Principles of Agile Sales
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
According to the Standish Group, Agile projects are three times more likely to succeed than those managed using traditional methodologies. Recent Gartner research found that almost 90% of marketers use Agile methods, and sales aren’t far behind. Agile’s fast-growing adoption is a natural response to the growing responsibilities falling on sales teams and rapid market changes.
Agile techniques are designed to help teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work (Sprints) and empirical feedback (metrics). Agile gives sales and marketing managers great opportunities to analyse, share and learn from the sales cycle and embrace and hook into the product development cycle. It is especially useful for managing long sales cycles.
There’s a myriad of excellent sales frameworks out there, so why change? We base our sales process on Value Selling to improve your prospect relationships, enhance productivity, and fundamentally sell on value not price. It gives us the opportunity to analyse how we are doing at each stage of the sale, where we need to adapt and over time, to predict deal outcomes.
Agile doesn’t change the way you sell, so it needn’t change things like the framework or CRM you use. It does change the way your sales organisation interacts both with prospects and development teams internally. It will make you rethink, refine or even restructure your sales process.
How Can Agile Sales Help You?
There are 7 key Agile principles that may be applied to your sales to effectively address these challenges and improve the functionality and results of your organization:
Collaboration - with each other and the product development organisation
Continuous Iteration - breaking the big goal down and working in Sprints
Measurement - use metrics to analyse and optimise the sales cycle
Adaptability - frequent process analysis enables adaptability
Accountability - daily stand-ups self-drive accountability
Transparency - sharing results both good and bad to enable learning
Recognition - visibility on a regular basis gives everyone recognition throughout a long sales cycle
What Agile Means for Your Sales Teams
Gone are the days of the macho “lone wolf” sales culture. Buyers are more sophisticated, they expect to have intelligent conversations with suppliers that help them solve their business challenges.
What’s new is how Agile principles provide tools & techniques that help your sales teams work together, and work with your product development teams. In B2B markets, Sales professionals need business domain expertise and product knowledge to support their solution sales framework. Agile sales teams gain and share this knowledge in practices like daily stand-up meetings, where they share key updates and Retrospectives, where they share the story of a deal, what went well, what didn’t and what they will do differently next time.
It means a slightly different role for sales managers - they become servant leaders like Scrum Masters. It’s their job to empower, guide and facilitate a sales team’s ability to increase their knowledge, collaboration and hone their sales approach. An Agile approach to sales management is every bit as important as selling itself.
Agile refines Sales Techniques
Sales Process Effectiveness - Some sales teams are so focused on hitting quota that they don’t stop and strategically evaluate their performance until they miss their quarterly forecast and by then it’s too late. Breaking sales goals into shorter, more manageable segments, or “Sprints,” ( a Sprint is anything from one working week to 30 days - in Sales, it’s typically one calendar month) your team can consistently measure and assess their performance, then make small, incremental changes as they learn from each other. It’s this iterative approach that allows you to both fail fast and succeed more quickly. So your sales teams probably do have monthly targets, but how well do they analyse their performance?
In Agile software development, we measure cycle time and impediments. That is the time elapsed from taking a requirement through the development lifecycle, including testing and deployment. We analyse each stage and compare each Sprint to see what worked well, what didn’t work so well and choose one thing to optimise in the next Sprint. We log impediments and the Scrum Master facilitates their removal, end of the story. How often do your sales teams refine and shorten the cycle time?
Translating that into sales, we can each track our sales cycle, analyse the stages, compare results across teams, territories, industry sectors, products etc and learn from the metrics at our regular Retrospectives. The Sales Manager acts as the Scrum Master.
Engaging with Product Development - Effective sales professionals know their prospects’ domain, their challenges and how your product or service helps them. One of their challenges is product knowledge and another is maintaining high-value conversations with prospects throughout a long sales cycle. The Agile product development includes a Review at the end of each Sprint when the Product Owner and Scrum team demonstrate what they have built. Sales attendance at the Sprint Review not only develops a richer understanding of the product itself but also provides a regular opportunity to re-engage with prospects about the latest product increment. That, coupled with high-level discussions about the Product Roadmap (which is NOT a release plan with dates) means that sales teams have more insight, more frequently. They can talk more frequently and more credibly with prospects.
So how do we embed Agile into Sales?
Applying Agile practices such as daily stand-ups, Sprints, and Retrospectives to sales helps teams be more flexible, data-driven, and ultimately, effective. Agile also breaks down internal silos and improves communication leading to more frequent, high-value sales conversations. So how do you start?
Start by mapping your existing sales framework.
Overlay the Scrum framework
Workshop as a team to agree which techniques add value, what you will do differently and how to measure
Agree when in the sales cycle to provide estimates and with what level of accuracy
Test the new framework
Learn from each other and share best practices
Inspect and adapt
Attend product Sprint Reviews and refine messaging to your prospects
Use the Product Roadmap judiciously to communicate to the market and individual prospects
And finally, although it goes without saying, provide market feedback to the Product Owner.
To summarise - smart sales teams are using Agile techniques to refine and improve their sales process, have smarter, more frequent conversations with prospects and ultimately, close more deals. An added bonus is breaking down internal silos. Win-win.