Agile software development is one of the more recent examples of how companies are applying the principles of lean manufacturing to make significant improvements in diverse areas of the business. Sales is no exception, and the concept of “agile selling” needs to receive more attention as sales organizations seek to maximize efficiencies and become more responsive to customer needs in a shifting marketplace.
The timing is perfect for Sales to explore how agile and lean processes can be leveraged to produce more revenue and ensure the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Today’s enterprise sale is a team sale, requiring contributions from many different stakeholders. Professionals are busier than ever, and this means that tasks need to be prioritized and wasteful activities eliminated. Your relationship with the customer is not a lifelong bond, and the barriers to switching providers are low. You need to re-win your customer’s business every year, and continuously add value for existing customers.
If we define the mission of an agile sales organization to prioritize and pursue only those activities that 1) generate new sales revenue, and 2) serve to delight and strengthen relationships with customers, there are several practical steps that managers can implement to transform their teams and harness the proven power of Lean.
1) Sales Team, not Salesperson
Almost every company designates the salesperson as the single point of success/failure for their sales efforts. In an agile organization, the sales team becomes the driving force for revenue. Collectively, the team is stronger than the individual and better suited to find, run, and close complex transactions. In the software world, this team may consist of a sales development rep to prospect and build pipeline, a salesperson to drive and close the sales cycle, and a sales engineer to provide technical expertise.
The team becomes responsible for the sales quota, and the team is compensated for the results they produce. Together, the team defines their goal and the best path to achieving objectives. If a team member leaves, their replacement steps into an existing system that supports the new member and accelerates their path to full productivity. In many ways, the organization is building a system to achieve sales greatness, and this requires hiring people who can fill a key role in the system rather than individual athletes.
2) Implement Daily Stand-ups
The daily stand-up is a brief (15-min) meeting with the team members to share their progress on existing work, propose the day’s activities, discuss roadblocks or impediments in their way, and prioritize new tasks. There are multiple benefits to adopting this discipline:
- Accountability – The team is accountable to the organization, and individuals are accountable to the team. Lack of performance, roadblocks, and other issues are dealt with on a daily basis, and this prevents small issues from becoming major problems.
- Prioritization – Every team member knows what the others are working on, and all agree that today’s tasks are the most important for the team.
- Rapid turnaround – Salespeople spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing members of their extended team when they need help. The daily standup ensures that important tasks are recognized and assigned in a day or less, and that these tasks are balanced with the current workload.
- Eliminate waste– The most precious asset of any sales organization is time, and the constant churn of sales makes it easy to get sidetracked. Consistent with lean principles, low-value activities and tasks are de-prioritized or eliminated, and the result are more focused and efficient sales teams.
- Amplify learning – Teams are consistently reviewing successes and failures and looking for ways to improve. Quick pivots can be made if its determined that a new course of action is required.
3) Kanban Board
As the team has begun to share, discuss, and prioritize work, the kanban board will create a visual representation of the workflow. The board documents the work (tasks) that are waiting (To Do), in progress (Doing), and completed (Done). Each task is written on a sticky note, and the responsible team member moves the task from one bucket to the next until it’s finished.
The benefits of this approach include the ability to visualize the team’s workflow and managing the number of tasks “in progress” to ensure that team members are not overburdened (and therefore more likely to miss deadlines). Since only the most important tasks are represented on the board, priorities are enforced, and the velocity of tasks through the workflow establishes accountability across all team members. Management can provide high-level guidance on direction and quickly review the kanban board to validate priorities and progress.
Just as many other departments can learn from Sales when it comes to best practices around forecasting and other disciplines, Sales needs to adopt more lean and agile principles to flourish in an evolving marketplace. These initial steps will set your sales teams on the right path, and there are many additional best practices you can incorporate as you learn and mature. I have no doubt that any organization seeking to improve revenue and delight their customers will be pleased with the results.
Jonathan Jewett is the co-founder and CRO of BitPlay Today and the author of The 40 Best Sales Techniques Ever: Conquer the Leaderboard, Crash President’s Club, and Make More Money. You can learn more about Jonathan here: www.the40best.com