What is agile sales?
Agile sales takes project management strategies from the IT world -- such as sprints, daily stand-ups, and constant iteration -- and applies them to selling. This methodology helps sales teams be more flexible, data-driven, and effective.
Why should you care about agile?
There are three changes in the sales world that should make you sit up and pay attention.
First, millennials are becoming a larger and larger part of your sales team. Right now, they’re probably SDRs and AEs -- with a few ambitious ones holding management or even director roles. But in eight years, millennials may hold half of your leadership positions. In 15? They’ll probably hold all of them.
That means you can’t keep using the same techniques and tactics. These professionals have grown up with constant access to information. They’re independent. They learn quickly. They enjoy collaboration. They’re incredibly tech-savvy. And they get bored doing the same things over and over.
You might be wondering how to adapt your sales org to suit these traits. Two words: Agile sales.
Second, your customers are different. Few people have the patience or desire to be forced through a rigid sales process. Now they can self-educate -- and they’ll quickly lose interest if your reps make them answer a laundry list of questions about things they could’ve learned online or don’t add any value to the research process.
If you want your salespeople to deliver unique, consultative, high-value experiences to each and every buyer they interact with, consider the agile sales methodology. It makes it much easier for reps to respond in real time and meet client needs.
Finally, we have an unprecedented amount of data. You can learn everything from your lowest-performing rep’s average call-to-demo conversion rate to average number of deals closed on the last day of the month in a few clicks. The dark side to all this data? If you’re not focused and intentional, you’ll get lost in it. Agile sales involves constantly reviewing and reacting to data -- making it an ideal solution.
Let’s review how agile works.
Work is organized into “sprints.” A sprint typically lasts one to two weeks and has a specific objective.
Every sprint starts with a two- to four-hour planning meeting to decide on the sprint goal (which must be summed up in one sentence) and break down that objective into discrete tasks or milestones. The latter should result in a list of projects, known as the Sprint Backlog.
Each morning, the team gets together for a stand-up. This meeting is meant to be quick -- in fact, most companies make everyone stand up for the duration, hence the name. Team members go around and explain:
- What they accomplished yesterday
- What they’ll accomplish today
- Any obstacles they’re facing
This helps everyone stay on the same page and provides accountability.
How to implement agile sales
There are five essential components of the agile sales methodology:
- Daily standups
- Short-term goals
- A flexible strategy
- Accountability (via your CRM)
Let’s go into each in detail.
Standups are helpful for any group that works collaboratively:
- ABM teams
- Tiger teams targeting a list of prospects
- BDR-AE teams
The idea is simple. At the beginning of the work day, have a quick (5-15 minutes) status update meeting. Each person should share what they did the day before, explain what they’ll work on that day, and ask for help or guidance if necessary.
Standups definitely boost alignment and accountability (plus, they make your team feel like more of a team.)
Sales objectives can often feel overwhelming and impossible to achieve. Maybe you want to go to President’s Club this year, but that would mean performing 30% better than last year -- which you don’t think you can pull off no matter how hard you work.
Or you’re a sales manager, and you want to double your team’s average contract value -- but that seems like a monumental feat.
To make these goals feel in your reach, borrow the “sprint” concept from agile. Rather than looking at the end goal, break it down into sub-goals. These objectives should be short-term (think monthly, weekly, or even daily).
For example, let’s say to make P Club you need to hit 120% of your annual quota. That translates to $84,000.
In other words, you need to sell $7,000 every month. But you know that some months are better -- The first quarter tends to be huge, while June, July, and August are slow. With that in mind, you create this schedule:
(If you do the math, this comes out to $84,500. It’s always good to have a cushion!)
Now that you’ve broken down your major goal into monthly ones, qualifying for P Club seems a lot more feasible.
Sales managers, use this framework to guide your reps’ goal-setting process. First, figure out their “pie in the sky” goal. What do they want to accomplish this year? Then, work with them to create a timeline with milestones.
Flexibility and iteration are the foundation of agile sales. That means reacting in real-time to new data and information and adapting as needed.
Let’s look at two examples of how you might iterate or pivot. Imagine you’re the director of your company’s SMB segment. In the past few weeks, your reps have lost 10 deals to a new, lower-cost competitor.
- Option 1: Let this play out. You know the competitor’s product is inferior, so in time, customers will figure out the cheaper price isn’t worth it and switch to you.
- Option 2: Create a battlecard that helps salespeople position your product as the higher-quality, more reliable choice, goes over common customer objections and responses, and outlines testimonials from customers who have chosen you over the competitor.
The first option -- essentially, stay the course -- isn’t agile. The second option is quintessential agile: Being responsive and quick.
You can also use this mentality to react to:
- Market/industry changes
- New legislation
- Product updates and launches
- Company-wide strategic shifts
- Changes in leadership
And more. Basically, you should constantly be analyzing what’s happening in your world and figuring out how to change your process, objectives, or strategy to keep up.
Without a system of truth, it’s extremely difficult to hold salespeople accountable. (The same goes if you’re a rep: How can you analyze your progress if you’re not tracking it?)
That makes your CRM an essential component of agile sales. At many companies, the rule is “If it’s not in the CRM, it didn’t happen.”
There are a few ways to enforce this:
- Don’t count emails, calls, or demos toward activity goals if they’re not logged in the CRM
- Don’t discuss deals during pipeline review if there’s not a matching opportunity in the rep’s CRM pipeline
- Don’t comp reps on deals that aren’t in the CRM
Of course, getting your salespeople to record everything will be far easier if your sales and marketing tools are synced with your CRM. For example, teams using HubSpot Sales will automatically have their calls, emails, and meetings recorded in the CRM -- no manual data entry required.
Agile sales’ emphasis on data dovetails perfectly with modern sales management. Whether you’re a rep, a manager, or an executive, data tells you if your strategy is working -- and how well.
Different metrics matter for different situations and objectives. Perhaps you review your last quarter and realize there’s huge fallout between your qualification and discovery calls. After listening to a few call recordings with your manager, you identify two issues:
- You talk too much
- You don’t ask enough open-ended questions
Your key metrics for the next month should be:
- Talk-to-listen ratio (aiming for 30:70)
- # of open-ended questions per call (shooting for 6+)
- Qualification-to-discovery conversion rate (target is 30%)
Notice that you’re focusing on these metrics within a short timeframe (essentially, a sprint). You can easily manage these specific metrics and evaluate your progress at the end of the month.
A sales manager, on the other hand, might be focusing on these metrics:
- Average deal velocity, or typical length of sales cycle
- Average deal size
- Average quota attainment
If you have a specific goal for the month -- like, say, getting your salespeople to follow up more quickly -- you’d also be focused on average lead response time.
The bottom line is: Come up with your short-term goals first, then work backward to determine the best metrics for gauging progress.
Agile sales is a natural evolution for sales teams. It helps you leverage your data, team members, and motivation to get the best results possible.
Originally published Jan 16, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021