Systems thinking is the key to effective sales strategy and operations

Systems thinking is the key to effective sales strategy and operations


As I have previously written one of our biggest issues in running effective sales operations and executing effective sales strategies is the persistence of ‘point’ or ‘silver bullet’ solutions that mislead and distract. If you recall, a point solution solves one particular problem without regard to related issues and unfortunately, point solutions often don’t deliver meaningful or sustainable results.

That is why we need to embrace systems thinking as the way to lead and manage sales teams and operations.

What is systems thinking?

Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements. Systems thinking can be used in any area of research and has been applied to the study of medical, environmental, political, economic, human resources, and educational systems, among many others.

People like Ian Harper, renowned Australian economist and partner at Deloitte Access Economics, has been promoting systems thinking with his fascinating work on The Purpose of Place.

Sales operations are systems to, complex systems. Sales operations are a sub-system of the overall business system. To understand how the sales operations system interacts with the whole organisation system we can look at the value chain model. Every sub-system in the organisation is affected by the others.


However, unlike a production line, for instance, which runs on a linear pathway and is much easier to map , measure and predict, sales operations deal with many variables always operating in a world of approximation. Sales operations never follow a straight line nor do they provide certainty of results. Just think how frustrated people, especially senior management, get with sales pipeline management and sales forecasting and their perpetual search for certainty. People have to accept that it’s never going to happen.

To lead and manage a successful sales operation we need to accept and feel comfortable with a degree of uncertainty and that we are dealing with many variables at any given time. It is vital to our sanity as well as to the effective execution and delivery of our sales strategy and sales operations plans that we accept and understand this state of being when it comes to sales strategy and operations management.

At Barrett we have been working hard to bring systems thinking to the world of sales as an antidote to ‘point solution’ or ‘silver bullet’ malaise that still plagues us.

We have been studying and working with sales teams and operations for more than 20 years and have been mapping the interconnectedness of all the moving parts that drive this complex world of sales.

To address the issue around systems thinking we have actually developed an online Sales Strategy & Operations Audit process that allows senior management, sales leaders and others to rate the many moving parts of the a sales operation and its strategy at any given time, so as to gain insight into what is working effectively and what is not.

The findings report and subsequent workshop to unpick and examine their sales strategy and sales operations in detail and the resulting action plans have proven to be an enlightening and insightful experience for many sales leaders and teams helping better guide and direct their actions to better sales outcomes.

We understand that we cannot take the complexity out of leading and managing sales teams and operations but we can certainly bring relief by helping people gain clarity, make better decisions and take decisive action in this world of approximation.

Just ask our clients who have taking sales systems thinking on board, it’s making all the difference.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform




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