Planning, executing, and closing the sale
by Janice Blake, PMP
WHEN IT COMES TO planning, executing and especially closing a complex transaction such as a high-technology sale, project management disciplines and processes are a natural fit to the successful completion of the cycle. This is particularly true with a business-to-business high-technology sale where numerous resources are required to complete the transaction. However, the link between sales and project management is not something that all sales representatives immediately think of, especially in a “pre-sale” capacity, unless the connection revolves around the delivery of a solution as identified in a proposal and the subsequent obligation to deliver. In looking a bit deeper into the sales process, with the tasks required to complete a complex transaction, project management certainly applies.
Typically, solicitation or proposal preparation forms part of the pre-sale process and, of course, the delivery of the solution after the sale typically is project management-driven. However, in applying project management within the sales cycle itself, the intent is to take the processes and procedures within the PMBOK® Guide and use the process and knowledge areas to effectively make a project out of the sale itself; essentially using project management techniques to complete a sale within the sales cycle and to look at a sale as a defined process with a start and end time. Once the sale is complete the project is over.
Any sale falls naturally within the PMBOK® Guide definition of a project: “ … a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.” The unique product, service, or outcome in this case, is the successful completion of a sale, preferably within a company's business quarter. In my experience with both strategic and tactical high-technology sales and respective of the quarterly revenue requirements of sales organizations, there is no doubt that these are indeed “projects” and should be planned and executed with the same precision as any other project. This approach should be used within the sales cycle when positioning enterprise software or hardware products and services to sophisticated high-technology clients. The larger the value of the opportunity or the more strategic the solution to either the vendor or client, generally the more challenging the process, and a certain discipline is required to “cover the bases” to complete the sale.
Janice Blake, PMP, has been in the high-technology sector for 20 years, most recently as a senior sales representative with various high-technology companies. Prior to her sales career she was a project manager with the Canadian Federal Aviation Directorate. She operates her own consulting company and is on contract with the Canadian Federal Government.
Post-sales delivery of a product or service follows either a product production and delivery plan or a consulting professional service methodology. Project management methodologies are branded by large professional services companies and used as part of a solution where the account has already been sold. This professional service or consulting should have a well-defined proposal, technical and financial, so that both the buyer and seller understand the contractual relationship that will be bound by the sale. Any professional service sale that is not bound by a project plan with a properly identified scope, deliverable, change management plan, and so forth, will be fraught with more than the usual requests for changes. Anyone who has been involved with either the provision or acceptance of a contract understands cost and schedule overruns and the potential for project failure without a properly defined plan.
Reader Service Number 053
In any vendor organization with a sales team responsible for quarterly revenue generation, management will mandate that a sales plan be delivered by their representatives each quarter to ensure that the sales numbers have a significant chance of “booking” i.e., closing sales. This is the overall objective and constitutes the successful completion of a “project” within the definition of this article. The sales plan is an overall approach for all targeted accounts within the sales representative's territory and should include more detailed individual plans for major accounts. The number of targeted accounts is of course dependent upon the opportunity within the territory. However, given the quarterly time frame and the objective to close on a forecasted opportunity, a wise sales representative will limit the number of targeted accounts to no more than six per quarter. The sales plan needs to include overall sales goals and objectives as well as the individual major account plans included within the account history, opportunity and forecasted pipeline, contacts and key decision-makers, methodology, milestones, and challenges.
Initiating. The sales plan for each sales representative should be available for discussion at the quarterly kickoff meeting, which becomes analogous to the project kickoff meeting within a typical project management cycle.
Communications and human resource management is critical to the successful completion of a high-technology sale. Typically, the sales representative does not have the technical skill to detail the technology, architectural details and technical planning that is necessary to position the sale with the client. The sales representative is not the subject matter expert here, and just as it is within project management, the sales representative in this role must effect the team as if he or she is a conductor in a symphony. The pre-sale project team is composed of the sales representative (identified as the project manager), pre-sale technical support, post-sale technical support, sales administration, marketing, and of course management—all are required as subject matter experts. Of course there is the customer with their parallel organization, management and the procurement specialists who all become part of the process, dependent upon where the sale is or what phase the “project” is in. All are stakeholders concerned with whether or not the project/sale is a success.
