Blog

How Being a Sales Professional Made Me a Better Project Manager

This is the second part in a two-part series. In part one, I talked about how being a project manager made me a better sales professional. Now I am looking at the other side of the equation. What skills did I learn from selling that made me a better project manager?

Sales gets a bad rap

Nothing makes people walk away faster at a networking event then when you tell them you’re a salesperson. The first few times it happened I thought maybe I had coffee breath or had made some other networking faux pas.

No one wants to go to a networking event and have a lame, or worse pushy pitch hurled at them over cheap wine and appetizers. Understanding this helped me to build relationships and trust over a longer period of time. This way, when I did approach someone with a pitch or ask for a meeting, I could be confident that it was the right pitch at the right time.

Trusted advisor

Although I talked about this in part one of this series, it bears repeating since, in my opinion it is an incredibly important skill to have. To be able to lead without formal authority is significantly harder than leading a team that reports directly to you. As a salesperson, you’re basically the quarterback of the team. You have to coordinate with the client and anyone on their team who can impact the buying decision. It is important to understand from your client who has final approval on any purchasing decisions. In some cases, while your client may be doing the research or shopping, they have to present their findings and recommendations to their boss, who has the final say. You want to ensure you’re able to understand what your client’s boss is looking for and how to get that person to the final yes you need.

Your client isn’t the only person you need to act as a strategic advisor to. As the salesperson, you need your internal team to support you in your sales process, and ultimately implement the vision that you sell. For example, if you’re selling a Saas product and you want to close a large, enterprise client, you might promise them weekly calls with a dedicated customer success team member. Before you do that, you need to inspire the customer success team to agree to this, otherwise, after the sale closes you will have a very disappointed client calling you!

This is a skill that has helped me when managing complex projects. One of the first projects I ever had a project management role in was a large Salesforce.com implementation. The project team included the senior leaders, all of whom had very strong opinions about how the process should work. As a new project manager how could I work with my team and get everyone to come together so the project was not delayed? I was able to call on the skills I had developed over many sales conversations to help “sell

Empathy

The best salespeople are those who really believe they are helping their clients solve problems or business pain. In the Saas world, products that automate processes that can be manual and tedious are often sold by professionals who care deeply about helping their clients achieve goals and free up their time to do the work that only they can do. For example, look at Advisor BOB, a software program developed by the talented team at Ocean Ring Technologies. This program was designed to help financial advisors calculate their commissions. Prior to using the software this process was manual and prone to errors. There are different commission percentages based on a number of variables. Before Advisor BOB mistakes happened often and sometimes took months to find and correct. Bad for the company and bad for the financial advisors who were waiting on corrected commission payments. In addition to speeding up the process, advisors could focus more on selling and serving their current clients instead of checking and re-checking the math on their commission payments. This hopefully leads to additional client loyalty, more new clients and eventually bigger commission payments!

This empathy and ability to spot a client’s pain has been exceptionally helpful when managing complex projects. Being able to spot risks and blind spots in projects allows me to help guide my clients through them before they happen and ensure work continues on time and on budget, with the quality my client has come to expect from a project team I am leading. Being able to put myself in the client’s shoes and help them solve business problems is an important skill to have and has served me well.

Communication

As a salesperson, you need to be an exceptional communicator and storyteller. You need to guide your clients through the buying process, keep your internal team updated on your progress and when they can expect deals to close and keep your manager informed of your activity and progress against key performance indicators.

Communication isn’t always about delivering good news, you also need to be able to have difficult conversations when you need to. As a project manager, I have had to have many difficult conversations. With agency leaders, with project team members and even with clients. No matter the reason for the difficult conversation, my ability to be calm under pressure and deliver the news came from years of experience working in sales.

Having to tell your boss you aren’t going to make your goal that quarter or a client that you won’t be able to come down in price or get them the results they’re asking for is part of being a salesperson. Delivering the news is only part of it. How you do it and what you do next is what is really important.

