Is Breaking Rules Good for Sales?


Sales organizations are built on rules: both internal rules and adherence to their customers’ rules. Obeying these rules is good – and has made many companies successful over the years. But when is it right to bend, or break, the rules?

Consider architect Richard Rogers. When Rogers and his partner Renzo Piano designed Pompidou Centre in Paris, they broke conventional rules of architecture by positioning the building’s infrastructure – electricity, plumbing, and HVAC – outside of the building. The goal was to optimize the internal space’s functionality for social and cultural exchange. Because they understood the rules, they could protect the ones that keep buildings standing, and then selectively break the rules that create new opportunities. By doing this, Rogers advanced post-modern architecture and changed how we interact with physical space.

Applied to the sales environment, look for the following two types of rules.

Operating Rules. These rules are core to the survival and operations of the business. The insurance company customer in the earlier example had operating rules about financial and actuarial requirements. These rules exist to pinpoint the risk they can underwrite so their premiums and claims balance out profitably. For the sales innovator, these aren’t the rules that are healthy to break.

Procedural Rules. These rules govern the supporting processes of the business. For the insurance company, they would include how the claims administration process works, and how they interface with their customers who make claims for property losses. Procedural rules could also include how the company operates its RFP process with vendors. While these rules are essential, they can also be broken carefully if breaking them improves the company’s capabilities. For example, the sales team might have proposed a dramatic change in how the insurance company interfaced with its best customers through a dedicated claims concierge service, breaking the current procedural rules to improve the company’s customer experience.

“And at the end of the day, break every rule you can,” says Pat Murn, vice president of sales at LexisNexis. “Breaking rules is very effective. Now, if you’re just blatantly irresponsible about it, obviously that’s not good. But if you’re creative, it actually shifts the culture of an organization. That’s how people within an organization actually grow, by breaking rules. If you’re just a law-abiding citizen at all points in time, you’d become part of the masses. But it’s really effective in a corporate environment: find every rule you can break, because you get attention and you get followers that way.”

Be a rebel. Know your internal and customer rules, classify them, and then break them to see what possibilities are revealed.

What rules would you break if you could?

Mark Donnolo is the author of “The Innovative Sale” and “What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation,” and managing partner of SalesGlobe. Email him at .


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