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The Agile Sales Department

Brief

Businesses today need to adapt to changes at incredible paces and for that, some have realized that partial or complete overhaul in corporate culture and procedures may be needed to remain competitive. That is where Agile practices have come into play. The Oxford dictionary, defines agile not only as the ability to move quickly and nimbly, but also as a project management methodology widely used in software development. To lead and succeed in the future of Sales while facing rapid technological advances and post COVID-19 recovery efforts, both forms of agile may be needed.

Agile Toolbox framed for Sales

There are often 3 key groups in a Sales Agile team: the sales manager, team facilitator and the team. Below is an overview of the roles, ceremonies, and tools that, when combined, can create incremental gains that result in increased successes and enhanced interoperability between company departments:

Roles

The Sales Manager is usually tasked with setting priorities, creating key strategic decisions and team targets. At the end of the cycle (or sprint), the sales manager will review the team’s progress and provide relevant guidance for future cycles. Although priorities may differ depending on the company and team, one of the key objectives in this role should be to provide targets and guidance for the sales team.

 

The Team Facilitator serves as an intermediator who encourages the team to be the best they can be (balancing time, cost, and quality), while facilitating meetings, managing stakeholders, reinforcing objective oriented actions, and supporting team introspection. The team facilitator is also tasked with shielding the team from internal and external challenges that are not relevant to the current cycle’s objectives.

 

Team Members are a group of 3-8 individuals, excluding the sales manager and the team facilitator. Their aim is to carry out the goals and objectives of the current cycle to the best of their ability in the allocated time.

The Sales Team in an Agile Environment

Ceremonies

For better understanding of the ceremonies, agile teams usually functions around cycles which are often referred to as sprints. A sprint is period of 1 to 6 weeks (the exact time depends on the team’s dynamic) where a team looks to deliver upon agreed targets, usually by setting smaller, manageable tasks to complete throughout the period. Targets may be a specific number of sales that the team has to reach, or numbers on client retention, among other examples. These are items that sales teams already do to some extent, however, the competitive nature of such teams may benefit from the fast-paced and dynamic approaches found in agile processes.

 

Daily Stand-Up: A 15 minutes daily meeting that encourages each team members to discuss tasks completed in the previous day, tasks intended to be completed on the present day and the challenges to its completion. Certain teams may not fully benefit from daily stand-ups, due to several factors including the rigidity of other process in place, the nature of work the team does, implementation challenges, and cultural discrepancies, among other factors. Other teams may find that a stand-up every other day leads to a better team dynamic. To assess the validity of establishing such ceremony, managers and teams need to ask questions such as:

  • Are team members dependent on each other to reach the sale?
  • Are there enough changes to the day-to-day work to warrant daily meetings?
  • What are the trade-offs of establishing such procedure?
  • Can most of the key information be shared via another method?
  • Has the team reached a degree of maturity where the need of daily stand-up decreases?

It is important to note, especially with this specific ceremony, that some members of the team may find the process to be more closely related to micromanagement practices, and hence, attribute a negative connotation to it. As such, it is important to maintain communication and be clear about the objectives of this ceremony while also ensuring a judgement free environment.

Sprint Planning: an event that happens in collaboration with the entire team (sales management, team facilitator and team members) and gives start to the beginning of the sprint. During this ceremony, the sprint objective and its deliverables are decided. Tasks that will be delivered during the sprint are proposed and agreed upon by all members of the team. The team also agrees on how the task is going to be completed and by who. Inputs from the backlog are also taken into consideration while doing the sprint planning.

 

For further clarification, the Team Backlog is a list of items for the team to complete that originates from the requirements and roadmap (the broader team objectives). The Team facilitator maintains and refines the backlog through the sprint, but it is the team member’s responsibility to proactively complete items in the backlog as their capacity frees up once they have completed the items that they are responsible for in the sprint planning.

 

Team Retrospective: a team gathering ceremony to reflect on the outcomes of the sprint and create an action plan to build upon their success and resolve potential weaknesses before the start of the next cycle. Below are a few examples of a retrospective’s outcome.

  • The team realizes that they over-committed for this sprint. After assessing the root-cause, the team determined that some of its member were underutilized at times and that the process used for selling could improve by removing X factor.
  • The team concluded that there were communication failure and therefore decides to do a few team games to create better team connections and use a new tool such as Slack to ease interaction between team members.
  • In some cases, the team realizes that a majority of their time is spent in external requests, lowering the team’s completion of some tasks created by the Sales Manager. Depending on circumstances, the Sales Manager may agree to lower the team’s sprint size to ensure that they can provide external support. In other cases, the team may have to deny or postpone a part of the requests made by external sources. Adding new resources to the team may be another option.

