Sales Project Management

You might be wondering why project management is included in the selling process. You are not alone! However, this is one of the most overlooked functions by nearly all sales systems and organizations. If I had to point to a major significant factor in the success or failure of sales consistency … this would be it.

Project management, in some form, is part of our daily lives. Scheduling your vacation, buying a new car, planning a birthday party, and launching new products are just a few examples.

Most every organization has a version of a sales status meeting. Generally, the purpose is to review each deal in the pipeline, which in turn is used to forecast revenue (usually in a best- and worst-case scenario).

Some items discussed are:

  • Where the organization is in the sales cycle for the deals expected to close soon.
  • The status of what is being worked on next.
  • The steps being taken to keep the pipeline full.

The salesperson is updating the manager verbally or in some type of report with the following:

  • The status of the steps being taken.
  • What is needed to close the deal.
  • Status of the deliverable (examples are proposal, reference checking, presentations, contracts, key meetings).
  • A guess at the percentage of winning.
  • The decision date when the buyer will make their announcement of who wins.
  • What steps are to be taken that week or for the next event?
  • Suspecting or prospecting activity update.

What makes a project a project?

  • A limited timeframe.
  • Definite beginning and end. It is not a continuous process.
  • Produces a unique deliverable
  • Frequently needs resources on an add-on basis, as opposed to organizations that have full-time positions.
  • Ending is determined by specific criteria.

The Sales Mapping system, at its core, is describing and teaching the skills needed to perform within a sales project management frame.

There are three main points that are most important to a successful project:

  • A sales project must meet client requirements.
  • A sales project must be under budget (cost of sales).
  • A sales project must be on time.

The role of the sales project manager in project manage­ment is one of great responsibility. It is the sales project manager’s job to direct and supervise the project from beginning to end. Here are some other roles:

  • The sales project manager must define the project, reduce the project to a set of manageable tasks, obtain appropriate and necessary resources, and build a team or teams to perform the project work.
  • The sales project manager must set the final goal for the project and must motivate his team to complete the project on time.
  • A sales project manager must have many skills, overseeing or directly performing financial planning, executing contract management, and managing creative thinking and problem-solving techniques.
  • No sales project ever goes 100% as planned, so sales project managers must learn to adapt to change.
  • Understanding the problem.
  • Finding out the requirements.
  • Developing a statement of work.
  • Leading a team to develop the solution.
  • Preparing the schedule for delivering the service or product.
  • Directing the team in preparing a proposal.
  • Estimating the cost, then the price.

In what areas would the sales project manager be using these processes?

There are many things that can go wrong with sales project management. Here are some possible barriers:

  • Poor Communication – Many times a project may fail because the project team does not know exactly what to get done or what’s already been done.
  • Failure to comply with standards and regulations.
  • Inclement weather.
  • Personality conflicts.
  • Poor management.

Poorly defined project goals.

What has been learned after thousands of sales projects is that the time spent up front in defining needs, under­standing the results and getting the solution right, produces successful projects.

The customer’s greatest concern is: “Did you get my needs and requirements right?” If not, then the proposed solution is a waste of time. They’ll also ask: “Are you about to hand me a deliverable that meets my needs and is operable and maintainable?” If not, then what you have been doing on the sales project these past few months?

The Core Activities of Sales Project Management

According to the life cycle of a sale, we can summarize the core activities of project management as:

  • Scope the Project
  • Identify Project Activities
  • Estimate Activity Duration
  • Determine Resource Requirements
  • Construct and Analyze the Project Network
  • Recruit and Organize the Project Team
  • Level Project Resources
  • Schedule and Document Work Packages
  • Monitor and Control Progress
  • Close Out the Project

These activities are necessary for adequate sales project management. We will examine them briefly in terms of their implications with respect to the sales project manager’s duties.

 Scope the Project

Scoping a project implies finding its limits, not only in terms of the work to be accomplished, but according to all of its dimensions. It is as much determining what the project is, as what it is not. The gap analysis is presented, including your tactic of choice.

Scoping a project implies the following activities:

State the Problem

The sales project manager has to make a statement of fact about a truth within the organization. Having a problem or an opportunity statement that is recognized as a truth gives a foundation on which to build a rationale for the project and sets the priority with which upper management can view what follows.

State the Results

The importance of developing sound and understandable conditions of satisfaction cannot be understated.

Establish the Sales Project Goal

A project has one goal and that is to “Satisfy the Client.” This gives the project purpose by defining the final deliverable or outcome, so that all may know what is to be accomplished.

Define Sales Project Objectives

Objectives are defined as the filling-in-the-gap between the problems and the results.

