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.

Wrong.

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

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.

Effective Pipeline Management

Today we feature a post from a guest blogger, David Nicholson of Nicholson Consulting in the UK.  David is an accomplished sales director who delivers strategies for sales and sales leadership.

What is effective pipeline management?

We all know what a sales pipeline is and how to interrogate the data, but how many of us actively manage the sales pipeline to extract meaningful and insightful data from which to understand and influence business performance?

Effective pipeline management is essential to achieving outstanding sales performance

Business applications such as CRM help capture, structure and align your pipeline with your sales process and enable content push to assist your sales teams in the field – BUT a CRM tool will not govern the quality and integrity of the pipeline data input – this demands a behavioural shift within your sales and marketing organisation which, like all change initiatives relies upon effective coaching and reinforcement

The illustration below shows the relationship between sales pipeline Inputs and Outputs – the critical element to effective output management is the pipeline Insights, how they reflect leading performance indicators and the action taken to influence performance output.

Lets first consider the outputs and what they mean to your business.

Outputs

Performance & Predictability – you should be able to predict your sales performance with reasonable accuracy from your pipeline, both short and medium term – enabling you to proactively influence the projected output.

Resource & Workflow – accurately predicting which orders will convert is paramount to sizing your business appropriately to successfully fulfil and satisfy customer demand while managing cost and precious resources.

Coaching – an essential ingredient of outstanding sales performance is the effective and consistent coaching of your sales teams. The leading performance indicators accessible from your pipeline enable continual performance development of individual and team.

Trending – mapping your sales pipeline over time to your strategy and segmentation will unearth invaluable insight supporting future execution – product, market and regional adoption and performance, commercial and life-cycle values influence your competitive strategies.

Performance impacting outputs can only be mined from accurate and meaningful pipeline Input – the integrity of the pipeline data is vital to the analysis and credibility of your data insights.

Inputs

Pipeline input sources vary greatly from sales to customer enquiry to marketing generated lead with each presenting many permutations – not least the individual responsible for gathering, understanding and content recording.

Data integrity – to generate credible pipeline insights you must ensure the integrity of the input is appropriate to the output demand. For reasons outlined above, it is not practical to simply rely upon data entry without process and reinforcement – the content will be incomplete and inaccurate and not therefore credible.

Alignment – your pipeline must be aligned with your sales process and CRM tool to reflect the status and maturity of each individual recorded opportunity – from suspect to qualification to understanding, monetising and validation through to negotiation and close.

Reinforcement – as mentioned at the beginning of this post, change is a behavioural shift requiring consistent positive reinforcement to encourage adoption. Your sales managers should be coaching performance improvement ~70% of their time including the importance and use of CRM/pipeline to accurately record and share content. Sales enablement should embed and push relevant content through CRM to reflect and assist each opportunity relevant to its pipeline stage and progression through the sales process encouraging reciprocal quality content population. Regular pipeline reviews should be conducted to validate and develop prospects through the sales process aligned funnel.

Control – plan your content appetite carefully as often less is more and demanding too much content from field based sales teams will impact sales performance and data integrity – control the information needed and content input with verifiable outcomes for each stage of your pipeline/sales process, removing subjectivity and reinforcing sales methodology adoption.

Insights

When your pipeline content is accurate, consistent and mapped to a sales process you can extract credible insightful data from which to analyse and make decisions.

Volume/Value – retrospectively calculate the ‘pipeline conversion to win’ ratio per individual/team to understand the theoretical pipeline value needed to convert a required value (accuracy is increased by (a) data integrity) and (b) time measured). Look for volume exceptions adversely challenging conversion ratios ie) single large or high volume of low-value opportunities attracting risk or resourcing demands respectively.

Additions – visualise your sales pipeline as a funnel – whilst converting opportunities to real won business is ultimately the sales objective, you must ensure closure focus does not result in a lack of new opportunities being added into the top of the funnel. The impact of pipeline deficiency can be devastating to your business in many ways.

Maturity – understanding the relative maturity of your pipeline through sales process alignment offers pipeline health insight but also greater performance predictability, lead generation demand and sales funnel trending.

Distribution – track the distribution of your pipeline content across the funnel stages to better manage precious resources involved in the sales process.

Velocity – often overlooked, but is an essential metric to track pipeline performance – benchmark your pipeline velocity with best practice to expose exceptions and development areas.

Conversion – this essential leading performance indicator predicts the theoretical pipeline value needed to meet the sales targets. It also exposes sales efficiency and effectiveness metrics uncovering individual development and training needs.

There are many more pipeline insight metrics including product mix, activity and engagement levels which should be tailored to your business and sales strategy.

 

This post was first published on www.nicholsonconsulting.uk and LinkedIn and is republished here with permission from the author.