Kanban may be a more recent phenomenon in the world of agile software development but the principles that it helps to apply have been in sales management for many years. For Agility in Mind it is great to see the two practices come together formally and help us to become an effective and successful company.
Good sales management is all about identifying new opportunities for work early on, achieving dialogue with clients and progressing the right opportunities through to commitment from the client in a timely manner. Making visible the opportunities that are there, knowing what good opportunities are and taking regular action to move them along is all good practice. Dialogue within a sales team and between sales people and delivery teams or with the prospective client are the most effective actions that can be taken, as long as they have a purpose.
Poor sales management is characterised by lone salespeople with hidden prospects, with little dialogue and a lack of visibility of the status and progress of opportunities.
It is a natural choice to use Kanban as a tool for making opportunities visible and support dialogue. Imagine an opportunity to work with a new client – both parties want to get to a point where they have a good understanding of outcomes and can commit to work together. The opportunity passes through a number of stages:
- Initial enquiry
- Meet up to discuss
- Issue a proposal
- Seek clarification
- Shortlist to purchase
- Selected subject to contract
Some people have more steps or call them different things. An opportunity can get pulled at any stage and for many reasons, but it’s better to find out sooner rather than later as the amount of effort increases at each stage.
We map these stages out with our sales Kanban:
Notice that the content on the cards is not made visible for obvious reasons.
This proved very useful as a tool to ensure we maintain dialogue during the year and as opportunities progress, but also collecting up the “Dumped” cards at the end of the year for a review. This physical board was also synchronised with an electronic tool, with our own board design on LeanKit. The benefits are twofold: the value of synchronisation to ensure the true status of opportunities is known; automatic production of useful metrics, specifically the generation of cumulative flow diagrams.
Today we only use the electronic tool as getting timely updates when out of the office is proving more useful and supported better than a physical board.
The CFDs produced from the tool tell use how well we are progressing and whether we are building too many opportunities up at any stage.
The CFD shows the progress of opportunity for the partial sales year of 2013. On the full chart there would, of course, be values on the axes.
The approach is simple and effective and, instead of crowding round detailed spreadsheets at monthly sales meetings we can have active dialogue about meaningful things that get results.