While more and more organizations want their sales teams to be agile, these initiatives settle in the familiar pattern of using tools invented for one function and force fit for another. And sales rarely fits anything overly structured. Most sales organizations don’t have consistent sales methodology and if there is one, process adherence is in the low double digits at best.
The process exceptions are mostly outside our control and therefore estimating tasks, sprints and completion time are very inconsistent. Great sales organizations close 30-40% of their deals. Basically working with 60-70% process waste. No other business function would survive with these waste levels. Sales operates with baseball odds where a consistent 33% hit rate is absolutely world class. That makes process adherence, linearity and forecast accuracy quite difficult.
As we settle in for our 6th year of using agile for sales (kanban), I worked with some teams inside and outside SAP on scrum for sales as well and there are now more proof-points and tools out there. Some of my thoughts on sales scrum vs sales kanban.
- Simple kanban boards with basic agile flow are easier to implement and adhere to for sales teams starting out (Backlog can be leads, Sprints are quarters or months, Todo, Pending and Done require no sales training)
- Teaching sales teams product development scrum terms is not value added, especially because we want sales teams to be customer focused and not product focused. This one lesson we need to learn from Lean.
- Most sales teams are well disciplined around sales stages (from lead to close) and those sales stages can be considered sprints and a 6-9-month sales cycle a major product release
- Most sales organizations already measure deal time in stages, linearity and other predictive metrics. They are easy to implement in an agile board
- Daily standups in sales are like watching paint dry. Things don’t move that fast. The sweet spot seems to be weekly and fortunately the weekly forecast calls can be expanded to have the structure of an agile standup. 15-minutes? Probably highly aspirational.
- Sales teams may need a lot more cross-functional collaboration than dev teams. Having outside orgs participate in forecast (standup) calls, or even conducting meta-standups with customers and executive teams can be great. We learned a lot by having quarterly customer forecast meetings (QBRs).
- Use tools that make the job easier. Sales folks who hate CRM still like kanban boards. We’ve used Trello for years and now see many new companies cater to the needs of agile sales, like Heresy.io.
- Sales teams are virtual. Kanban boards, burndown charts, forecast standups and retrospectives all need to be virtual too. Great tools can make or break team communication.
- Burndown charts are great to view sales linearity in a way that linearity percentages cannot possibly communicate.