/ Agile Sales

Taking Back Control of Sales

There is a very specific idea of sales in the minds not only of the public but a massive amount of people even in the sales business.

It goes like this: Salespeople are money-grabbing idiots that will “sell their grandmothers” for a dollar. Sales as a field is people shouting, back-stabbing, and trying to sell their colleague to take that dollar. There is a reason for this stereotype. In a lot of sales teams, this is kind of true. The emphasis is on competition rather than collaboration. Sales managers treat salespeople like inert idiots, so inertia sets in.

At Heresy, we want to convince salespeople and sales leaders it doesn't have to be true. We believe:

  • A great salesperson is the most knowledgeable member of your team. They know everything about your customers, everything about your product, everything about your company.
  • A great salesperson is a team member, understanding that their success is inextricably linked to the success of everyone else around them.
  • A great sales team is one that harnesses the potential of these bright, eager individuals and uses it to make the team greater than the sum of its parts.

To build great salespeople and great sales teams, we need to help these individuals take back control of their profession.

Salespeople first

Sales teams aren't set up to help salespeople succeed for two reasons.

Reason #1 is that the flow of information is up. For instance, this is how reporting works in sales organizations:

diagram of reporting flow in sales organisations

Salespeople input data and report to sales managers, who report to sales execs. Some even throw in an extra bit of reporting to and from sales operations for the fun of it. The idea behind this is to understand what the salespeople are doing, make decisions based on this data, then tell the salespeople how to perform better.

This helps managers and it helps execs, but doesn't really help salespeople. They can't learn directly from either their own data or that of their peers. This approach just builds the idea that managers are herding “phone monkeys.” In this world, the reps have to push data up so that the managerial layer can decide what's best for them when they are perfectly capable of learning for themselves.

Instead, the flow of information should be across:

diagram of flat reporting for sales team

SaaS salespeople are smart. Or, at least, you want them to be. A salesperson will be the first point of contact for every new customer. These are people that you want to be at the top of their game. So you need to get them all the information possible. Some of this will come top-down from managers. But most should come from within the team. One salesperson telling another what they learned over the last week or how they dealt with a different question.

This is why we advocate sales standups and scrums in an Agile sales environment. The standup is designed to facilitate direct knowledge sharing:

comparison of knowledge transfer in agile sales team against traditional sales team

Knowledge still travels up, but also across. Everyone on the team has direct collaboration with everyone else. If one salesperson knows a great new technique, they all know it.

Reason #2 is that the tech is set up to hinder salespeople and help managers. Reporting, analytics, and visualizations are geared towards helping management make decisions rather than salespeople make decisions.

Open up any large BI tool, and you will see a plethora of graphs and analysis designed to help managers understand their organizations and produce bewilderingly detailed reports for their managers. These help managers feel important and in control. But any salesperson opening up their own dashboard in a tool will find their own data buried. The default views on such tools are for the aggregate, managerial view. You have to click down through these reports to find what individuals are doing.

This should be inverted. This is what we literally mean by “salespeople first.” The data on view should be of immediate help to an individual salesperson trying to understand their pipeline. This is the thinking behind the individual burndown charts for salespeople. They can see how they are doing without needing to be told:

This approach works best in small teams. But sales overall works best in small, agile teams. This puts these frontline people in more control of the process. In turn, this makes improvements and iterations to that process quicker:

  1. An individual salesperson directly sees a problem in their own pipeline from their dashboard
  2. They talk to the rest of their team about the problem. Others chime in with possible resolutions
  3. The salesperson tests the solution and sees the result on their dashboard
  4. They share those results with their small team and sales leader
  5. The sales leader then shares those results with another team to improve the whole organization

Most of the improvement here is done purely by the frontline salespeople. If they are put first and have knowledge through Agile tech and share knowledge through Agile structure, the sales team gets better quicker and closes more deals.

The emergent properties of a sales team

Whereas sales tech is all about the management, traditional sales advice is focused towards the individual. But in completely the wrong way.