To ensure adequate resources are available when required within the sales cycle, sales representatives are typically required to forward resource requirements through to the pre-sales engineering manager. Within most sales organizations planning and forecasting are taken very seriously. This goes beyond just the account detail, and includes the processes required to get the sale. The sales team needs to communicate to management the pre-sales engineering staff requirements at the beginning of each quarter. These resources are allocated against the planned requirements as identified by the sales teams as to when, where, and how many resources will be required to provide pre-sales engineering assistance to a sale. This instills confidence that all team members are available when and where required to ensure the success of the project; identifies the technical resource requirements in order for the appropriate manager to sign off that these resources will be available for presales activities; and allows the pre-sale engineering manager to forecast resource requirements upward to senior management. Proper forecasting of resources demands proper planning, and resources scheduled wisely and effectively help guarantee their commitment to the next project. If left to mid-quarter to schedule a pre-sale engineer's time, there will be more of a challenge to ensure his or her availability to your project, considering that pre-sale individuals are in great demand mid-to-end of quarter. If pre-sales resources have not been scheduled and allocated to your project, it is likely they will be unavailable to you because other sales representatives within your organization will have scheduled them elsewhere in anticipation of closing business before the end of the quarter.
Executing. To effect a complex sale, sales representatives must know how to influence their internal organization. The sales representative's motivation is apparent to the remainder of the sales team insomuch that the organization understands that the sales representative is commissioned against the sale. With this in mind, sales representatives who consider themselves in the role of project manager, and with the ultimate goal to close a sale, had better be superior motivators, as the other members of the team may not be bonused or revenue based. The team's motivation is not only relative to others competing for their time and energy, but may be tainted by the fact that the sales representative has much to gain by the success of the sale. This makes the project a challenge from a team “buy in” standpoint as team members know there are commissions against the sale afforded to the sales representative. Nonetheless, all team members must understand that the responsibility for revenue generation is an onerous one, and team members must pull together and work toward the goal of completing the sale.
In executing and controlling the sales plan the sales representative has to coordinate numerous sales presentations, meetings, and marketing sessions between the customer and the sales team. Controlling the sales process as well is complicated by customer organizations that are organized in a matrix fashion or make decisions by committee. Executing the sales plan means engaging the decision-influencers and decision-makers. Executing the plan can require the senior sales management team in the process to conduct peer-to-peer meetings, presentations and even client visits to vendor facilities. Often a team approach in the sales cycle is required in the creation of a proposal at the solicitation stage, with a request for proposal, cost-benefit analysis, or technical reengineering for an unsolicited proposal. All of these are major resource drains on the sales team and must be included in the sales planning process. If not, management within the company will be hard-pressed to allocate resources, the bid will be lost, and you as the sales representative will not get this business.
Closing. Closure on a sales project means, administratively, negotiating terms and conditions and price, and concludes with the official transaction and issuance of a purchase order or contract. From this point on the relationship with the vendor organization moves into post-sales, or the delivery of the product or service of the sale. Post-sale is a project onto itself. However, within a large vendor organization, sales representatives are not particularly involved in this process (other than to oversee the compliance to customer requirements). The sales representative is on to the next challenging project, closing another opportunity with the proper planning and implementation of another sales plan.
WILL THE FORMAL USE of project planning techniques increase the success rate in closing a complex high-technology sale? With proper planning (the road map for success) and considering the minimal overhead in producing a quarterly sales (project) plan, this will indeed put the sales professional that much closer to achieving quota and reaping the rewards of a job well done.
Reader Service Number 030
September 1999 PM Network