Michael Gerber’s fantastic book The E-Myth really highlights how important systems are for businesses to be successful. It’s the systems that are usually responsible for a business to operate smoothly and profitably.
The real life example, of course, is McDonald’s. It was simply a matter of food preparation systems that helped to build this hugely successful entity.
A simple definition of a system is a documented series of steps that are taken to complete a portion or all of a specific task or job. These steps are a repeatable series of actions, or a sequence of events, that are followed every time anyone undertakes that task or job.
Examples in small business could be a sales process, sales script, marketing campaign, the order-taking process, the way the phones are answered, how employees are hired and trained, etc.
Let’s look at two areas not commonly linked to systemization.
Customer service in today’s economy seems to be at an all-time low. When service is up and down, it leaves customers with an insecure feeling and a feeling that you don’t care. This certainly doesn’t build customer loyalty.
Consistent service provides comfort and security for customers. They know what to expect and know they can trust and depend on you.
What can be systematized in customer service?
• How phone calls are answered and managed; example — before the third ring and say. . . .
• How people are greeted when they visit your business.
• The way orders are taken, recorded and reviewed, with sign-off and agreement at each stage.
• Routine follow-up calls or surveys to determine results.
• Clearly defined levels of authority so there is no doubt who can resolve certain issues.
Sales are thought to be dominated by outgoing people who thrive at meeting people and have a great “pitch.” The reality is much different. Top, successful sales people knowingly break their sales process into steps — they follow a system.
On average, it takes seven touches by (phone, mail, e-mail or in person) to complete a sale. Building a relationship with a potential customer takes time.
Here’s an example of a common outside sales system:
1. Mail/e-mail a marketing piece, previously tested and measured as successful, to prospects in your target market.
2. Call to confirm the piece was received.
3. Ask a few scripted questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the business and to uncover the issues they are facing that you could help solve.
4. Request/schedule a face-to-face meeting.
5. Send additional information based on the answers and background (i.e. testimonials of like clients) to prepare them for the meeting.
6. Send a confirmation e-mail message and include an agenda of what you’ll discuss
7. Prepare the questions you need to cover and do your research on options.
8. Make a date for the next meeting.
9. Send a thank you and confirmation for the next meeting.
Every business I know can benefit from systematizing certain procedures, but it means embracing a culture of teamwork and discipline. And discipline is hard!
Having a system in place can help make priorities clearer and can prompt people to function better as a team. But people must be trained in how to use them.
Creating good systems takes time up front, but will lead to increased confidence and a higher level of efficiency with fewer mistakes and increased profitability in the long run.
Look at the most basic things in your business, from answering the phone all the way to how you produce your product and service your customers. Have your team contribute to the process. Document, go step by step, and include checklists to ensure that systems are clearly defined and easy to follow.
Be practical. Make sure there are communication checkpoints on the list so teams talk to each other. First drafts will almost always need to be revised and rewritten.
Test it, change it and test it again.
Systematizing certain processes frees up your brain to think about other things, allowing more creative problem-solving to occur. This leads to consistent quality and higher productivity. It’s proven that systematizing operations leads to greater efficiency, happiness and profit.
ActionCoach is written by John MacKenzie of ActionCoach, which helps small- to medium-sized businesses and other organizations. He can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at 403-340-0880.