The focus for this advice is on individualistic sales rather than treating salespeople as components of a team. For instance, here are some real tips from an article on page #1 of a Google search for “sales tips”:

  • “Before you reach out to a prospect, identify the problems they’re likely dealing with.”
  • “Never send an email without personalizing at least two things -- and no, [prospect name] and [company name] don't count.”
  • “If you're reluctant to pick up the phone, remind yourself of your financial, career, or personal goals.”

It's not that these are bad advice, though they are banal (I should identify problems my prospects have? No way!). It is that they are all entirely focused on the salesperson as a discrete unit. They are setting salespeople up to just think about themselves and not how they can interact as a team.

When you give salespeople knowledge and allow them to share that knowledge easily within a team, sales teams can have emergent properties.

Emergent properties are properties of complex systems that the individual components don't exhibit. Think brain cells. Individual brain cells are just electrochemical collections of protein and fat. Put billions of them together, and you get consciousness—an emergent property.

Brain cells aren't purely additive. Neither are sales teams. Sales teams are also complex systems and should also have emergent properties. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. This comes from at least three traits your team need:

  • Sharing instead of hiding. Traditional salespeople keep their secrets close. It is the best way to succeed in a competitive environment. It is the best way to win that Cadillac Eldorado. But it is death to the sales team. In an emergent, Agile sales team, if one person knows something, everyone should. Putting salespeople in control of their own data allows this dissemination of knowledge quickly and efficiently through the team.
  • Collaboration instead of competition. Traditional sales thrive on competition. Competition can be healthy, but not if it stands in the way of the team getting better. For the team to be more than the individual, they have to actively help each other. This goes beyond just sharing knowledge and into helping a teammate close a difficult deal. It will push their burndown chart lower, but also the teams.
  • Evolution instead of revolution. Progress is iterative. Every week the team gets better and better. When data is pushed up then the team is waiting for managers to make changes and decisions. There is a lag time associated with that data movement and remote decision-making. So decisions will inevitably come too late and be bigger reactive shifts. Allowing the team to take back control means being happy with them making the big decisions on how they work.

Building better salespeople

Individual salespeople performing better in a team. This is the idea of sales we want to build at Heresy. The concepts of Heresy come from that. Here are some of the ways we want to help build better salespeople:

  • Giving them visibility—this is the number one requirement for this to work. Salespeople have to be able to see their own data easily every day. When data is easily in front of them, they can make the decisions on what to progress with through their pipeline, what they need to do to hit quota, and where they need to ask for help. Heresy is salespeople-first. The default data helps them, then their managers.
  • Giving them goals—every sales team has goals. But we want to make them more pragmatic. The main component of this is the individual burndown chart. With the burndown chart, individual contributors can see at-a-glance whether they are on or off track for the sprint and month. But we also wanted goals to be more than just quota. We want the goals to be helping salespeople become a better version of themselves month after month. That is why we introduced Heresy badges. These help salespeople improve incrementally, getting badges not just for closing deals, but for performing better in all the ways an Agile sales team needs—great customer service, helping others, and finding improvements. These are all goals that traditional sales ignores and Agile sales reveres.
  • Making them the center of the team—In traditional sales, the manager is the center of the team, the conductor of the orchestra. But the salespeople are doing all the work so we believe they should be at the core. All reporting in Heresy revolves around the individual as the main contributor. When coupled with an Agile sales teams this means that reports aren't some massive amalgamation of dozens of people and hundreds of data points. Instead, the data is on the individual level, where improvements can be made.

These are just features of a wider shift we want to see in sales. Sales is a team game. Everyone from the CEO downward is a part of that team. But like any team, it is the players that take the field, the players that have to perform for the team to win. The salespeople are the players and so everything should revolve around them.

This won't always lead to up-and-to-the-right progress. There will be missteps. Salespeople are only human. But by acknowledging they are human, not inert idiots, not phone monkeys, but smart professionals looking only to do good for their team and your company, you can make substantial progress in your sales organization. Allow some of that control to trickle down to the individuals and see what they can do—we guarantee they will surprise you!


To take back control of your sales metrics and workflow, head over to heresy.io and signup for your (free forever) account.