Agile and Sales: Reflections on my first Scrum Sales Team

This content is syndicated from LeadingAgile by Eric Kristfelt. To view the original post in full, click here.

After working as a sales manager at two different Agile organizations I am often asked if sales can be Agile, and if so, how is it implemented?

At my previous company, several departments chose to align with the development team’s 2-week sprints/builds.  The marketing department started using a Kanban/Scrum approach, and it made sense as the marketing goals naturally aligned with the builds and releases.  But would a Kanban/Scrum approach make sense for the Sales team? And if it makes sense, where should we start?

Step 1: Training:  It is important for the teams to be trained on Agile/Scrum so that they understand the methodology and the goals.  It can help everyone if the sales team begins to gain a better understanding of the development cycle.  One challenge we faced was determining how to set-up our teams. Typically, sales professionals are viewed as individual contributors and not part of a team.  We found that management had more challenges moving to a team approach than the sales professionals.  Successful sales people are accustomed to working within a team given today’s complex sales models — which mean working with everyone from sales engineers to consultants to management and even Legal teams.  Most individual contributors realize that this is the reality of today’s business.

Step 2: Stand up:  Stand ups allow teams to adapt and react quickly to how the process is working for customers and external teams.  Stand ups are a natural for sales teams; most sales people are impatient and like short meetings that are to the point, and that can help them resolve problems and focus on accomplishments.  At my former company, if a particular impediment was outside the scope of the sales team, we might invite members from other teams to attend the next stand up. Our sales people hated being required to listen to others dig into their own issues, so moving longer discussions to “post meeting” status was popular among our sales people.

Step 3: Sprints and Retrospectives:  For sales, the sprint cycle may be much longer than recommended for a typical development team, but it’s important for sales managers to follow the sprint structure. Sales teams often work on monthly goals, so that’s how we set up our sprints–much longer than a development sprint– but a period of time that made sense for our goals. We could determine what we accomplished the previous month, review impediments that were not resolved, and determine our goals for the upcoming month/quarter.  These types of reviews are very natural for sales teams; although a step that many skip in the busy day-to-day pursuit of closing deals.

Step 4: Re-interpreting Product Backlog:  Our team implemented an EPIC board (Customers) and Tasks were set up as “backlog items” with a “pending”, “in-progress”, or “completed” status. Suddenly, the entire sales and sales management team had a clear visual for the enormity of tasks during the iteration.  Velocity (or, in this case, expected sales per iteration) was available for inspection and adaption.  This approach allowed the sales team to focus on their workload, and it helped minimize distractions from management. Even the engineering teams would walk by the boards and understand what was going on with accounts and opportunities.

Challenges to Agile Sales Models:

Switching to Agile wasn’t easy on the management team. How would they hold individual sales people responsible?  How would they compensate each sales rep?  What if someone on the team wasn’t making enough calls? Many executives thought the stand up meetings would be too short to accomplish all of their weekly goals.

The company I worked for set up a true sales scrum team with monthly iterations.  The teams hit the goals set up by management, and for 6 months we iterated and worked as a Scrum Sales Team. From a sales attainment perspective, it was the most successful the team had ever been.

For reasons I still fail to understand, the company restructured itself, and the Scrum Sales Teams were eliminated, but not before we realized the power of Agile within sales.  It was the first time that entire teams reached quotas assigned to the company, as opposed to just individual sales contributors.  Onboarding and ramping up new reps happened more quickly; most likely due to interfacing with successful senior reps.

Lessons Learned: 

By following the steps in Scrum, management learned that sales can lend itself easily to an Agile environment.  Individuals found that this shared work model led to more consistent revenue and compensation in addition to a more even workload.  No longer did the “sales stars” work much harder than everyone else.  Each team member focused on his/her own domain expertise.

While we found it difficult to find “Renaissance sales people”, we were able to create the perfect sales person by matching skills, or by filling voids by marrying strengths and weaknesses of individuals within every given team.

Scrum also allowed a better quality of life:  Sales teams had time to enjoy vacation or family time because the team could step in to support customers while any single member was away.  Our teams were self-managing, and the sales manager acted like a Product Owner as opposed to a Scrum Master.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences implementing an Agile sales model.

–Eric Kristfelt

The post Agile and Sales: Reflections on my first Scrum Sales Team appeared first on LeadingAgile.

Leave a Reply

What is 4 + 2 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”