What sales leaders can learn from Marie Kondo

A few months ago, Netflix began streaming a show featuring Marie Kondo, author of The Lifechanging Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. In the book and on her show, Kondo shares her methodology (KonMari) for organizing and cleaning a home — and her work has become somewhat of a phenomenon. Thrift stores are overflowing with household goods donated by those seeking to declutter, and many realize that her philosophy could apply to more than just tidying up drawers.

Sales leaders and those involved in sales skills training can learn quite a bit from Marie Kondo. Let’s explore how some of her precepts could apply to us.

“Commit yourself to tidying up”

This one is easy to understand, but it requires you to commit to change – which is hard for many. If you are serious about improving performance, you cannot half do it and expect anything beyond mediocrity.

Before embarking on a campaign, such as recruiting a new sales force and investing in sales skills training, commit to seeing it all the way to completion.

Then, launch an internal PR campaign to earn buy-in from the rest of the company. Otherwise, you might encounter a lot of resistance to change, and that will eventually lead to some blow-ups among staff and management.

Have everyone on the same page and committed to creating a mutually prosperous future.

“Imagine your ideal life”

Set your goals and share your vision with existing employees and those you will be onboarding. Pledge to become a better sales leader and improve the lives of the people you serve, including your employees, your customers, your community, and other stakeholders.

Here is your chance to think BIG. Go beyond revenue goals. Think about what kind of culture you would like to create in the company and the greater impact your firm has in your industry or region.

If there are features you wish your solutions possessed which are currently lacking, this step encourages you to explore them. By doing so, you might discover avenues for development.

“Finish letting go first”

Before you start reorganizing and investing in things like sales skills training, let go of the clutter and waste in your business. This will sound harsh, but it includes letting go of salespeople and other employees who do not meet standards or customers who cause more trouble than they are worth.

It is cathartic to lean out a bloated organization, especially if there are people who would be better off elsewhere.
Don’t stop at people: re-evaluate if your tech stack or sales processes are obsolete. You might even need to close entire offices. The point is to clear ALL the clutter first before you start reorganizing what remains.

“Tidy by category, not location”

Most managers tackle reorganization by location – such as specific departments or regional offices. Kondo suggests targeting by category, and the way this might work in a sales organization is:

  • Salespeople: put every one of them in the company through an APQ sales assessment test to filter out those unsuitable for the job. Next, recruit new salespeople and train them all at once.
  • Customers: focus on the best and let go of the problematic ones. Since you have a great sales force (if you did the step above first) you will replace them with winners in no time.
  • Processes: are your sales processes full of inefficiencies? Check for redundancies and things which create a lot of admin without a commensurate increase in production (aka busywork).
  • Tech stack: which of your systems do your people really dislike using? Get rid of them, even if it means investing in new technology. Do this company wide.
  • Training: if your sales skills training program is ineffective you might need to explore new vendors.
  • Physical: can you get rid of paper files, old computers, and even unused office space?

This forces you to examine each component of your organization from a macro level: ALL the salespeople, ALL the spaces, EVERY piece of equipment, and makes each change very impactful.

“Follow the right order”

This is going to vary by company, but this step involves tackling the change categories as explained above in the proper order.

Should you revamp your training sales skills training program before your embark on recruitment? Or should you fill up the ranks first to get the ball rolling, train them quickly using a one-day workshop, then follow up with a more thorough curriculum when you can? There is no fixed answer; what is important is that you tackle these categories in the most logical order.

Maybe the reason your people have trouble is that your CRM or marketing automation platform is awful, or no one knows how to use either. To “tidy these up” could be the entry point for some companies, followed by the rest of the change targets.

“Ask yourself if it sparks joy”

KonMari makes you ask a simple question when you go about tidying things up: does it spark joy? If not, get rid of it. Now, when dealing with a business its not quite so simple, as you cannot just discard people and huge investments in technology just because they “don’t spark joy.” Work is work, and sometimes joyless, and you have to do it if you want to earn money.

That being said, you can evaluate whether there are things you are holding onto well past their expiration date. A couple of examples:

  • Do you enjoy the challenge of working with buyers from a certain industry which you have worked with forever? If not, perhaps you should explore a new category of buyer to market to.
  • Is there a particular product line of yours which causes endless frustration with your service personnel or customers? Maybe it’s time to focus on your winners and cut the products which aren’t worth the effort.

One last note: gratitude is important. Even when letting things go, be grateful for the service they have given you and avoid a vindictive attitude. Marie Kondo emphasizes being mindful and optimistic during this process, and this is a great philosophy to adopt when reorganizing your business.


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