At first glance, project managers and sales professionals don’t seem to have much in common. They inhabit different worlds and generally aim for different goals. Budget-conscious, time-crazed and snoopier-than-normal, the stereotypical project manager seems, at most, a very distant cousin of the freewheeling, outgoing and glib sales practitioner.
Yet the best salespeople are able to operate as adept project managers who successfully guide everyone on the team to complete tasks well within expectations, and high-performing sellers who consistently meet revenue targets — share a surprising number of things in common.
When you combine the target-oriented paradigm of sales, along with the methodologies and control systems of project management, you get the best outcomes in terms of decision-making and overall performance.
What You Get When Sales Is Managed Like A Project
Just like a project, sales consists of tasks and activities.
These activities commonly include:
- Lead generation.
- Lead qualification.
- Product and customer research.
- Demos, objection handling, closing.
- Earning repeat business/referrals.
Like tasks in a specific project, sales activities are interrelated and need to be managed closely to fix overlaps.
When the strident discipline of project management meets the hyperactive process of selling, good things happen. The reason is clear: the monitoring, dynamic remediation, and optimization aspects of project management help increase efficiencies across the entire sales cycle.
Depending on your organizational makeup, either sales managers or coaches from your Sales Ops & Sales Enablement teams can assume the role of a project manager. But that doesn’t mean reps on the front lines can’t run their sales process like a project manager would.
Using the methodologies and control mechanisms of project management, organizations can —
1. Make the sales process more predictable and pliable.
2. Add visibility into the sales process, making it easier to identify the specific context and factors leading to closed deals as well as rejections.
3. Clarify and reinforce the accountability of each and every stakeholder.
6 Essential Project Management Skills That Will Boost Your Sales Performance
The vast majority of top-performing sales professionals already have what it takes to become excellent project managers.
That is because these elite practitioners possess and/or practice remarkable discipline, accountability, communication, time management, collaboration, and drive — all critical skills in project management that are similarly crucial to the success of sales professionals.
Also, here are some resources I’d recommend for improving your project management skills as a sales professional.
- Project Management For Business Professionals
- How To Get Your PMP Certification
- What Separates The Strongest Salespeople From The Weakest
- The Pomodoro Technique For Business Professionals
Also called self-motivation, hunger, or grit, this trait refers to the relentless pursuit of goals even amid energy-sapping challenges.
You can’t be a competent project manager without an abundance of drive.
Consider the daily grind: a typical project involves multiple tasks and deliverables assigned to several professionals (and even teams) with varying personalities and skill sets.
Combine these with budget constraints, dependencies, and deadlines and you get a recipe for conflict and chaos, with the possibility of the project stalling at any point simply too real for comfort.
Sales professionals who lack drive will see their motivation limping as soon as they experience a string of rejections, unanswered calls, or cancelled deals as they close in for the ask, perform cold calls, or attempt to formalize a client’s initial nod.
Because rejection is all too common in selling, you’ll never find a successful practitioner who lacks the grit to endure a barrage of setbacks.
Project managers embrace ownership and accountability for each project they take.
Whether a project advances as expected or stalls to a grinding halt, the responsibility ultimately lays at the feet of the project manager.
Fortunately, accountability compels project managers to adopt strategies, best practices, and methods that will help them steer the project towards successful completion.
A similar scenario plays out in the world of sales. Accountability ensures everyone on the sales team performs their designated tasks in a satisfactory way.
Managers demonstrate leadership and help team members meet the desired metrics.
Sales reps follow the tailored process and perform all the relevant activities (including those they barely enjoy) that will enable the team to meet its targets.
Discipline in sales is crucial.
A disciplined sales professional adheres to standards, especially when it comes to process, behavior, and practices.
They are committed to meeting target metrics such as the required volume of prospecting activity they need to perform daily — even when their pipeline is already humming or when they have just closed a major deal.
Disciplined sellers do not let their moods nor any external factor influence their workflow nor diminish their focus.
Meanwhile, project management in itself is a field that aims to bring discipline into the way teams accomplish tasks. A project manager helps instill discipline by closely monitoring progress and keeping all stakeholders on track.
4) Time Management
One of the most important aspects of a project is its timeline.
How sales professionals spend their time also matters profoundly.
For example, spending too much time chasing low-value deals when you can engage a qualified high-value prospect constitutes a poor selling decision.
Everything in sales is an opportunity cost. That’s just a fact.
The time it takes for a lead to be transitioned from one stage to the next (i.e., sales velocity) also plays a critical role in measuring performance.
A salesperson who manages time well through smart prioritization of tasks is simply a cut above the rest.
Recommended Read for Time Management Improvement: Become A Powerhouse Sales Pro With These 60+ Chrome Extensions
5) Effective Communication
Whether through a casual meeting, an email message, or via a formal presentation, project managers leverage the appropriate communication techniques and the principles of active listening to create, share, gather, and evolve important information about the project.
Sellers must be good listeners and excellent storytellers to be able to connect their product with the unique needs of each customer. Their task is to ignite a resonance so compelling that customers realize the value of the product and gladly part with their money to have it.
In the modern sales floor, sales representatives interact, share goals, and work together with their peers from business development, account management, sales ops, marketing, finance, and other teams.
The idea is to channel the collective energy to achieve organizational goals. Without relationship-building and collaboration, achieving targets as a team will be much more difficult.
The same goes for project management. Because a project often involves disparate teams, project managers should lead the way in establishing a collaborative environment.
Help Your Sales Team Become Great Project Managers
Not all salespeople are born with excellent project management skills. That’s not a terrible thing, but you should make an effort to learn and improve. The benefits of developing key project management skills will eventually improve both top line and bottom line performance.
You don’t need to literally turn salespeople into project managers. Just import the relevant project management skills into a sales environment. Better time management skills will reduce the incidence of cramming to meet activity benchmarks, for example. Discipline can help keep pipelines flowing. Accountability and drive can help sellers achieve quota even in the midst of setbacks.
Closing a sale is just a small part of selling. The bigger part involves tasks such as prospecting, cold calling, sending emails, customer research, connecting on social media, and other activities. That is where the principles and methods of project management will likely shine. So don’t be afraid to manage sales like a project. It will help you get things done faster and more efficiently.
Also published on Medium.