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Bringing Agile to sales – how to effectively implement IT methodologies outside of the tech industry

Agile has revolutionized the way in which software projects are delivered for good. After decades of being successful in the IT realm, the framework and methodology are being successfully applied to other business areas, helping organizations embrace change and respond to transforming consumer behavior patterns. Being an agile company as well, Sii supports its clients in applying modern methodologies in various parts of their organizations. How to do it in sales to keep pace with the modern market?

(Re)imagining sales

When you imagine sales, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it a pot seller that knocks on your door with an incredible offer on the most average pots you’ve seen? Or a vibrant trading floor in New York where everyone is shouting out loud to sell? Maybe you picture a call center, where you get offered products that you don’t need often? If one of the above is a vision you have in your head, it’s probably very difficult to imagine that you can apply Agile to such an environment.

In fact, you can and you should, as that is the best way to predict and prepare for the unpredictable in every sector of sales. In IT, where we sell services, not products, flexibility and responsiveness to the client’s and candidate’s needs are factors of major importance. The only thing we can predict is that the chain of events ahead is totally uncertain, and the only way to deal with it is to prepare for the daily dose of discomfort and challenge.

Benefits of the Agile sales process

You may ask: “Why add an agile methodology to something that works?”. First, as new generations like Gen Z, enter the job market – companies need to adjust to find a common language with them. Taking into account their behaviors, which you can read about in more detail in the McKinsey Gen Z survey results, you need to realize that huge milestones, individual work, and large responsibility for their actions aren’t the factors that make them thrive and shine. Gen Zers value having impact, freedom, and receiving instant feedback on their performance.

The second reason is the constantly changing trends and dynamics of the market. Working in Agile allows you to adapt to those changes as soon as they occur, by shifting priorities. Focusing on the process, not the results, may seem like a crazy idea in sales. However, in the long run, the difference is visible in terms of scalable results.

What is more, Agile allows other divisions of the company to have full visibility of the sales perspective, which helps in budgeting, planning investments, and identifying risks at an early stage.

This approach is based on the experience of one of the sales teams at Sii.

Implementing Agile in sales – 5 basic aspects

To begin with, it’s crucial to understand whether your sales team understands the Product/Service Value Proposition. It’s the role of a sales manager to draw up and spread the vision of what you want to achieve, build a strategy that will align with it, and ensure the steps that will lead the team to reach the goal are properly executed. The truth is – if you cannot easily explain what the Value Proposition is, you don’t understand it well enough. It’s worth doing an honest double-check with yourself and challenging what you explain to your team before you expect results.

Implementation of the Agile methodology in sales is based on 5 key aspects that help focus on the process:

  • Short-term goals: implementing Scrum.

Organizing your work in sprints (i.e. short periods during which a team works to complete the set amount of work) isn’t an easy task. The Sales Manager’s duty is to understand the bigger picture and divide it into short-term tasks that will eventually lead to achieving a big strategic goal. Every change in those small tasks may affect the strategic goal, so it’s important to keep track of these and update the strategy accordingly. Young generations thrive when they are given a fair amount of independence and responsibility, but also when they receive instant feedback on their actions, and thanks to this can steer their approach to tasks. At the end of the sprint, it is worth discussing with the team what has been achieved, what didn’t work, learn from failures, and plan for how to address them in the next sprint. This meeting is called a Scrum Retrospective.

  • Quick daily meetings, also called stand-ups.

The meetings should be no longer than 15-20 minutes (unless there are no unanticipated situations that need to be discussed). Each member of the team needs to answer three questions: What did you do yesterday to achieve the goal? What will you do today? What are the obstacles? By answering these three questions not only does the Sales Manager see clearly how the team is doing, but also the knowledge of risks and solutions is spread among the team. Eventually, all the team members know how they can help each other in achieving their short-term goals.

  • Flexibility towards change.

Working in IT sales is not far from delivering IT projects, so it’s fair to say that change is the only constant. Being flexible and adjusting the short-term goals allows you to address changes in the marketplace, business goals, and also adapt to unpredictable situations.

  • Holding yourself and others accountable.

When given short assignments, the team tends to perform better and stays more motivated. Nevertheless, Scrum meetings are a good checkpoint to see if everyone plays their part.

  • Using measurable metrics.

Using CRM is an absolute must, as updating information in the system is the best way to stay tuned on opportunities, leads, and lost offers, from which the team can learn. Team members cannot be only held accountable for their targets, but we need to break their tasks down into smaller pieces to ensure we work in Agile. Therefore, we are looking at Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), i.e. the win-to-loss offers ratio, the number of phone calls made per day, the number of offers sent, and the listen-to-talk ratio. These metrics need to be chosen precisely to match the business need and not to overwhelm the team members.

How to handle objections?

As with every change in every organization, there will be objections. Usually, they come from the team members who have been in the company for the longest period of time. This is absolutely normal and it’s a part of the process. To get these colleagues on board, it’s crucial to take the time to explain and educate them, showing in detail the aim of such transformation, how they can benefit from it, and what will be the long-term gain for them and the company.

Since objections are usually driven by fear, you need to make sure that your sales team members trust each other and will not feel uncomfortable talking about their progress in tasks during the daily meetings. To overcome such a situation, it’s worth assuring them that stand-ups are not a way of evaluating their work. It’s rather the opposite, they are there so that you and the team have a chance of helping each other to reach a common goal.

Don’t be afraid of failure

So, you implemented Agile in your sales department and instead of booming, the results are going down? It’s a part of the process. Results will not increase immediately, what is worse, they often will drop. Be prepared for this. Things will soon improve, and the whole investment of applying Agile to sales will pay off in the long run. Initial bumps and lower performance are not the fault of your sales team. Instead of playing the blame game, focus on the process. Discuss what went wrong in the last sprint. Refine it and try again.

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