Creating Agile Sales Teams

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An agile methodology promotes processes that are structured, adaptive and reiterative, and encourages self-organization, teamwork and accountability. This makes agile methods well suited to use in sales organizations where the ability to adapt to quickly changing customer requirements and dynamic competitive environments is critical to effectively deploying and optimizing human resources to achieve financial targets on a daily basis.

Team composition in agile projects are typically cross functional and self organizing, and consist of the product owner, a customer representative, and a mix of people doing the actual “work.” In a sales context, the “product” is the revenue resulting from the sale of one or more services or products. You can think of this as the revenue pipeline that the sales team is building and delivering. Thus, in agile sales teams the product owners would be the regional sales managers in large companies, the sales directors in mid size organizations, and the VP of sales or even the president in small corporations. This individual leads the daily stand-up meetings (or scrums), as well as the less frequent but regular iteration (sprint) reviews which, in the context of sales, would correlate to pipeline reviews.

The customer representative is responsible for communicating to the other team members what needs to developed to meet customer requirements. In the case of agile sales, these are the sales people or account managers, and hold the voice for what needs to be done to close each sales opportunity. One unique difference of applying an agile methodology to sales is that you most likely will end up with multiple customer representatives in the same sprint team (as a result of having multiple prospects in the pipeline and multiple salespeople or account managers responsible for collections of customers). One exception might be large account sales where you have one team per customer, all servicing one single company. In practice, this is not a problem as all the sales members will have similar customer requirements and issues.

The main body of the agile sales team is made up of those employees who are responsible for delivering the product (making the sale). This would consist of employees with customer facing roles such as sales engineers, professional services staff, RFP writers, channel/partner managers and perhaps even marketing personnel. Therefore in practice, agile sales teams tend to be larger in size than their technical product development counterparts. One way to keep the size down it to compose the team with only the sales persons and one person from each supporting organization. For instance, the team could consist of the VP of sales, all outside sales staff, the inside sales team manager, sales engineers dedicated to the products being sold by this team, any RFP writers and perhaps the head of marketing. This composition works quite well and is very manageable.

Since agile methods emphasize constant face to face communication, the agile sales teams should work in open spaces with all their desks in close proximity. Of course in sales, the staff is often geographically dispersed, consisting of some team members working in remote or home offices, or often on the road. Technology provides a means to facilitate open communication in these situations. I like Skype as not only can you see who is at their computer and available to chat, but you have one application that enables chat, one-to-one voice, conference calling, forward to cell phone, SMS texting, file sharing, video conferencing and even integration with Microsoft Office. Add smart phones to this mix and all team members are pretty much constantly in touch and still capable of self organizing as needed.