Is Sales Management Ready to Go Agile?

The B2B sales landscape is getting more and more complex.

Trends like the millennial-driven workforce, sales technology, and account-based selling present new challenges and opportunities.

Sales leaders are in desperate need of more efficiency, more enablement, and a unifying philosophy for tying together new trends in people, processes, and platforms.

The management philosophy that has taken the IT software development world by storm appears ready to be embraced by one of the last holdouts in modern B2B organizations: the sales department.

That’s the premise of a new eBook from high-tech sales software providers Ambition, Base, LeadGenius and LearnCore: The Ultimate Guide to Agile Sales Management.

Given the success of agile among the development community and its recent expansion into other, non-technical functions - marketing and client support among them - agile sales management may well be next.

How to Implement Agile Management in Your Sales Organization

As Ambition CSO Jared Houghton notes in The Winner’s Guide to Effective Sales Coaching: “Sales coaching starts with onboarding: helping new hires understand our sales technology, processes, product, and value we’re bringing to our market. I do that by listening to each rep, working with them 1:1 and spending most of my time sitting in on calls, doing pre-call prep and post-call analysis on how the meeting went.”

How does he find the time to do that with 10 Ambition sales reps? By deploying agile methods in his management practices.

In The Ultimate Guide to Agile Sales Management, Houghton and the book’s co-authors discuss 10 key agile management principles that enable sales leaders to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their sales force at scale - whether they are managing 10 reps or 100 reps.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Accountability

In traditionally managed teams, reps’ days are often planned out down to a T - use this exact email template, call during these specific time blocks, etc. - all in the name of “hitting quota.”

Poor performance is typically pinned on reps failing to follow these rules, when in reality, following the rules often fails reps by forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to sales.

In contrast, agile sales management practices leave room for case-by-case optimization by establishing clear milestones and fostering rep-level accountability.

Of course, this doesn’t mean turning your reps lose and letting them run amock; fostering accountability within your sales team requires extreme clarity around processes, metrics and goals.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Adaptive Planning

The agile practice of adaptive planning empowers sales folks to be flexible and quickly adjust to meet prospects’ needs throughout the sales cycle. That being said, it’s helpful to think of your sales process as a series of guardrails designed to keep reps on the path to closing, rather than a rigid framework that must be followed exactly at all times.

One way to do this is by leveraging multiple sales pipelines for different types of customers.

Another is by baking if/then logic into your sales workflows.

Perhaps the most important is for managers to meet consistently 1:1 with reps to evaluate and address any issues or bottlenecks.

For instance, if you notice that a deal has been sitting in a particular pipeline stage for far too long, don’t wait to see what happens - analyze existing outcomes and adjust your plan accordingly. This prospect might need an extra on-site, or they may require a customer reference a little earlier in the process than others.

Don’t let “the way you’ve always done it” get in the way of winning new business. The same goes for onboarding new reps, sourcing prospects, communicating with leads and so much more.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Collaboration

A recent study by CSO Insights reveals that sales organizations using a formal collaboration approach saw a 21% improvement on quota attainment compared to organizations using an ad hoc approach.

To start fostering collaboration and facilitating discussion among your sales team, try beginning each day with a quick stand-up meeting where you talk through a win or a loss. Or, have each person on your team come prepared to the weekly team meeting with a story to share or a question to ask.

And don’t lose these valuable data points and responses; instead, capture and store them in an online library that can be continuously referenced and expanded, and even used for new employee onboarding.

In addition to encouraging reps to collaborate with one another, agile sales management also fosters alignment between departments. While sales shouldn’t lose focus on areas of the business that it can’t control, we all know that sales doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that there are certain pieces of cross-departmental information that can be highly valuable for reps.

One of the best ways to ensure that your team is effectively collaborating with other parts of the organization is to integrate your CRM or sales platform directly with your help desk system, marketing automation solution and other key business platforms.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Continuous Iteration

In sales, teams often work tirelessly toward quota over the course of an entire fiscal year, only to realize their ‘failure” when they come up short of their forecast.

A breakneck analysis is done and a few major changes are put into place to try and do better the next year...and the cycle continues.

To avoid this trap, break your goals into shorter, more manageable segments.

Think of these blocks of time as your “sprints.” At the end of every sprint, evaluate your sales process, outcome or strategy and make small, incremental optimizations.

This iterative approach allows you to both fail and succeed more quickly, as well as promotes continuous data-driven decision-making.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Functionality

Salespeople are often dependent on software that not only fails to make their lives easier, but actually makes them harder. So reevaluating the functionality of your team’s sales tools is a great place to start when making the transition to agile sales.

One of the most glaring failures of many sales platforms is a lack of mobile capability. Not only is this a nightmare for traveling or field sales reps, but being desk-bound simply isn’t conducive to modern customers’ real-time expectations.

