Understanding how Kanban can work for you in Sales

You’re a sales person, and a successful one at that.  What you do, and how you do it, works, so you don’t need to change anything thank you very much.


You're not exactly still using this, are you?
You’re not exactly still using this, are you?

Like EVERYTHING, sales techniques change, go in and out of fashion, get recycled and come back in again.  If nothing else, consider the fact that you’re even reading this on the internet, probably on a device that didn’t exist ten years ago.  Sure, you may use this device to make calls, but I bet you also use it to manage your pipeline in some way too.

So it’s no surprise to learn that a tried and tested methodology for manufacturing and software development can actually be used to help manage your sales pipeline.

Kanban is not new.  Kanban for sales is not new.  However, with technology always improving, we’re changing the way we work to be more flexible and to use many different devices.  Now is the time to consider how such changes can benefit you as a sales person and help you improve your close rate even further.

What is Kanban?

There are many websites that can help you understand Kanban, so I won’t list them here (simply search online), but the Wikipedia definition is this:


Kanban as a concept can be used in sales because making a sale is a process: you start with interest, which you nurture enough to make a proposal, which will ultimately either be agreed to or not.  It’s not necessarily linear (particularly during negotiations) but there is a start and an end.

Unless you’re lucky enough to only be working on a single deal at a time, the chances are you have a multitude of different deals on the table, at different stages in their journey to the order book.  Part of your challenge is to keep all of these plates spinning; taking your eye off one could result in the lot crashing before your eyes.

You need to be able to see, quickly, where your deals are at, how long they’ve been at that stage in the process and what you need to do next to keep them moving.  In other words, you need to know when to give each plate a quick spin so they don’t fall off the spike.

Kanban is great for that visibility.  Seeing all your deals in one place (as cards), understanding quickly what you need to do next (using activities) and highlighting those deals that are becoming a little turgid (using alerts).

A key benefit of using Kanban is self-discipline, interestingly one associated with another Japanese export: martial arts.  Really owning your pipeline helps you achieve more.  Every sales person I know wants that!

Even if Kanban is nothing new, and even if you’re top of the leaderboard at the moment, this methodology is a change worth considering, so you can stay there.

We’ve written a SlideShare presentation to outline Kanban for sales.  View it (and download it) here.

Managing Change = Empowering Users

Change is good.  We all know that, but whether we actually do anything about it is, of course, a different matter entirely.

When I first became a CRM consultant, back in the heady days of the Millenium, everyone was too concerned about the end of civilisation as we knew it – caused simply by pre-millenial developers not using four digits to signify what year it was.  My fellow consultants and I could talk until we were blue in the face about sales opportunity automation, and how much more efficient it would make an organization, but it frequently didn’t register against the perceived larger problem.

That millenium bug problem, by and large, failed to materialize.  Planes did not fall from the sky.  Systems did not stop (well, not all of them).  But the challenge of getting John, frequent sales over-achiever, to stop writing in his notebook and start updating CRM, remained.

This is all change management.  In the end, John started using CRM to update his opportunities, not because it benefitted his manager, but because he could see the personal benefits it would bring him and how it would make him a more successful salesperson.

In my view, this is how change management can be effective.  We all know which problems we have in our working lives, and we’d love to these to be solved.  Anyone responsible for managing a change in process needs to include users/staff.  Benefits to the business can be enhanced if the user community is on board.  Solving individuals’ problems can be rewarding to the business, as the efficiencies of those individuals scale up to benefit the business as a whole.

In John’s case, using CRM, he could start to see which type of deals he won more of and why.  He started to repeat the techniques used in the winning deals on those where he’d been less successful, and in turn, increase the win rate of his pipeline.  By using CRM for himself, his managers received the benefit of being able to look at the overall state of the pipeline and make decisions based on accurate projections.  Which is what they were hoping to be able to do in the first place.

Wind forward fifteen years.  CRM is mainstream.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM is one of the market leaders (it wasn’t even around when I started working with CRM) with an eco-system of partners and solution providers that spans the globe, providing every type of accelerator possible.  Sales force automation is a given, but there are still challenges to overcome.

We’re in an ‘always on’ society and the sales person of today is required to provide the latest information on their deals live, as it happens.  There is more data to manage, and our insatiable appetite for it means businesses ask their sales teams to provide more and more.  How does a salesperson cope with these extra demands?

Well, one of the many benefits of CRM SalesFlow is the use of a single screen, a board, to display all deals within each sales stage lane that is defined in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  The user can choose how the board is displayed, whether each lead or opportunity should be colored depending on its age, value and so on.  They can choose how much or how little information is displayed, how totals should appear or even, (let’s assume that John is still over-achieving and simply has too many to view,) use a filter to only show certain types of deal.

The user is in control.  He or she gets to manage their workload in a way that suits them, highlight areas they wish to concern themselves with, identifiy issues before they become problems.  In short, CRM SalesFlow allows the salesperson to work smarter and help them achieve more.  Which organization doesn’t want that?

In my experience, the best way to start managing change, particularly for the sales team, is to show them how a change can be beneficial to them.  That’s why there’s a whole section on this website on the benefits of CRM SalesFlow to the sales user.  If you’re trialling CRM SalesFlow, get your team to review the solution – give us feedback if there are further benefits we could include.

We’ve created a SlideShare as a summary of CRM SalesFlow – so feel free to share with your team!