Identify Success Criteria

The client’s business value is the main justification. The criteria provided by the client will be used as the measurement. The competitive gap analysis, along with your selected tactics, are additional measurement items. In addition, the success criteria of a sales project can be thought of as a set of measures of successful completion. The key point is that each client’s success criterion must be measurable in order to determine contractual compliance.

List Assumptions, Risks and Obstacles:

Sales projects can be somewhat risky and their business values justify the associated risk-taking. Listing the assumptions, risks, and obstacles gives the sales project manager a tool that alerts upper management of any factor that might impede the success of the project. It is also beneficial to communicate this list to your client, when appropriate.

Identify Project Activities A sales project activity is an important part of the work to be accomplished for attaining the project goal. The list of tasks required to complete a project is obtained by breaking down the project task into smaller pieces.

Identifying project activities implies the following:

  • Break Down Work Structure

The work breakdown structure is the tool to use to perform the project task in smaller bite-size pieces. It allows the sales project manager to plan and schedule the work, determine the resources, etc.

  • Breaking the work into smaller and logical pieces:

The work breakdown structure and the functional parts of a computer system, a business process, or the preparing of a proposal are essentially similar. When the WBS is performed for a project, we take it apart into smaller tasks along functional lines. A good question to ask is: When do we stop breaking down activities into smaller ones? The answer…When you can no longer break it down.

Estimate Activity Duration

Estimating activity duration is probably one of the greatest challenges for the sales project manager.

  • Unexpected Events

Life is full of surprises and so are sales projects. A key person leaves the organization, some of the initial budget is lost, and resources have been redirected due to a change in priorities. This is a very short list of the things that can unexpectedly go wrong. We have to prepare for them, as there is yet to be a sales project that did not run into potentially serious difficulties.

  • Mistakes, Miscommunication

Planning is just planning. We discover additional client requirements that we did not know before, even though we should have, or a new competitor comes into the picture. Sometimes the task is the wrong choice. If headed in the wrong direction, then some work has to be thrown away.

  • Poor Planning

Planning is an activity most people are tempted to avoid. Pay me now or pay me later can be the result of poor scope. The use of poor estimation techniques, and everything else associated with poor planning, will raise its head mid-course, heading straight to disaster.

  • I can name that estimate in …

Not using proven estimation techniques is a disaster in the making. The success of a project rests on three parameters: within specification, within budget and within schedule. Any unrealistic estimation will destroy the business case along the way and problems like reduction of support, or even losing your own job, will arise.

Phony deadlines imposed by the sales project manager only fuel the problem, because the team will soon find out and any trust will be lost.

Determine Resource Requirements

The project type will guide the sales project manager in determining the resource requirements. For instance, some projects are bound by a fixed amount of time. It may be a due date for a proposal or for products. This is called time to market.

The sales project manager will assign resources to the project activities in such a way that the time-to-market or end deliverable date constraint can be satisfied. Obviously, other variables, such as cost, must have a certain degree of flexibility.

Various types of resources enter into play and they require different management techniques. Here is a non-exhaustive list of typical resources a project is likely to consume:

  • People: This is the most important resource of all. Without people, not much can get done. It is also the most diverse resource the sales project manager has to deal with. People come in various shapes, sizes, colors and attitudes. More importantly, they come with different skill sets. The sales project manager’s task is to match as closely as possible the skill sets with the tasks.
  • Facilities: Projects happen in organizations and consume facilities. The sales project manager has to take into account what kind and how much of these facilities are required by the project. Availability is a
  • concern as it has an impact on schedule. In addition, only in rare cases can facilities be assigned to a single project. Usually, many projects compete for limited resources within the organization. It is the sales project manager’s responsibility to acquire these resources for the project.
  • Money: This is a key ingredient. Businesses work in ways that make everything looks like dollars. In fact, everything can be reduced to this common denominator.
  • The project network is probably the most powerful tool the sales project manager possesses when performing project management. The project network shows all activities, their sequencing and dependencies, in an appealing graphical manner. The ingredients of a project network are:
  • Tasks: The project tasks are represented by boxes containing the task name and a unique identifier. This identifier allows project team members to retrieve information about the task in the project note course or project plan. Also, the task number should be reflective of the entry it is associated with in the charter of accounts.
  • Dependencies: Arrows represent dependencies between the tasks. For example, if an arrow starts at activity A and reaches activity B, then activity A has to be completed before activity B can begin. This is a typical finish-to-start relationship between tasks.
  • Task Effort: A task metric, such as effort, is usually included with the task, obviously suggesting that the estimation is done when constructing the project network. This metric could be expressed in Person/Month, but variants of this measure do exist and are in use.
  • Resource Assignments: Each task must have a list of resources attached to it. Generally, this list will contain more than just people’s names. Typically, a task may consume other types of resources and they also have to be attributed. In addition, the task list and the task effort can be joined to compute the task’s effective duration.