Setting Goals: How to Use a Scorecard to Hold Yourself (And Your Team) accountable.

What is a Scorecard?

A scorecard is simply a way to document the work you’ll do over the course of the year. The concept of a Balanced Scorecard was introduced in the Harvard Business Review back in 1992. Think of it as a corporate vision board. What are the big goals your company or department has? How will you reach them? Where do you want to be by the end of the year? 

Why does my department need one? 

If you work in a center of excellence, lead a team or your company is in a transition phase, a scorecard will keep everyone on the same page about what the big goals are and how you will achieve them. A good scorecard can prevent shiny object syndrome. There are so many great things you and your team COULD do, but what SHOULD you do to keep moving things forward? When you create a scorecard and your leadership team and stakeholders sign off on it, you’re agreeing to the big priorities for the year. While priorities could change due to some external factors out of your control, the scorecard should not be edited. If there is a major shift in the business (a competitor comes out of nowhere to crush you, you lose funding, the CEO leaves in the middle of a scandal) you should meet with your leadership team to review the scorecard and re-align initiatives and priorities. 

What should we include in a scorecard?

Your scorecard should reflect all major initiatives, who is responsible for the execution, how much progress you intend to make each quarter and where you need to be by the end of the year.  Within your team, you’ll then be able to drill down further. If you know what needs to be done each quarter you can then plan out how you’ll accomplish these goals at a monthly and then weekly level. This detail may be in the form of individual project plans for each initiative, but does not need to be part of the scorecard process. 

How do we create our scorecard?

You can start with the four questions that the HBR team poses:

  • How do customers see us? (customer perspective)
  • What must we excel at? (internal perspective)
  • Can we continue to improve and create value? (innovation and learning perspective)
  • How do we look to shareholders? (financial perspective)

If these aren’t exactly right for you and your team, think about a few areas you need to focus on to achieve your department goals and support the overall company goals.  

Other things to consider:

  1. What is the company goal for the year? How much revenue does the company need to bring in and how does my department impact revenue? 
  2. What can we accomplish with the resources we currently have? Do we need to ask for or allocate additional resources? 
  3. How do we work with other departments? What interdependencies exist and how do we collaborate most effectively? 
  4. Who are our stakeholders? What do we need to do to support them? How do we communicate with stakeholders and when? 
  5. Who is going to determine if we are successful? How do we show our progress and successes? 

How Becoming a Project Manager Made Me a Better Sales Professional

Computer monitor on desk

This is the first post of a two-part series. Next time, I will share how I use my sales experience to make myself a better project manager.

A few years ago, right after I got my PMP, a recruiter told me that sales was the only career path she knew that wouldn’t benefit from having that credential. I personally thought that was the biggest load of bulls*&! I had ever heard. I didn’t end up working with that recruiter but I do hope she reads this before continuing to preach that gospel.

What is a project?

So, lets start at the beginning – A project is defined by Project Management Institute (PMI) as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. And what is a sale? A sale is the process in which a person or company persuades another person or company to exchange their resources (money) for another product or service.

In project management, we follow 5 distinct phases, Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. A good project manager has a process for guiding his or her projects through each phase, documenting milestones, logging risks and issues, and reporting to stakeholders throughout.

This process is not unlike sales, where we guide a buyer through a funnel that begins with awareness, moves to interest, then the decision and ultimately the action. Along the way a sales professional will share content, communicate with the buyer via email, on the phone or in person and will document milestones and update stakeholders (the buyer, their sales VP, product team etc) along the way. The salesperson will also close the sale and provide resources to make sure the transaction is successful and invite the buyer to make additional purchases in the future.

How are sales and project management skills related?

So how are these two processes related and what skills does a project manager possess that if mastered can help make you a good sales person?

