Making Sales Agile

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In a previous blog post I covered a concept of applying agile methodologies to the business development process (http://agilebizdev.com/agile-business-development). In this post I wanted to begin focus down to the tail of the business development process, closing sales, and look at how one might optimally map an agile framework onto this part of the marketing process.  The idea would be to bring the sales team into an agile framework much in the same way as software development teams operate in frameworks such as Scrum. The goal of this would be to gain more control and visibility over the sales organization and process so that is can be better managed to deliver more accurate sales results.

I did some searching to see what others might be doing in this area but could not turn up much. I found some interesting articles related to bringing product development into an agile process framework along with some posts on making marketing agile. However, I couldn’t find much in the way of making sales processes agile with the exception of one company, interestingly enough called Agile Sales that is marketing workshops and services intended to improve sales best practices. This company has a document called Sales Velocity – The Missing Link in Sales that does a good job at outlining sales stages and metrics that allow them to be characterized and tracked. This is a good starting point for us in establishing a common understanding and framework for applying agile principles, so I’ll introduce them here for sake of the discussion: Sales goals, sales stages, stage targets, pipeline volume, and stage conversion.

Sales goals are the revenue targets the organization is trying to achieve thought selling its products or services. My thinking is that these agreed on targets are in effect the sales “release” – that is, they are the amount of revenue that will be achieved as a result of the sales process. This corresponds to the definition of a Release in Scrum which is defined to be a set of functionality that is delivered in one or more Sprints to then be put into Production. The time between the releases depends on the length of your typical sale. In a later post I’ll discuss how to set release frequency as well as mapping the Sprint concept onto the sales process and my experience in setting the frequency of those Sprints.

Sales stages are well defined steps in the sales process. These can be defined to match your company’s sales process, just like a state engine, there should be well defined events or data validations that cause the transition from one stage to the next. Most importantly, these events should be verifiable, which will lead to better accuracy in the sales forecasting.

The targets are quantifiable activities such as number of calls per day, or activity results such as number of qualified prospects. It is important to have a good understanding of what the activity and results levels need to be to meet the desired sales goals. However, one really interesting aspect of managing sales to an agile process is the concept of iterations (Sprints) which allows the tweaking of the targets so that the sales process will ultimately converge on the desired sales goal.

Pipeline volume is simply the amount of suspects, prospects, deals, proposals, quotes, etc. in the various sales stages. I guess it goes without saying, but for matter of completeness here, the more closely you can tie the volume metrics to sales outcome, the better you will be able to manage the process and predict your sales results. Finally, stage conversion is a measurement of the amount of time it takes to move a customer from one sales stage to the next, and/or the % of customers converted to the next stage.

In my next post I’ll start to do a deeper dive into bringing ales organizations and processes into an agile framework. I’ll also share some of my experiences with doing this, along with what I have found works well for software sales.

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