Construct and Analyze the Project Network

Suppose a task has an effort rate of 3.0 Person/Month. If three persons are assigned to the task, then it should be completed in a month from start date. However, this depends on the nature of the task. While it is true that some tasks accelerate by adding more resources, other tasks may not be influenced in the same way.

The project network allows the sales project manager to have a visual overview of a project and to test various scenarios with respect to delivery dates, costs and specifications. In addition, any change in plans or unexpected delays can be immediately impacted on the project and assessed in terms of most probable outcomes. The project activities for which a delay implies a schedule slippage are easily identified as the activities on the critical path of the network.

Lag times are also easy to identify and provide the manager with some flexibility with the overall scheduling of the project. The project network is a central tool of project management.

Recruit and Organize the Project Team

Recruiting among a pool of resources is an activity the sales project manager must be at ease with. Depending on the structure of the organization and the competition process between various projects, this may include interviewing people and assessing their skill sets.

An important thing to realize is that the project will only be as successful as the sales project manager and the project team.

Staff on a project should, ideally, remain static. The sales project manager and the teams should be part of the birth and final completion of a project. However, this is rarely the case. Some turnover is expected among team members. But again, a key person leaving a project can be devastating. It is unexpected, but it does happen.

The responsibilities of the sales project manager are very significant. They include all aspects of project success criteria completion: that is, on time, within budget and scope.

Ultimately, the sales project manager bears the responsibility of failures and successes.

The typical project staff is divided into three categories. We find the sales project managers, the core teams and the contracted teams. The core team members are those who see the birth and death of the project, while the contracted team members are those who will perform particular project tasks.

In organizing the project team, the sales project manager will look for skill set and task matches and also try to find the following qualities in people:

  • Commitment
  • Shared responsibility
  • Flexible
  • Task oriented
  • Work within schedule and constraints
  • Trust and mutual support
  • Team oriented
  • Open minded
  • Work across structure and authorities
  • Able to use project management tools

Level Project Resources

Resource leveling deals with management of the number of people working on the project with respect to time. Ideally, the number of people would remain constant for the planning phases and then be gradually increased up to its maximum during the project work phases, then decreased at the phase out. Leveling the resources can be done in various ways, with different techniques or a combination of techniques. These are:

Splitting activities: Lack of resources often forces the sales project manager to work with the actual activities by changing their attributes. The splitting of activities is just this: A task is not worked on continuously, but within periods of times that may have voids between them.

Variable end dates: The earliest start (ES) and latest finish (LF) dates are your rock-hard parameters for an activity. They also give you (usually, but not as a general rule) some freedom.

Use of float: The lag time (if any) of an activity is also the cushion the sales project manager wants to keep as a reserve time for the unexpected.

Schedule and Document Work Packages

A work package is the actual brick from which the project is built. It is an activity descriptor that underlines the tasks for activity completion, start and end dates and, possibly, other relevant information. The work package is usually formatted as an assignment sheet and can be tailored to facilitate progress reporting. The scheduling of a work package is basically the scheduling of the corresponding activity within the project network.

Monitor and Control Progress

No doubt, this is a very important role of the sales project manager. The actual purpose of control is two-fold. Of course, we want to track progress, but we also want to detect any variance from the plan and act accordingly by adjusting the appropriate parameters (decision-making).

The sales project manager is very interested in establishing an efficient progress tracking and reporting system. There are various tools to choose from, the most convenient being those that strike a reasonable balance between the work and the observation of work. Here is a list of some tools the manager may use:

  • Status reports
  • Variance reporting
  • GANTT charts
  • Milestone charts
  • Cost schedule control (EVA)
  • WBS-based report structure
  • Review meetings

Whatever the tools used, the point is for the sales project manager to have an accurate picture of reality versus the plan at all times.

In addition, observing divergences from the plan is only one part of the task. One must find the causes for such events and correct the situation.

Close Out the Project

The most important aspect of a project close-out is client acceptance of deliverables. How does it happen? The client selects you and your company as the winner or loser.

Win or Lose

  • Win or lose, it is important to conduct a report with your client and team. If you wish to learn, correct and get better, then this is a must.
  • Review the entire list of responsibilities of the sales project manager and determine which, if not all, of these functions have to be done to successfully produce a sale.
  • Master sales project management and you will not only win more sales and get the trust of the organization, but you will also get your client what they deserve – the best solution with the results they want.

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