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Building a More Agile Sales Organisation

Today “about two-thirds of companies have a strategy horizon of four years or less,” according to ATKearney.

The reason: products and services are no longer a durable competitive advantage.

As a result, companies are discovering that their people, their skills, and how they engage customers will differentiate them in a noisy marketplace. Developing skills that can track the customer’s needs in a constantly changing environment means becoming agile.

“Agile” is a buzzword, but what does it really mean? More importantly, what does it mean for sales leaders trying to adapt to a rapidly changing world? The answer begins in the mountains of Utah.

Where Did Agile Come From?

Software engineers Martin Fowler and Bob Martin invited a handful of industry experts to a snowy retreat at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah in 2001.

agile sellingThey wanted to solve an existential crisis threatening the software industry: development times were long, and the resulting programmes were ultimately unsatisfactory. The group of invites totaled 17.

They all agreed that they needed to find a better way to develop software. At the time, designers built new programmes by exhaustively documenting every feature the client wanted the software to include. Then, they would begin coding. The project would move from one team to another like a baton passed in a race. A long race.

This linear approach presented a problem: by the time the programme was complete, the scope of needs was different. Software designers needed a new process that accounted for this constant change. They needed an agile approach.

By the end of the Utah retreat, the group drafted The Agile Manifesto. One participant later reflected, “I could tell that something profound had happened.” The document outlined a new approach in which designers would seek continual feedback from customers to keep pace with their changing needs.

The manifesto included four core values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Nearing the end of their retreat, the engineers in Utah expanded their work. They drafted 12 principles outlining the finer points of their agile approach. For example, one principle states, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information is face-to-face conversation.” Effective sales professionals will recognise the value of this idea. Face-to-face conversations allow sales professionals to delve deeper with their questioning strategy. They can move beyond surface-level needs to understand the underlying issues driving the buying decision.

Perhaps the most important of the 12 principles is the idea that “we welcome changing requirements, even late in the process. Agile processes harness change for the company’s competitive advantage.” This single statement fully captures the mindset underpinning the Momentum Methodology. Changing requirements are not something to be feared. Instead, they are accepted as an inherent part of the process.

The Momentum Methodology

An Approach to Selling with Agility

What’s powerful about selling with agility is that it’s not just a method of working — it’s a mindset and set of best practices that have transformed software development and are starting to be applied to the broader business context in a practice called Enterprise Agility.

So, if businesses can apply agile principles and methods to everything from Finance to Product Development, why can’t they be applied to sales to make our approach to understanding customer requirements more iterative and responsive?

Our team set out to build a new selling methodology. We wanted to give sales professionals the benefits of taking an agile approach, which puts their customer’s buying requirement at the centre of an iterative approach. As a result, sales professionals remain close to changes in the customer’s world and move opportunities through the pipeline with momentum.

Our Momentum Methodology consists of four parts, each aiming to answer a key question:

account management training momentum methodology

  • Assess: What is the strength of the opportunity, and does the solution fit?
  • Strategise: Is there is a clear and compeling connection to the customer’s strategy?
  • Prepare: Which stakeholder can serve as a customer coach, and how do we engage them?
  • Engage: How do we communicate our solution’s connection to the customer’s unique needs?

Developing a consistent flow through this four-part cycle means transitioning seamlessly from one skill to another. Doing so is important because the buyer’s journey stops, starts, loops and even reverses at times. These frequent changes are common as business solutions become complex, transformative and holistic. An agile sales professional understands that success lies in adopting practices, not processes.

The practices behind the Momentum Methodology are built for customer-centricity. Why does that matter? Because customer-centricity is a key advantage in a world where products and service differentiators are less durable. Consider research from the International Journal of Research in Marketing, which analysed 141 companies across ten industries and learned that when commoditisation increases, “customer intimacy becomes a more vital performance driver.” The Momentum Methodology acknowledges this finding by achieving a closeness to the customer as the sales professional discovers and rediscovers their underlying needs. Put simply, customer experience is a sustainable competitive advantage.

The four components of Assess, Strategize, Prepare, and Engage have generated results for countless sales organisations because they form a repeatable approach. They are clear and actionable. However, sustaining this approach requires commitment from sales professionals. They must buy-in to the methodology.

Making the Momentum Methodology Work for Your Team

At its core, the Momentum Methodology is about thinking and doing, in that order. The Assess and Strategise components represent thinking. The Prepare and Engage components represent doing. With Richardson Sales Performance’s Connected Selling Curriculum™, we offer sales professionals the range of skills needed to execute effective thinking and doing during the sale with customer accounts and competitive pursuits. With digital learning tools and instructor-led classroom training, we show sales professionals how to develop, measure and sustain the selling behaviours that compel the customer to buy.

About the Author

Chris Tiné is SVP and Chief Product Officer at Richardson, and leads the company’s product development and innovation activities, including global responsibility for Content, Instructional Design, Facilitation, Measurement, and Digital.Prior to joining Richardson, Chris was VP of Product Development at TwentyEighty Strategy Execution (formerly ESI International and IPS Learning) and Head of Product Solutions at Macmillan Learning where he led a full redesign of the company’s higher education interactive courseware products.Chris brings together expertise in digital consumer and education products with a background in media production. From 2007 – 2013 he worked at NBC News as a digital content producer and digital product leader. He helped launch and NBC Learn – the company’s first digital education businesses – and was tapped in 2011 as Head of Digital for NBC News Education Nation where responsibilities included websites, blogs, social media, interactive journalism and content partnerships.Chris is the recipient of a 2010 Emmy Award for digital video, 4 Emmy nominations, and a 2012 Webby Award. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, and a BA from Bates College.

Complimentary Brief: Selling with Agility