On any given day in a company, there might be one team installing a new piece of technology, another planning a corporate event, and still another organizing a training session for new employees.
These kinds of projects are typical. When projects proliferate -- or become so complex in the way they draw upon shared resources that things start to go awry -- some firms set up a formal project management office, or PMO. Nothing gets started without the PMO, and those who work within it make sure that projects are managed in a consistent way that delivers the right results.
Take away the term “project management” for a moment, however, and the same things should be true within your sales team.
Individual reps may have a particular style or approach with their accounts that works, and some customers will require variations on established processes, but sales management, much like project management, is all about getting from A to B without getting lost in the details and unexpected difficulties. Many sales professionals get pulled into IT projects, marketing projects and others, but they still might not see closing deals as a sort of project. It’s just their job.
Selling is no mere job or task, however. A task is something that happens once (or once a session). It’s a step in a journey. A project is the entire journey -- including the point where you reach your destination.
There might be no better time to inject this kind of thinking into sales, because reaching a buying decision in many organizations is a lot more difficult and complicated. Buying teams are bigger, purchasing cycles longer, expectations higher. That means a single sale is looking a lot more like an individual project.
Bear in mind, reps don’t have to completely transform themselves into project managers. It’s just a matter of looking at the best practices of project management and looking for what to apply. Start with these three:
This should be easy, right? The outcome of selling is to get a “yes” from a customer or prospect. Except . . . the outcome might also be to get a larger share of an existing customer’s budget. Or to get them to sign up for a recurring contract. Or to have them close more quickly than they have in the past. Or to bring them back after a period when they were buying from someone else.
With this perspective, selling isn’t just selling. It’s a project where historical background and context -- in other words, the kind of data you can find in CRM like Sales Cloud -- directly informs the specific goal you want to reach. Yes, the organization needs revenue, but when you can articulate the more immediate need associated with the sale, you’ll be in a better position to achieve it.
A well-run project has deadlines. Lots of them. The final outcome might not be expected for weeks, months or even the better part of the year, but there could be many different milestones along the way, and a good PMO makes sure everyone on the team is accountable for them.
In sales, the milestones may be things that reps know intuitively but don’t necessarily spell out for their managers or other members of the organization. If you filled out the kind of workback schedule for a sales goal that was similar to putting on an event, however, it might have some of the following:
Every single one of these milestones could be carried out over whatever schedule makes sense, given what you know from CRM and personal experience with a particular account. As project management within the sales function matures and improves, this is where you’d look for ways to shorten cycle time, add more value or take out some of the costs of acquiring a customer.
Everyone needs everything at the same time. At least, that’s what it feels like to those in admin, IT and other functions in a company. Sales teams often get to the front of the line for many requests, at least initially, but as other issues come up there can major competition for certain resources in the company.
Along with knowing the goal and setting up a workback schedule, a good PMO also does the necessary due diligence before work even gets started to determine whether there might be gaps in the internal resources available to keep a project on track, or if there’s a need for additional resources outside of the company.
If you’re using CRM as a tool to learn as well as track sales activity, the data should be there to give you clues about where projects could break down based on resource constraints. Then it’s a matter of making the business case for what you need to the internal decision-makers who matter. This can be the department head or even the CEO in some cases.
Does this take more time than simply plowing ahead? Yes. Does it mean that closing the deal might become more difficult or even take longer? For sure. It also means, though, that the sales team won’t be making promises it can’t ultimately deliver. That tradeoff in near-term productivity will be worth it in terms of customer satisfaction, lower churn and other metrics that matter to the business.
One final thought: the best PMOs always recognize that successful projects should be celebrated. If your sales team takes the time to close more deals based on the principles of project management excellence, take some time out to show your appreciation. After all, ordering some cake and beverages might be the one project you’ll want to manage yourself.