too should offer a consistent customer experience and dependable service. Your business needs standards that are known and adhered to by your entire team – including and especially you.
Effective customer service standards will consider:
How the customer is treated on the telephone
How the customer is received in your store
The timing of your deliveries
The time it takes you to return calls
Your promptness in keeping appointments
The presentation of your products
The level of your after-sales service
The way you handle complaints.
An important point to bear in mind when developing customer service systems – as well as a powerful methodology for getting and keeping loyal customers – is to always under promise and over deliver.
Investment in your people is vitally important. Make sure you have appropriate systems in place for employing and keeping the best.
Really avoid cutting corners here. Develop a robust framework for recruiting and retaining staff – and not just anyone, but the right staff for your business. Write position descriptions that are crystal clear on roles and expectations. They should address:
What tasks the role will perform
What goals are expected to be achieved
What parameters must be worked within
Who the role will report to
How the role will be remunerated.
Work with staff to define expected workflows. Check for any overlap, duplication or bottlenecks between different roles. Implement job performance evaluation systems. Enlist your people to write procedure manuals of their day-to-day tasks, including checklists that can be signed off to ensure all tasks are properly completed. These will also help when inducting new employees.
Ensure every team member is aware of the policies and procedures around their terms of employment, including sick leave, annual leave, working hours, and parental leave. Document these clearly in your business policies and procedures, and also develop systems for ongoing training.
Work Health and Safety (WHS) – or Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in Victoria – systems are essential for businesses operating in Australia. Be aware of your obligations and responsibilities; they can differ significantly by industry and by state. Refer to the Safe Work Australia website at www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au for details around OHS/WHS regulations, training requirements, and common hazards in your type of workplace.
Systems often have a whole-of-enterprise impact, particularly in manufacturing or businesses with a supply chain. Individual responsibilities and tasks are frequently only one element of an extensive process. In order to effectively coordinate and streamline your operations, you must identify all the processes and activities spanning your business. This might include:
Opening and closing premises
Material ordering and replenishment
Assembly, construction and fabrication
Importing, packaging and labelling
Testing, delivery and commissioning
Maintenance and repairs
Merchandising, presentation and positioning
Sub-contracting and outsourcing.
For example, if it takes six weeks to order new stock or the minimum order quantity lasts six weeks, there needs to be a system in place for ensuring stock is ordered in advance of current sales, and avoiding out-of-stock situations or excessive stock holdings. When the procedure for reordering stock is documented, everyone who relies on the stock item will understand why their specific role is important.
Ideally each process should be assigned to a specific employee. That employee is then responsible for documenting it, and for ensuring everything related to it is operational and up to date. It’s possible for an employee to undertake several tasks and be responsible for many steps in various processes without actually knowing or understanding the entire operational system. When this occurs, each member of your team needs to be aware of the bigger picture, where their respective portions fit in, and the impact their role has on collective results.
Documenting operational processes and assigning them to specific individuals can significantly improve everyone’s knowledge of the business, as well as enhance overall performance.
Strategic (or Management) Systems
These are perhaps the most important systems of all. Not having them will mean your people (and you) will spend a lot of time being reactive rather than proactive. Developing systems in this area will allow you to quickly evaluate how your business is going, and identify what is and isn’t working. Such systems include:
Business plans with action items, budgets, targets and deadlines that are monitored and met on a continual basis
Regular management meetings to plan for periods ahead and deal with any issues before they become major crises
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and regular assessments of progress made against these.
Your financial systems need to encompass every monetary flow into and out of your business. They should be monitored weekly or, at the very least, monthly. This includes sales forecasts and expense budgets, and should incorporate policies and procedures around:
Paying creditors and operating expenses
Payment of commissions and wages
That last item is extremely important. Businesses with record sales levels have gone broke because they had no debtor collection policies in place. Develop one if you don’t have one already, and then let your customers know what it is and stick to it.
Information Technology Systems
Modern business is heavily reliant on computers and related technology, across every sector and profession. All of your information technology (IT) systems should be documented, especially procedures for addressing technology breakdowns. Other high-priority information to document includes who your service providers are, their contact details, and what they need to know about your equipment and processes when you contact them. Ensure that your systems are backed up frequently, and that restore procedures are current and regularly tested. As your systems grow, you should review your security and backup procedures to accommodate any changes – it’s too late once you lose all your data. Security also needs to be addressed each time you employ new staff or staff leave. Access to your systems should be reviewed regularly, ideally monthly if feasible.
Keep up-to-date with the latest technology, and understand its potential impact on your business. Don’t be afraid of change; embrace it to your greatest advantage. At bare minimum you should have a computerised database and accounting system, as well as the appropriate supports in place to ensure both are kept accurate and up-to-date.
Effective technology usage can hugely simplify, among other things: sales tracking; marketing and advertising performance monitoring; financial management; and coordination between business streams or offsite locations. The right technology used appropriately can make your operations far easier, quicker and more efficient for everyone.
Marketing is ultimately about selling more of your products or services. It’s about reaching potential customers and influencing them to buy from you.
Marketing systems should include:
Methods for measuring and tracking marketing activities, i.e. individual campaign analysis sheets that display expenditure and results for each
Ways to test variations of similar marketing campaigns and compare their performance
Tracking of all contact with your clients, and how often they buy from you
Identification of the products or services that are most profitable to your business, as well as your most lucrative customers.
A database containing this information will give you valuable clues as to the products, customers and services you should invest your marketing dollars in.
REMEMBER: Systems Are Intrinsically Valuable
Be aware that systemising your business will add significantly to its sale value.
When you have robust systems in place, the business is no longer as dependent on you and your personal oversight. The business will be far better able to maximise its potential, and to run independently of its owners and key employees. As a result, it will have a much higher value on sale than a similar business that’s still heavily reliant on its founders or key staff.
The motivator for systemising your business is that you have limited time, energy, people, resources and money. By implementing appropriate systems, you’ll be able to operate more efficiently and effectively, as well as generate consistently better outcomes.
There are two common mistakes businesses make when systemising, however. The first is that they spend too much time looking for the perfect system before actually commencing the process and making necessary changes. The second mistake lies in trying to prove systems before they start.
When developing any new system, document your current procedures before starting to review the system’s effectiveness. Then make controlled changes as required. The best-fitting systems will evolve gradually from your team’s diligence in implementation and usage.
In summary: pick a system, document it and use it.