/ Agile Sales

The Meaningful Sales Standup

Sales meetings suck.

At best they are just a time-suck, siphoning off much needed minutes from the team. No one keeps to the agenda, no one wants to share, and no one is learning anything new. At their worst, they can be an inquisition, as managers go around the room pointing accusatory fingers as to why no one is closing.

Sales meetings don't have to be like this. The collaborative nature you see in a development meeting, or for that matter across the hall with marketing or finance teams is just as attainable in sales. More so even, because there is such an obvious common goal for your sales team—bookings. Everyone should just want to hit that goal, and the meeting should be geared towards getting the team to that goal.

But because sales has evolved into a competitive rather than collaborative endeavor, sales meetings are effectively pointless.

That can change with standups. In an agile sales team, a standup is a 15-minute meeting at the start of every sprint. It focuses the team on the task ahead. It is performance- rather than results-driven. It builds team strength. Through each of these components, it moves your team closer to their common goal.

Focusing the team

Standups only really work with sprints. Together they work to focus the team on the goal and the immediate deals that need to hit the sales target.

At Stack Overflow, we always broke up the month into four sprints. The duration of the sprints varies depending on the number of business days in the month, but broadly speaking would be five to eight days. The first sprint of the month (S1) always starts on the first business day of the calendar month. So if the last day of the previous month ends on a Tuesday (Sprint 4), Sprint 1 for the next month would start on Wednesday. That in turn means that Sprint 2 (S2) will start on Tuesday also, as will S3 and S4 (only exception occurs during months with bank holidays).

In a more traditional sales environment, sales meetings could be held once a week (or even once a day) throughout the month, like this:
Traditional sales meeting schedule

In agile sales, standups are held like this:
Agile sales standup schedule

The point isn't that there are fewer meetings. It is how they are arranged. In the first example, what is achieved in the first meeting of the month? There are 31 days ahead of the team then. This meeting will just be a rallying call for everyone to “get a head start on the month.” At the other end, what is going to be achieved in the final meeting of the month? If the team are off the pace, they only have three days to rectify the situation. This will lead to exactly the type of meeting where a sales manager will be looking around to cast blame.

Then what happens the next Thursday? This is the start of a new month and probably a new target, but no meeting is held to rally the troops.

Even if there is a meeting every single day, this still doesn't help with the fundamental flaw in this design—there is no focus. The focus is only on the end of the month, which is really far away right up until the day it isn't. The team can only focus on that end-of-month goal, and all meetings are geared towards that one goal, no matter how near or far away it is.

In agile sales, sprints break down the month into focused boxes. In this example there are 4 sprints in the month. They are 5 days long and final one is 6 days long. Standups then occur at the start of each sprint. That standup is focused entirely on that sprint. If the monthly bookings goal is $200,000 and there are 21 business days in the month, the team should be closing $9,524 every day in order to be on target at the end of the month. The goal of each sprint then is $47,619 (or number of days in sprint x team’s velocity). The standups are then about how to get to that $47.6K for that sprint.

Instead of seeing the month sprawl out ahead of them, the team can see the definite actions they have to take for the next 5-6 days in the upcoming sprint. The standup focuses on these actions, which in turn focuses the team on the smaller, more tangible goal. For team members, this means intimately understanding the deals in their pipeline for that week. But they can do that exactly because they have a finite period to focus upon.

Each sprint won't go exactly to plan. If you are supposed to hit $47.6k in sprint one, but only close $43k, does the team just forget about the $4,600? No. The next sprint takes care of that. But the focus becomes the actions that lead to missing that $3k instead of recriminations over the missed target. The team care about it from the perspective of performance.

Performance over results

In sales, results matter. But you can only get better results by increasing the performance of the team.

Traditional sales meetings concentrate on the results. What did you do this week? How much did you close? Standups instead revolve around three key questions for each member of the team:

  • What deals did you work on in the previous sprint? Again, the point here isn't a dissection of the results from the previous sprint. Instead it is to find themes for what is working or not in the team. The scrum master should be leading the discussion towards helping the team learn more to perform better.
    • Example. One team member has been stuck on a deal for a few months. In the last sprint they closed it. What did they do and what can the team learn from that experience.
  • What deals are you working on in this sprint? The scrum master goes around the team to get a better understand of each member's pipeline and the pipeline as a whole. This is why the standup should be held in front of a scrum board or deals board. This way, the team and the scrum master can see what is in the pipeline and actively move deals around to make sure there is enough coverage for the upcoming sprint.
    • Example. A large deal is in the pipeline. The scrum master and team can schedule time to work on it during this sprint to make sure gets closed in the month. Conversely, if a large deal is forecast to close in sprint 4, the scrum master will know why the team is off-track in sprint 3.
  • Are there any blockers? This is the qualitative side, and a vital part of the scrum master's role. They need to help keep the cadence up, so they need to know what might be bringing it down. By asking this at the start of every sprint, the scrum master can address the problem immediately to minimize impact.
    • Example. A team member needs a big deal reviewed by senior management and they haven't got back to her. The scrum master can follow up for her, letting her get on with other tasks.

The tools of agile sales are essential here, for both the individual team members and the scrum master. The meetings are short. Three questions to five team members each is just one minute per question per person in a 15-minute meeting. That means everyone has to come prepared.

The two most important tools here are the deals board and the burndown chart. The deals board shows what everyone is working on and where in the pipeline it is. Ideally before, but even during, the meeting, this should be arranged so that the team member has the right deals on deck for that sprint. They can also keep an eye on upcoming deals and start planning in their minds the next 2-3 sprints.

The burndown chart gives everyone a straightforward understanding of where the team are. Are they on track to hit the goal? If not, why not? If the team is off track, they can see immediately from the burndown, as well as understand their current velocity and what needs to be done in this sprint to increase velocity and hit the target.

Performance should be the watchword for every sales team. Get performance right and the score will take care of itself. Standups are a conversation that allow the team to focus on their performance, getting incrementally better as a team. But they aren't the end of that conversation, they should only be the beginning.

The bookends to a continuing conversation

The philosophy of agile sales is one of teamwork. The main difference between a regular sales meeting and a standup is that standups are about getting your team to help each other.

A standup is the scrum master's meeting. They set when the sprints occur and thus when the standups happen. It is their responsibility. But really they are the conductor of an orchestra. It is the team members who play. They should be the ones talking with each other about how to tackle the sprint. They should be the ones helping each other out. Standups should facilitate cross-pollination and knowledge transfers between team members.

But that cross-pollination and knowledge transfer isn't limited to the standups. These meetings are the kickoff meetings for an ongoing conversation in your team. The best sight for a scrum master after having wrapped up the standup, is the conversation continuing as everyone heads back to their desks.

A sprint ends with another meeting, held right before the standup for the next sprint. This helps the team debrief about the sprint that just ended—what worked, what didn't, and what to do about it. They can then carry those ideas into the next standup and the next sprint.

In agile sales, these two meetings—the standup and the sprint review —are the bookends of your team's sprint. They are also the bookends to their ongoing conversation. In agile sales, meetings are not something to fill time or worry about. They are a fundamental part of the process. Not only do they give everyone the insight into what the team is working on, they also start the conversations that are important for fostering that team mentality.

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