Alignment

A good project manager will make sure that their team is a aligned to a project charter and a project plan. The project manager make sure that everyone understands the goals of the project and how the work they’re doing supports the overarching goals. No matter how large or small of a role a team member plays in the project, he or she needs to understand why they are doing what they are doing and get the work done on time within scope.

In sales, a salesperson has to coordinate resources both inside their organization as well as in the potential buyers organization. From ensuring that they buyer understands how the product or service works to ensuring that the internal resources are aligned or operationalize what was sold and provide support. That means communicating with a lot of people and planning next steps as deals move quickly through the sales process. If a deal gets stuck somewhere, the salesperson needs to quickly figure out what happened and how to fix it. Not unlike a project that has gotten off schedule or is running over budget!

Trusted Advisor

In many cases, members of a project team don’t report to the project manager. This means the project manager needs to find a way to inspire (hopefully) or compel (if inspiration doesn’t work) each member of the project team to complete their work on time and within scope.

As a salesperson, you are also a trusted advisor. Just like project resources don’t always report directly to the project manager, internal resources don’t report to the salesperson. Additionally, a good salesperson has a deep understanding of their clients roles, challenges and industry and can help guide a client through the buying process. By bringing industry insight and experience to their customers, a salesperson is often viewed as a trusted advisor.

Superior listening skills

As a project manager you are always listening to ensure the ‘health’ of the project. A good project runs within scope and budget and project team members have the time and tools to do their jobs. Creating an environment where this is possible requires a lot of listening. The project manager is listening as the team reviews the scope and charter to ensure it is realistic. They are listening as the client explains their vision to ensure the project will deliver. They are also listening as the team discusses the work – looking for any tension or risk to the project. And finally they are listening as issues arise, to get ahead of them and remove any blockers.

A great salesperson is also always listening and learning. They are listening to their clients describe challenges they have, they are listening to objections so that they can overcome them. They are also listening for alignment – a good salesperson makes sure everyone understands what they are buying and how it works to avoid buyers remorse or mismanaging expectations in the future.

Root Cause Analysis

When something goes wrong in a project (and it happens in almost every project) the project manager performs what is known as a root cause analysis. Root cause analysis goes beyond just “putting out a fire”. It involves getting to the root of the problem to understand what really happened, why it happened and how it happened so it won’t happen again. For example, I was project managing some HTML5 banner builds for a client. One set of projects in particular kept being sent back with errors in contrast and sizing in the animation. My developer would fix the issue but every time we did, the client came back with more issues. Finally, the developer was able to explain to me that there was an issue in the design file he had gotten from the client’s designer that was causing the problems my client was reporting. We were able to sit with the designer and explain how to fix the files. This solved the problem for the foreseeable future and saved my developer many hours of fixing issues.

The same techniques apply in sales. When a client says no, the salesperson can also perform a root cause analysis to understand why. For example, when selling CRM’s to small or medium local business a client says no because they don’t have the budget to implement the system, train their sales team and keep up with technology. As a salesperson, you can understand the root cause of their no is that they feel they don’t have the budget or the resources to implement the system and have it be adopted by the sales team. Since you understand why they’re saying no, you can ask them if it is okay to bring your implementation manager in to meet them before they officially pass on your product. Your implementation manager takes your client through your company’s robust implementation, training and adoption resources and plan. Your client asks you to review the budget and timeline one more time and then decides to sign! This is because you understood the cause of their NO and you were able to show them a better way forward that they did not see before.

Time Management

Project managers are tasked with completing a project in a designated time frame. A project could last a day, a week or even several years depending on the scope. In digital marketing, a project manager may work with the same client for years on a retainer. This means the project manager will be responsible for working with the client to execute many projects that help them advance their business goals. The project manager will then need to communicate timelines and scope with the client consistently. If the project manager doesn’t complete either enough work or the right work in the designated time frame, he or she will not help the client achieve their goals and hit milestone’s for growth on time.

