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Sales and Agile, Oil and Water?

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Sales, by its very nature is supposed to be Agile. A good sales person would inspect the situation, adapt to make the stakeholders comfortable and inspect by asking relevant questions to finally present a valid solution. However, it becomes a problem when the sales person tries to become too agile by offering silver bullets. Is this a regular phenomenon ailing many Agile projects?

Jennifer Whitt mentioned,

Salespeople have the uncanny ability to over-commit, over-promise, and not necessarily be encumbered with the facts. Project Managers are then left holding the bag to deliver on these over-promises and over-commitments.

Derek Morrison suggested that before a salesman makes tall claims about solving a business problem within a given timespace and budget, he should understand to operate within the Agile framework. Some of his key points for operating within the framework included

  • Make commitments only on products that are released and being shipped.
  • If a functionality is not available out-of-the-box then do not make a commitment.
  • Understand the iteration and release cycle of when the features would be available.
  • Give feedback on requests for bespoke development, the product managers would be able to align the requests to the roadmap.

Peter Eggleston suggested that for sales to succeed with Agile, the Agile sales team composition is very important. According to Peter, the team should consist of employees with customer facing roles such as sales engineers, professional services staff, RFP writers, channel/partner managers and perhaps even marketing personnel. Since technically this team could be huge, one could compose the team with only the sales persons and one person from each supporting organization. There is also a strong need for team work, communication and collaboration within this team.

Clucca shared how they implemented Agile in their sales team at AccuRev. Though, they realized that 'Agile for development' could not be applied as-it-is to 'Agile for sales' but they did not want to miss the opportunities available with Scrum. They had their entire sales organization undergo the Certified Scrum Training to understand the benefits of Scrum. Some of the practices that they follow include the standup, retrospectives and an active task board to manage leads.

So, how should the development team and sales team gel together?

According to Jennifer Whitt, the development team needs to change their attitude about sales people and extend more help to them. After all, nothing happens until something is sold. Further, salespeople should be involved in the weekly, fortnightly status meetings so that they are aware of the roadmap. Jennifer also suggested using the salespeople for client escalations. This not only helps by leveraging their relationship with the client but also helps in building a team feeling.

Derek added that apart from making the salespeople aware of the roadmap and the team velocity, it would be helpful to accompany the sales man on at least one sales trip to understand the commercial pressures that they face and the client problems that they have to deal with.

As Derek summed it up,

Sales teams play a vital part in any successful commercial operation. It is therefore vital for them to operate with in an agile framework in order to ensure that the company does not become a victim of its own success and to make a postive contribution to the agility of the organizations.

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