The Case for Agile Sales Management

Applying agile management philosophies can help your team better navigate the complex, constantly changing B2B sales landscape.

December 13, 2017

  • agile-salespeople

Agile management is being adopted at skyrocketing rates throughout the business world as organizations see how the practice has positively impacted software development. This philosophy is even making its way into B2B sales organizations, with good reason.

One concept at the center of agile is that in complex projects, more is unknown than known. Change and uncertainty are the norm. That’s an apt description for many B2B selling environments.

How to Capitalize on Core Agile Principles for Sales Management

If you are looking for an effective way to address the dynamic, complicated processes and trends driving your sales practice, agile sales management may be the answer. Here’s a look at how you can apply key principles outlined in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development to make agile sales management work in your organization.

1. Deliver Value Early and Continuously

The first principle of agile software development is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. In the world of sales, this translates to satisfying prospect and customer expectations by delivering early and continuous insights and guidance. This can come in the form of helping to streamline the purchase process for buyers, as well as sharing relevant information and advice based on an understanding of the prospect’s situation, challenges, and priorities.

2. Adapt to Change

The concept of embracing change is front and center in the agile software philosophy. Specifically, the Manifesto says, “Welcome changing requirements, even in late development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.” From a sales perspective, this means being willing and able to adjust your approach as needed to best suit each prospect’s and customer’s needs.

Perhaps one prospect wants to engage heavily online, while another insists on face-to-face interactions. Or maybe one buyer is the key decision-maker, readily armed with relevant research, and asks only that your sales reps provide proof of customer satisfaction and success. Meanwhile, another prospect may be a champion who needs help in developing a business case and convincing the rest of the buying committee to pull the trigger.

In all cases, your sales team needs to adapt to situations as needed, and expect the unexpected.

3. Frequently Reset to Perform Better

One of the most prominent ideas in agile development is to work in sprints, which are short development cycles (typically 1-4 weeks). The goal is to identify any problems as quickly as possible, so as to avoid wasting time on what could ultimately be an ineffective strategy. To make this work, software development teams are finding new ways to measure and manage their activities, so they can achieve more frequent milestones.

In sales, this idea is about revisiting opportunities and approaches on a frequent basis to ensure everything is operating smoothly. By checking in regularly with your sales reps, you can identify and address potential issues that might otherwise derail deals.

For instance, perhaps you see that a discussion has stalled. Rather than waiting and watching, review the situation to see if you can collectively pinpoint the cause. Then, by being flexible about adjusting to prospect needs, your sales reps can pivot to get things on track.

4. Collaborate Closely and Daily

To deliver value to software customers, businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout a project. This idea carries over when working on sales deals. Cooperation and collaboration across and beyond sales is essential in bringing complex B2B opportunities to fruition. In fact, CSO Insights found that in environments with a formal collaboration approach, 76 percent of salespeople were able to achieve their quota.

Encourage your reps to request and make warm introductions for one another, while also working with their colleagues across the organization as needed. For example, they should collaborate with marketing to develop ideal customer profiles and targeted account lists, and could enlist pre-sales engineers to help develop a compelling demo.

5. Trust and Equip Your Reps to Succeed 

In the agile methodology, projects are built around motivated individuals who are given both the autonomy and support they need to get the job done. Assuming you have hired sales reps who are eager to excel, the next step is assigning them goals, giving them the tools and guidance they need to attain them, and trusting them to succeed. Remember to give each rep leeway to achieve their milestones in the way that works best for them. As long as they are accountable for hitting their goals, there’s no need to shoehorn tactics that don’t fit.

6. Measure Your Progress

Agile software developers measure their progress based on whether or not they’re producing functional software. When it comes to gauging the progress of sales opportunities, engaged prospects are a key measure of success.

Knowing that more and more buyers prefer to conduct research online, and largely keep sales reps at arm’s length early in the process, your team may need a new approach to become part of this process. They can do this by embracing social selling best practices. Namely, generously sharing relevant information and insights while finding subtle ways to engage with prospects, such as commenting on and sharing their posts.

Then you can track and measure how effectively your reps are finding ways to engage. Key online engagement metrics include number of LinkedIn profile views, number of followers gained, and number of inquiries received.

8. Pay Continuous Attention to Best Practices

According to the Agile Manifesto, continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. In much the same way, continuous attention to social selling best practices enhances your team’s ability to achieve its goals. To enable a modern sales approach, you need to provide the training, tools, and ongoing guidance that will help your sales reps succeed.

9.  Work Smarter, Not Harder

Agile is about eliminating unnecessary work. As the Manifesto says, simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential. With that tenet in mind, you and your reps should find every way to avoid the unnecessary. Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Instead of reaching out via blind, disruptive, and unwelcomed cold solicitation, your reps should connect via warm introductions and personalized communications. Quality over quantity.
  • By taking the time to research prospects, your reps will be working smarter than other reps who are less insightful in their outreach.
  • Coach your reps to focus on what it means to help and provide value to prospects so they can cultivate relationships that leads to sales.

10. Always Strive for Better Performance

In agile organizations, teams reflect regularly on how to become more productive, then adjust accordingly. Schedule regular meetings so your team can do the same.

One option is to start each morning with a quick gathering that sets the tone for the day. To that end, Sandler Sales Management trainer Marcus Cauchi recommends a daily huddle where each rep shares his or her top 3-4 goals. You can pair these with weekly meetings where achievements, challenges, and best practices are shared. If your team needs help from outside the department, invite others from across the organization to attend so you can iron out issues. Then follow up with your reps to make sure each one is adjusting as necessary to achieve better results.

Agile sales management can provide both the framework and flexibility you need to unleash the full potential of your sales team. By introducing your team to the philosophy and supporting it with a plan to address the core principles, your team will be on its way to realizing newfound levels of agility perfectly suited to modern selling.

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