Agile Considerations

Agreement on Completion – No sales manager likes to agree on a sales target of $1M in 2 weeks, only to find out that the team has reached the goal by selling a product with lower profit margin. Thus, the team needs to work together to figure out the exact meaning of completion for each task.

 

Team Empowerment – When possible, the Sales Manager should empower the team to make decisions within themselves to help determine the way to which they can reach their goals. They should also listen to the facilitator and try to understand the steps that can be taken to further empower the team.

 

Prioritization – Teams should determine a degree of priority for each task that needs to be completed. Refer to the example below:

  • Low – Lower impact on the team’s key objectives and goals. Task may move to next Sprint if necessary.
  • Medium – Some impact on the team’s key objectives and goals, however, it may not be as time sensitive.
  • High – Time sensitive and impactful to the team’s key objectives/goals. Should be completed in this sprint.
  • Critical – Tasks assigned as critical should be completed within the Sprint ‘at all costs’.

Team Cross-Functionality – In some cases, the team might need to work with individuals from different departments to achieve business goals. Although that is good for the business, it can lead to disruptions for the team and their respective sprint goals. Therefore, it is important to set-up expectations at an early stage, whether it means to block outside requests, to continuously refine the team’s goals throughout the sprint, or to include such work as part of the sprint if appropriate.

 

External Task Completion – A lot of teams have cross-functionality with other departments. To ensure that the team stays on track, a segment for ‘External Requests’ should be dedicated to tasks that have been raised by external groups.

 

Estimation – Every task should be estimated by the team to ensure that they understand the degree of difficulty in reaching their targets and to help them prioritize how to reach that goal.

 

Communication – It is essential that communication is kept both within the team and stakeholders. In some cases, team facilitator has to work closely to ensure that communication remains at acceptable levels within parties, helping to drive increase satisfaction and productivity.

 

“If it not broken, don’t fix it” mentality – Established businesses may feel uncomfortable implementing an agile methodology to their entire sales department as there is a large amount of uncertainty in introducing any new process . In such cases, leaders with a large enough sales department are encouraged to create a task force of apt individuals to test and refine what an agile team can look like in within the organization. There will be hiccups in the process, but the aim is to fail fast, learn from the mistake and succeed even faster. The successful team members that come out of the task force can then help future agile sales teams to reach success at an increased pace due to their knowledge of the process.

Business Considerations

A sales department looking to become Agile has to consider a variety of things that include, but are not limited to: business adaptability, business requirements, company and team culture, competition, clientele, personnel, sales structure and the implementation process that the business should take. These areas can have an impact on the business’ ability to derive value from its agile practices. Depending on business considerations, departments may find it better to jump straight into it, others may prefer to do controlled tests or incrementally add different agile processes as they see fit. Let us discuss some of the topics that were depicted above:

 

Business Adaptability –Startups for example, may find it easier to implement agility to their teams due to their often fast-paced nature and flat hierarchical levels. As the business matures, certain aspects can become more rigid, which may lead to decreased agility. Understanding the business maturity level can have an impact on how agile ideas should be implemented.

 

Culture – highly productive agile teams often have traits such as self-management, team empowerment and transparency. Such traits are facilitated by the culture established within the team and the company. Hence, in some case, culture may need to be changed or adapted to increase success levels for agile teams. For test cases of agile teams, leaders will need to look for ways to insulate the team from certain external cultural factors that are counter-productive to agile success to ensure that the test case can be the closest example possible to what the business would look like if it changed its culture.

 

Personnel – To ensure success, businesses should choose the right employees for their first agile sales team test case. This means that individuals should have shown a previous agile mindset or the eagerness to learn. They should have a ‘fail fast and quickly learn from it’ mindset, they are likely to be the employee that continuously request and receives feedback while always looking for ways adapt. Afterwards, the department will have a better understanding of what has worked so that a framework for other sales teams can be created. The team members of the first test case can then become mentors to the other groups and help them transition.

 

Buy-in – It cannot be stated enough how important it is for the first Agile Sales team within the company to have buy-in from all the different stakeholders in the team. This will allow for an easier transition and will improve the team’s ability to work together for a common cause. After the first successful agile implementation, future teams need to look to model some of the best practices gained from the first team and to continue to receive buy-in from sales leadership. It is worth noting that leadership buy-in does not mean that teams should stop being scrutinized.

Conclusion

The competitive landscape continues to change at a very fast pace, and although not every business will manage to survive the changes happening in technology and society, it is becoming clear that the ones that are nimbler and agile will find themselves to be a lot more resilient in comparison to their competitors. Individuals should work towards becoming more agile in their lives while leaders should look to create a business environment that are more agile, to ensure that they remain relevant and resilient to their clients.

The opinions in this article is of the authors and do not reflect clients or other’s views.

Authors

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