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What Sales Operations Can Learn From Agile Development

February 14, 2014|Steve Silver

Sales operations and enablement professionals can apply some of the same principles used in agile development when deploying new tools, training, methodologies or processes to the sales organization. An agile approach emphasizes speed of deployment, flexibility in design, transfer of knowledge and adaptation to changes in buyer or user requirements.

Incremental software development concepts have been around since at least 1974, when E.A. Edmonds introduced an adaptive software development process. But it wasn’t until 2001 when the process was formalized with the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which defined the approach now known as agile software development.

When Good Enough Is GreatSales operations and enablement professionals can apply some of the same principles used in agile development when deploying new tools, training, methodologies or processes to the sales organization. An agile approach emphasizes speed of deployment, flexibility in design, transfer of knowledge and adaptation to changes in buyer or user requirements.

Here’s how to adopt the key concepts of agile development to your sales productivity initiatives:

  • Design – For any new initiative, begin with the end in mind. Clearly define the problem, current state, desired future state and the measurements, results and behavioral changes that are expected. Then develop a prototype or storyboard of the program design.
  • Field Test – Test the initial design with representatives of field sales, especially front-line sales managers. The goal is to validate the program, gather feedback and begin the transfer of ownership by including the “voice of the customer” in the project design.
  • Revise and improve – Use the input from field testing to revise or modify the program. This includes changing the requirements, design, and the process flow or implementation schedule. Multiple, short design cycles, field tests and revisions are inherent in the agile process and are critical to reducing rework after implementation.
  • Executive engagement – Review the project, intended results, budget, resources required, schedule and the implementation plan with senior executives. Be sure to specifically address the benefits for sales reps (“what’s in it for the rep”) and expectations for executive engagement. Executives must move beyond support or sponsorship to highly visible and active participation.
  • General release and implementation – The needs of users will vary by role, ranging from awareness to in-depth knowledge. Implementation must include a communication and change management plan tailored to each audience.
  • Adoption and use – Additional resources such as extra help desk support, Web sessions or coaching may be needed to sustain the program after implementation. Sales leadership will play a critical role in ensuring adoption and success of the program, requiring a regular rhythm of measurement and reporting.
  • Repeat – Consider using the “SMAC” (small, manageable chunks) approach for sales improvement initiatives. Start small and demonstrate success to earn the right to continue.
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    Using agile principles minimizes the chance of high-profile, expensive project failures. The sales team will begin to view productivity initiatives as a process of continuous improvements, expecting modifications from V1 to V2 to V3 as needs change. And sales operations and enablement are positioned as nimble, adaptive to change and engaged with the user community.

    Steve Silver

    Steve Silver is a Senior Research Director of Sales Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. Steve brings with him more than 20 years of executive-level experience spanning sales operations, sales and product marketing. Follow Steve on Twitter @jstevensilver.

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