Additionally, the project manager needs to be a great estimator. He or she needs to understand how long it takes a project team member to do their job. This means leaving some cushion for when life happens – someone gets sick, someone goes on vacation or needs to take the afternoon away from project work to attend a doctor’s appointment or school function. If a task will take my developer 8 hours (a typical business day) to complete a task, I will always try to allow about 2.5 business days. This is because in an agency setting a developer will usually work with a few clients at a time and he or she can’t always get an 8 hour time block that isn’t interrupted by an urgent need, meeting or other business. By allowing 2.5 days or business hours (assuming again an 8 hour day) my developer has time to complete the task and perform a solid QA and testing on what they’ve built. Usually we’re able to turn things around faster but the extra day and a half helps ensure we’re able to underpromise and overdeliver.

A salesperson needs to also be an excellent time manager. He or she will usually have an annual sales goal and other key performance indicators that they need to meet to achieve their quota and attain all of the commissions and bonuses that are part of their compensation plans.

For example, let’s you need to sell $120,000 in advertising this year and have at least 6 in-person meetings each week, attend 4-6 networking events per month, and join one professional association. How do you do this? Let’s start with the sales volume. $120,000 is $10,000 per month. To keep it really simple if your average sale is a $5,000 package, you need to sell two packages per month. If you only sell one package in a month, the next month you’ll need to sell three. This sounds less intimidating, right? Obviously, if you sell smaller packages, you will need to sell a few more and larger packages a few less!

Now for the KPIs. If you need to meet with 4-6 prospects every week in person you can work to schedule these meetings a week or two in advance. Each week you’ll add more meetings to the calendar so that you always have enough. Shoot to schedule 7 or 8 meetings per week with the understanding that on occasion an emergency, rescheduling, or other cancellation will pop up. This way, even if that happens you should still achieve this KPI more often than not. If you are able to take at least two of these meetings per month and turn them into sales – you’re very well on your way to achieving your sales goals too!

So that you aren’t wasting your time, ask prospects in these meetings about the networking events they attend and see if you can join them. This way you are able to continue to build your relationship with your prospect outside of your meeting and potentially meet others who have similar interests and needs. If you do this right, at the networking event you will meet new people to set up meetings with. See? No time is wasted!

Finally, in addition to all of this meeting and networking, a salesperson needs to create proposals, follow up on them, prepare contracts for signature, document their efforts in a CRM, provide reports to company leaders, forecast and budget, and participate in feedback sessions to refine product or service offerings. Is your head spinning yet? A good salesperson’s isn’t because they know how to manage their time and get it all done!

This was a very long winded way to say that while sales and project management seem like wildly different disciplines there are some skills both use. There are a lot of lessons from my project management training and experience that I use when working in business development. Stay tuned for part two of this series where I will talk about the skills I have learned as a salesperson that make me a stronger project manager!

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

For today’s post I want to look at cold LinkedIn pitches. I have run several client’s LinkedIn profiles for them and some of the messaging I have seen is beyond ridiculous. Other messages look fine but don’t elicit a response from my clients. (Sorry if you thought you were actually talking to one of my clients and it was actually me.)

I am not going to use this post to go over the basics of profile building or connecting since there are plenty of articles on this. If you want to learn the ins and outs I am happy to connect you to some additional resources.

I am going to share three examples of pitches that from the surface look okay and why they’re not ideal. I see many variations of these same themes over and over – obviously there is some bad information out there that had been spread around.

Note names have been changed to protect all parties, companies are redacted and links are changed to a generic link type so that there are no identifying company details. (Don’t @ me for putting people on blast — that is not the point of this post)

Example 1:

Hey Sally ,

I saw your profile and like what you’re doing. Pretty impressive.

I am the Founder of Blah Blah Marketing Company , we help consultants (whatever industry) like you bring in a steady flow of clients consistently. The best part, we are completely free if we are not able to bring in your leads.

