The 5S Lean process – How salespeople can implement it

Posted in Sales team management.

“Lean manufacturing principles” sounds like boring technical jargon that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with your life as a salesperson. However, these principles are not only great for use in manufacturing but also in everyday working life.

What are Lean principles?

Lean manufacturing simply refers to principles that identify and eliminate waste. Everyone, no matter what industry, can identify with wanting to get rid of unnecessary or wasteful tasks.

According to this methodology there are three types of waste. The first type is in-process waste, which involves doing things or tasks that do not add value to your current goal or project. We can all relate to this. How many times have you executed tasks that simply took up time that could have been better spent elsewhere?

The second type of waste, namely overburden, is an issue that speak to sales managers aiming for a more productive sales team. If you’re, for example, expecting an employee to do a task that they are not trained for or distracts from the important things, it is wasting time and stressing the employee. A stressed employee easily leads to lowered efficiency and mistakes which could have been avoided.

The last type of waste is unevenness. Simply put, there needs to be a common strand that runs through all processes. If something isn’t done in the same way each time according to specific standards it leads to inconsistent results. Then it ends up being a scramble to figure out what went wrong which is once again a waste of time.

In the 1940s the Lean process have been adopted in Japan and it has a long history of success. It has been proven to improve profitability, give you a more efficient workforce, help you provide better customer service, and maintain a safer workplace. The Lean process was originally called 5S and refers to a list of five Japanese words, all starting with the letter “s”. It was later adapted for a Western audience and replaced with English words. Today it refers to sorting, setting in order (or straightening), shining, standardisation and sustainability.

Let’s look at how salespeople can implement the 5S Lean principles:


In this first step you remove all unnecessary items from the workspace. If it doesn’t aid in completing processes, then it shouldn’t be in that area. The area or workspace can refer to a traditional desk or in the case of a field sales rep, a car or even a tablet. For example, if you travel a lot both your car and your tablet shouldn’t be cluttered. If your car is strewn with trash or your tablet is filled with unnecessary files not related to work you need to remove everything you know is not conducive to a productive environment.

Sorting helps to eliminate obstacles that may get in the way of doing a task to the best of one’s ability. This doesn’t only refer to removal but also to the maintenance of order by constantly checking for the accumulation of unnecessary items. Checking that everything is “sorted” can be done by the person themselves or a supervisor.

Setting in order

Now that only necessary items are on or near the workspace, it is time to organise the items themselves. Every tool or item needs to have a specific place in that area so that it is easily accessible for the person who will be using it. Items can also be arranged in the specific order that they are normally used so that it ensures smooth workflow. Also, the person using the items should ensure that they are placed back in the same area that they were originally in. To relate it back to the life of a field sales rep, organise your tablet in such a way that you can always find what you need immediately. For example, your electronic product catalogue should be easily accessible as soon as the client is in front of you without distractions from unnecessary apps.


This step might seem more aesthetic but it can help to increase production efficiency. It goes without saying but your workspace needs to be cleaned and organised on a regular basis. Check for deterioration of your tools of trade as time goes by and replace as needed. If you’re travelling a lot, make sure your transport is maintained through regular services, and that your tablet is always charged and up-to-date.

In a manufacturing situation the “shining” step also refers to safety. Any workspace should be a safe area to work in as well as safe to navigate for anyone entering that may not be familiar with the workspace yet.


Standardisation is the development and implementation of standards. These standards ensure that all parties are doing the same thing in the same way at all times. It promotes cooperation, interoperability, safety, repeatability and quality.

If you’re planning to implement the 5S process, make it clear what your sales reps are expected to do from the start and lay out their responsibilities. Every sales process must have steps attached to them that can be done exactly the same every time and also be measured. Of course, there needs to be room for evolution and change should it be called for.


The last step is vital in creating a workflow that always runs smoothly. Training must be provided to sales reps to help them understand the importance of implementing a Lean process. They should know that it is going to be helpful for you as a sales manager and company, as well as in helping them to manage daily work stresses.

They must also be taught to have discipline with regards to implementation of Lean so that they don’t have to be told to do it but will do the steps of their own accord. Regular audits must be performed by management and supervisors to ensure that everything is still being done according to standard.

It has been proven that the 5S Lean methodology can be implemented in both small and large businesses, and across various types of industries. By following these principles businesses can streamline their production chain and increase profitability while maintaining a happy sales workforce and eliminating waste.