Software development might not be the first place sales professionals look to improve their win rate, but it wouldn’t be the first time that blending expertise has produced positive results. (Where would we be without sporks?) Sales development already takes a page from several different studies, such as psychology and statistics, for a blended best-practice approach. Agile project management also maps neatly to sales processes and can help
Like software developers, salespeople face a high rate of failure. For every win there are many more losses. A fail-fast approach helps sales reps avoid investing too much time where it is unlikely to pay off or where the opportunity cost is too high.
What is Agile Software Development?
CPrime offers a great explanation for the Agile process:
Agile methods or processes generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals.
The process of Agile is broken down into iterations, or sprints, which focus on smaller features or steps toward the desired outcome, rather than producing big outcomes all at once. Bite-sized goals are not only easier to achieve, they make it less painful to pivot and change strategy mid-way through a project in response to new information.
In sales, a heavy rain of new information is always falling. Just as software development teams must respond with agility, so too must sales teams.
Ongoing adaptation to change
Agile for individual change
Sales professionals are constantly receiving new information that affects their approach to prospects: When they learn the prospect is considering a competitor, for example, sales may pivot from sharing collateral about benefit statements to using a demo script with value props focused on competitive differentiators, or price point.
Events and new information affect a sales professional’s approach to individual prospects, particularly with account-based sales development, which is heavily focused on the individual using personalized content.
Agile doesn’t just support small-scale change: it’s encouraged.
Break down your sales process into sprints, and start each phone call or email with specific goals that can be easily achieved in a day, or in a single conversation. For example:
- Identify a champion of your product or service
- Get the prospect to articulate 2 concerns
- Get the prospect to agree to a demo
Short. Sweet. Specific. One-and-done.
After each sprint, take a moment to stop and reflect on new information, new influencers, new challenges. How can the next sprint change in response, to advance the larger goal?
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Agile for environmental sea change
Technology has assumed the role of information provider for buyers, changing the role of the B2B salesperson; detailed features and peer reviews are now a mere Google search away, limiting the value of traditional sales collateral (and the traditional salesperson).
Like so many other industries affected by on-demand technology, the value of a sales professional now lies in his or her ability to personalize the experience for the buyer’s unique situation.
Additionally, technology itself provides the competitive advantage, in the form of new sales tech tools which must be learned and adopted to.
Mapped onto bite-sized Agile sprints, sales actions in response to these environmental changes might be:
- Create sales collateral that helps the buyer to justify the expense to their superior
- Share a demo, pilot, “sandbox,” or proof of concept with the buyer or purchasing team
- Learn how to use a new sales tech tool – and then actually use it every day
Again, each sprint should be followed by the critical Agile lesson of pause, reflection, assessment of what worked and what didn’t, and iterative changes for future improvement.
An Agile selling approach
The Agile process is iterative and maps nicely to the account-based sales process.
Agile: In agile planning, development teams break down big projects into bite-size chunks, identify tasks, and tests to be completed during the period and determine the the level of effort to complete the work within the iteration.
Sales: Whether a Sales rep is preparing to prospect into an account, deliver a demo, or hold any other sales discussion, planning is an important step in which intelligence about an account is gathered, fit is assessed, questions and potential objections are anticipated, and potential tasks are identified.
This is where the research of companies and prospects happens, characteristics, pain points and key stakeholders are identified based on the ideal customer profile (In Agile terms: requirements).
2. Define Requirements / Needs
Agile: In this stage, customer needs and stakeholder input are gathered to define requirements for features that will solve customer problems and address their needs. Acceptance criteria is also formed for evaluating whether requirements are met in the end.
Sales: For sales, this translates to gathering information about the needs of an organization in order to make the case that the solution will address their needs.
Asking the right questions of prospects can demonstrate both an awareness of and a sensitivity to the issues and challenges facing an organization.
Before a prospect is ready to hear about a solution, they first need to believe the salesperson has an adequate understanding and careful diagnosis of their problem(s).
Note that at this stage, more information is gathered, and it could ultimately indicate a great fit and potential opportunity … or it may reveal that your solution is not a great fit for their needs. It might make sense to communicate the misalignment, back out of the opportunity, and move onto others.
3. Design the workflow
Agile: In this stage, requirements are turned into visual design mockups that bring the the plan to live and clarify the vision and completed solution.
Sales: Once a customer’s needs are understood, it’s time to design, tailor, and package a pitch that communicates the value of your offering relative to the prospect’s specific needs.
The pitch can’t be generic. It should inspire them. It should contain all the color, clarity, and examples needed to convince prospective buyers you have the only solution that will meet all their needs perfectly and deliver tangible value to the organization.
Just like great product designs have a WOW! effect, so can a tailor-made well-designed pitch.
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4. Code / Sell
Agile: Up to this point, the process has all been about ensuring that the ensuing product will deliver the anticipated value. Now it’s time to actually build the solution according to the requirements and design specifications. It’s time to write code.
Because there are requirements and clear designs, coders can work efficiently and confidently deliver the desired solution.
Sales: For sales, the process to this point has been about getting to know the customer, their needs, and relevant information about their situation, so a pitch can be appropriately tailored.
Now it’s time to deliver that message, to pick up the phone and dial, send an email, deliver a demo, jump on a call. With an appropriate level of intelligence gathering, account planning, needs analysis, and tailoring, sales professionals can sell with confidence.
5. Test / Negotiate
Agile: A software product is moved from development to a sandbox environment for testing and QA. Product owners, customers, and other key stakeholders can now provide input and make suggestions.
This step is often repeated. Armed with the feedback from the testing phase, many projects go back to development and go through a number of iterations as feedback is given and changes are made.
Sales: Even after an appropriate level of planning, needs analysis, design, and delivering what you believe to be a perfect pitch, you should STILL be testing whether or not your message resonates – and adjust as necessary.
This is where agility is critical. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Like products that are built, tested, reviewed and modified, sales reps must constantly adjust their approach and their message to get it dialed in.
You may rest assured that your competitors are constantly evolving their products to compete with yours; they are also evolving their approach and message. You have to test and tweak your product to ensure your message is unique and communicates value effectively for each member of the buying group.
This stage represents the dance between salesperson and prospect as needs are assessed and reassessed, value is communicated, objections are made and overcome, and pricing and terms are negotiated.
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Agile: A viable product is complete and deployed to end-users.
Sales: The deal is signed.
After winning and closing the deal, Sales identifies a key advocate who benefitted most and is willing to advocate for the product or service. The advocate may provide a positive review, quote, or case study that the salesperson can use for future promotion.
Agile: Solicit customer and stakeholder feedback. See what worked and what didn’t regarding features, functionality, execution, and user experience.
Sales: Measure success. Assess deal size, pricing, discounting, sales cycle velocity – and whether the customer is anticipated to get the full benefit of the product. Determine whether you hit weekly, monthly, or quarterly goals, and what you could have done better in the process.
Win/loss calls or surveys can be a good way to learn these lessons. With the deal done, everyone’s guard will be down and candid feedback can be delivered.
This looping process is repeated, with each iteration improving in response to feedback and change.
But perhaps one of the biggest benefits Sales can take from the Agile workflow is a reprieve.
Failure is an eventual part of any process; if it can be limited to an iteration or small part of the process, the larger project may still be a success. And even if it’s not, willingness to adapt to a changing world is invaluable – and next time will always be better.
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