What’s more, 65% of professionals think they could be more productive if they had mobile access to work applications like CRMs, while research shows that 65% of sales reps who have adopted mobile CRM achieve their sales quotas, compared to just 22% of reps who have not.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Measurement

To put it in the words of famous sales guru Jason Jordan, “As much as we talk about it, you can’t manage quota and you can’t manage revenue.”

Think of it this way: revenue is to sales what a finished product is to developers. Just as agile suggests that focusing on a development project as a whole is more difficult than breaking it down into smaller parts that build to a finished product, sales should do the same with revenue goals.

Start by determining the average number of emails or other types of activities required to book a meeting or move a deal to a new pipeline stage, and set goals that will keep your team on pace to complete the number of activities needed to ultimately generate a sale.

Then, provide reps with a fast and easy way to keep track of sales activity, sales objectives, and revenue goals. Any modern CRM or sales management software should have one-click, visual reports that allow reps and managers to quickly and effectively track performance.

The Age of Agile Sales Management:. Organization

Organization is vital to the ability to move quickly and make sound, data-driven decisions.

However, staying organized typically requires a lot more thought and effort than anticipated. If just one rep abandons your CRM and starts keeping notes in Excel, or oversteps the boundaries of his or her role, organization begins to suffer.

To help keep your sales organization on track, establish a refined sales process that outlines the steps that reps must take to move a lead all the way through the sales pipeline to close, as well as defines exactly where one team member’s responsibilities end and another’s begin.

Where possible, automate data collection, especially for prospect and account information inside your database and repetitive and mundane tasks like call logging.

This has two benefits: it will ensure that this information is always captured, and it will also help you avoid data entry errors.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Predictability

Less than one-third of businesses classify their sales forecasts as effective.

When you compare this dilemma to that of development teams trying to foresee potential setbacks in a project or predict a product release date, it’s easy to see how agile management can help.

The incremental and iterative approach of agile projects enables predictability in three key ways:

  1. Breaking larger projects into smaller, more concrete and controllable objectives, like sales activities, enables more precise planning.
  2. Shorter-term sales goals provide the ability to more accurately attribute certain outcomes to specific activities or adjustments, where longer term evaluation can make it difficult to pinpoint which small changes made large impacts.
  3. Continuous evaluation as you come closer to your ultimate goal gives you the foresight to adjust predictions and set reasonable expectations ahead of time.

While it may seen to be a bit of an oxymoron, the ability to more accurately predict your sales forecasts actually makes it even easier to drive toward them - because it’s better to deal with the devil you know than the one that you don’t.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Recognition

Experts cite that 38% of Millennials would like to see the recognition program at their current employer improved.

Millennials aren’t alone: the need for recognition can actually be correlated to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by fostering feelings of esteem, love, and belonging.

The daily stand-up meetings, constant feedback loops and focus on accountability in agile methodology foster a culture of recognition that can be easily emulated by sales teams.

Not only do consistent check-ins result in millennial-beloved feedback and recognition, but they also make it easier to benchmark success levels, which are needed for promotions.

The Age of Agile Sales Management: Transparency

Increasing transparency in your sales organization means helping reps understand where the team stands in its journey to quota, as well as where they stand individually in relation to their peers. Only then can they have the context needed to strategically navigate challenges and optimize performance.

Providing this level of visibility must be a conscious, ongoing effort, but here are a few tips to get you started.

  • There can be no transparency if information doesn’t live in a centralized and accessible location.
  • Hold daily stand-ups and regular one-on-ones with reps, have weekly team meetings where any major successes or failures are brought to light.
  • Make sure that your entire team has access to reports that provide a crystal clear view of your sales pipeline.

Embracing the Era of Agile Management

Modern sales leaders need to be familiar with a wide range of functions - sales-marketing alignment, sales development, sales enablement, and so on - and seamlessly tie all of those elements together to create a successful and competitive sales organization.

The agile movement has already won over 87% of IT teams practicing the philosophy. If you’re still reading this, then you know that the translations to modern sales management are self-evident.

Will every component of agile be a good fit for your sales organization?

Investigate and adopt just a few of the agile principles covered in The Ultimate Guide to Agile Sales Management and find out.

Even if only some of the agile principles pay off - they will help your sales team improve its values, frameworks and methodologies, and enter the exciting future of B2B sales.

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James Carbary is the founder of Sweet Fish Media, a podcast agency for B2B brands. He’s a contributor for the Huffington Post & Business Insider, and he also co-hosts a top-ranked podcast according to Forbes: B2B Growth.

When James isn’t interviewing the smartest minds in B2B sales and marketing, he’s drinking Cherry Coke Zero, eating Swedish Fish, and hanging out with the most incredible woman on the planet (that he somehow talked into marrying him).

Thinking about launching a podcast for your B2B brand? Here’s a 26-step process that will explain exactly how to do it.

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