The Agile Sales Team
Agile sales teams are using techniques recommended within Scrum methodology to better manage and forecast their sales pipeline.
By Zen Newman, Marketing Analyst at PipelineDeals
Scrum is a system of agile project management which was first developed as a better way to manage projects in the software industry. Its different approach to project management quickly spread beyond the tech sector to virtually every industry that depends on reliably accomplishing large scale projects. Scrum relies on its different organization of a projects tasks and timeline. Instead of a waterfall approach, Scrum relies on breaking goals into sets of discrete tasks that can be accomplished in a certain amount of time and then managing the completion of these steps in a flexible manner. Although originally devised for project management, this same approach is catching hold in the world of sales management.
Creating an agile sales team requires some changes in perspective from the stereotypical ‘lone wolf’ approach. An agile sales team would instead require a higher level of team engagement and lateral accountability across team members. These changes are worth considering because, in a variety of instances, there are potentially enormous sales productivity gains available. The scrum methodology is based on team-wide visibility into each task that needs accomplishing and accountability, not just up the hierarchy, but across it for your pieces of the project that each member is responsible for.
In many industries, sales campaigns revolve around firm dates that are established well in advance. These can range from publication schedules to specific promotions. These events offer an excellent opportunity for teams to get started using scrum as they more closely resemble projects in the typical sense. Since they are events that differ from the normal flow of day to day sales, they also offer a greater opportunity to promote teamwork. Getting a team started on their first agile sales cycle takes some planning before the campaign launch. The rest of this article will detail some of the mechanics of how to get your sales team on an agile path.
There are three organizational pieces of an agile sales team that we need to visit: the standup, sprints, and the backlog. Within a sales campaign, there is a kickoff, a hard deadline and a specific number of accounts that need to be worked. Additionally, every salesperson and team are tasked with hitting certain goals on account retention, and revenue growth. To complete the campaign and achieve the goals that have been laid down, each salesperson needs to have a clear understanding of the tasks at hand and their route to completion. These tasks are then communicated to the group in a peer to peer fashion during the daily standup.
You can think of the backlog as a staging area for tasks that need to be done, but haven’t been started yet. In the case of a sales campaign, the backlog is most likely going to be all of the accounts that that remain unworked. Ideally, these should be tagged as a backlog to the campaign in the CRM, so that they can be quickly identified and sorted for additional contact via email. Aside from the logistical benefits of being able to sort and contact accounts which are at different stages of the sales campaign, organizing your accounts in this way allows for correct pacing of sales activity from the beginning of the campaign.
For commission based sales teams, the Scrum concept of the sprint should be somewhat familiar. The goal is to break the sales campaign down into chunks allowing the team to maintain consistent pacing and course correct as needed. In this way, the scrum sprint closely resembles a pay period or monthly quota system where specific goals for moving accounts forward through the sales pipeline. At the end of the sprint cycle, the results are reviewed, adjustments made, and new goals set.
The process of predicting what activity will occur during a time period is similar to sales forecasting, but it takes on added rigor when all activity is accounted for instead of just what will be closing. Forecasting based on activity allows sales teams to take into account all of the micro conversions that occur in the course of moving an account down the sales pipeline. This approach allows for a detailed, rigorous and highly collaborative approach to managing an active sales pipeline.
Sales teams are used to weekly and monthly meetings either as teams, or in a one-on-one setting with their sales manager, but the scrum standup functions differently. The goal is for each member of the team to quickly identify what they did the day before, what they’ll be doing today, and what blockers they are encountering. No more, no less. The idea is to provide a quick (and I mean very quick) account of how you’re spending your time to your team members and to help everyone identify any common challenges that may be affecting the group. The goal is to provide peer-to-peer accountability and group-wide visibility into challenges that may be occurring.
While the scrum methodology presented a change of approach to the waterfall method of project management, it is already relatively similar to many of the institutions we all know well in sales. By approaching a sales campaign from the perspective of project management, sales managers can eliminate a lot of the variability currently present in the sales process. By implementing Scrum best practices, sales teams are better able to pull as one by providing much more visibility into the sales process while sharing best practices and holding each other accountable.
Converting to a scrum process requires training for your sales team and an adjustment in perspective. Campaign-oriented environments lend themselves better to scrum methodology than other settings, but there are still opportunities to see performance improvements across the entire team in virtually every sales environment. Teams that can do more, sell more; teams that sell more, earn more. Making your sale team agile can help do just that.