We guarantee at least 20 leads in 30 days and I honestly think that your business will be able to take advantage of those leads and grow immensely. Grab an available time in my calendar and let’s discuss further. Say, this coming week? Here’s my calendar link: https://calendly.com/vanitylink 

Thanks, Jim

Why this approach is less than ideal:  While the pitch starts with a complement it could be much more specific. If Jim had actually done any research on Sally or her company he could have opened with a congratulations on a milestone, a comment on a recent article or podcast episode or something more specific to her business. Sally is also not a consultant, while she is in a business that relies on clients, she does not provide consulting services. Again, shows me that Jim hasn’t done any research and is copying and pasting his business pitch. Third, without knowing Sally’s industry, audience, pricing and goals how can Jim guarantee her 20 leads in 30 days? Now I am just skeptical and not planning to engage with Jim further. Personally, I hate when people I don’t know drop me an unsolicited Calendly link to book a call with them. If you disagree with me feel free to let me know in the comments!

Example 2:

Hi Vanessa,

I’ve passed by your profile a few times and I’m curious to see if I could help you grow your business by getting published on major online sites such as Entrepreneur.com or Inc.com? I’d love to schedule a quick call if you’re open to it. I have some openings next week.

Thanks,

Jen

Why this approach is less than ideal: While this message doesn’t necessarily look bad, my client Vanessa has been published on many leading sites and is a contributor to Forbes. The message shows me very quickly that Jen did zero research on my client and knows nothing about her needs or goals.

Example 3:

Hi Jon!

Thank you for the connect. After reviewing your profile – impressive by the way – we reached out because we are interested in speaking about your background. You may preview the opportunity and description of who we are seeking at http://www.companycareer.com If you believe you meet these requirements and foresee potential alignment, feel free to schedule an initial 5-min call to discuss potential synergies and candidate selection process. In scheduling a call, please use my personal scheduler for ease of synchronization at https://calendly.com/fakeperson.

Hope you have a great day. –

Dan

Why this is less than ideal:  Again, Dan has not done and research on Jon. Jon is an executive leadership coach. Second, the message is full of buzz words and jargon – potential alignment? synergies? I still don’t understand why Jon should book a call with Dan – and I have made certain he won’t. I see this a lot with clients who own small businesses. The other variation is recruiters looking to fill roles. Do your research! My clients have their own businesses and will not come work onsite full time for your client. It says so right in their profile.

The moral of this story is – tailor your pitch to your prospect. Ask about their goals and needs, do your research, and use plain English!

In the comments feel free to share some of the best (or worst!) you’ve ever seen!

It’s Nice to Meet You (But You Haven’t Met Me)

“It’s nice to meet you” the words smacked me in the face about twelve seconds after accepting a LinkedIn connection request.

There are many philosophies about sending requests to people you don’t actually know — or accepting requests from people you don’t actually know.

My personal philosophy is it’s a judgement call. For me I automatically say yes to people who fit my client profile, work for a former employer and/or are in a similar industry. It’s always good to see their content and you never know when a great collaboration will come from it.

Usually after connecting with someone outside of my usual network I will send (or receive) a quick note to say thanks for the connection and a little bit about why it’s great to be connected.

Catch my eye and I will be happy to grab a coffee or jump on a quick call so we can learn more about each other’s careers and what we’re looking for on LinkedIn.

I have even had some of the most fun and informational knowledge sharing calls come from random LinkedIn connections. Not to mention the number of clients I have met just by being active on the platform. It’s true what they say, your network is your net worth and if you use LinkedIn the right ways both can expand dramatically.

But this time, it felt different. There was no explanation of why the person had reached out. Just intrusive conversation. I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. Jumping in with both feet felt as awkward as a stranger walking up to me on the street and starting in the middle of a conversation .

Next time you connect with someone new, think about what it would be like in person – say thank you, explain why you want to connect and you’ll make a much better first impression. If you make a good impression and start the relationship off on a positive note, you have a better chance of getting what you want from the connection.