Is Breaking Rules Good for Sales?

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
Mark Donnolo> all articles
Mark Donnolo focuses on helping companies grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of their customer-facing sales, marketing, and service organizations. Mark's work spans several industries including technology, telecommunications, business services, manufacturing, and financial services.

Mark is founder and Managing Partner of SalesGlobe, a mangement consulting firm focused on sales strategy, sales process innovation, sales team development, and sales compensation. He also directs the SalesGlobe Forum, a membership organization of senior sales executives that operates in partnership with leading business schools.

Mark is the author of "The Innovative Sale" and "What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation", available in stores and online at and Barnes&

Mark holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BFA from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Mark speaks on sales and marketing topics and has been published in publications that include Fortune, Sales & Marketing Management, Selling Power, Telephony, Investment Property, Telecommunications, Velocity, Workspan, American Way, and Marketing News.

Mark serves on the Board of Trustees of The University of the Arts, founded in 1876 as the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art, now the country's first visual and performing arts university.

Specialties: Sales Strategy
Sales Organization Design
Sales Team Training
Sales Coaching
Sales Compensation and Quotas
Business Planning and Structure
Venture Capital and Private Equity
  • /data/userPictures/C3411CCD-8FA1-4F25-BE8C-0D1CF6FCC575.jpgDavid Lovelace2/4/2016 2:54:24 PM
    I believe being disruptive can be a good thing within the context of one's mission.

  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPictureFemale.jpgSally Isok10/28/2016 5:46:53 PM
    To be frank, in my personal life i always act as "rules are for breaking" , but in professional life i am really politically savvy.

  • /data/userPictures/959514EE-95E6-4BAE-BA91-9FBDE2162E53.jpgEdward McAlexander, CPSP11/25/2016 12:48:10 PM
    In our industry, sometimes you have to break the rules

  • /data/userPictures/C69D4536-C657-4D73-A3C4-9098D95A6E9F.jpgRobbie Gongwer6/11/2017 12:01:55 AM
    This is interesting.
    For me to break a rule I usually think through the purpose of the rule and what the spirit of the rule is.
    At the end of the day, some rules just need to but updated.