Over the past 10 years I have worked as a project manager for several digital agencies across the globe. While there were vast differences in the agencies’ offerings, from marketing and advertising to software development, and the frameworks used to deliver projects, there was one common thing that stood out to me: the lack of synergy between the sales and delivery functions within the organization.
All too often, I found a lack of shared vision and goals and rarely did I experience joint accountability to deliver a project successfully, from sales pitch to project hand-over.
This is partly due to the inherently different ways sales and delivery teams are structured, motivated and compensated. Success measures for delivery teams have traditionally included bringing in a project on time and on budget, and making the client happy. In contrast, sales contracts are often commission-based — a successful sales manager is one who brings in sales! Naturally, this leads to the sales team trying to fill the pipeline with more and better paying work and signing on new clients fast. And sometimes, in the rush to fill the pipeline, Sales may not not be taking into account whether the work is a good fit for the agency from a strategic point of view, or whether the team has the capacity or required skills to get the job done.
While having more work in the pipeline than the team can handle might sound like a good problem to have, ‘overselling’ and signing contracts without the delivery team’s input will ultimately lead to a number of issues down the track, including overworked team members, cost write-offs and unhappy customers. (For more on this read our blog posts on recovery rates and avoiding cost overruns.)
Finding a balance between demand and capacity, and choosing projects that are a right fit for the agency is the key, but it’s not an easy task. It requires a holistic process, and close collaboration between the sellers and makers of the agency.
Here are five things you can do to get Sales and Delivery teams working together:
Literally and figuratively! A lot of agencies I worked for had clear physical divisions between Sales and Delivery - we worked in different corners of the office or even in different locations. Make an effort to move the teams closer together so they can get to know each other. If that’s not possible, think about organizing weekly stand-up meetings to bring the teams together to talk about current work, what’s in the pipeline and any issues or possible risks. Like with so many other things, communication is key, so get them talking!
It’s really important to understand everyone's role and to have respect and compassion for the challenges of each other’s jobs. Having Sales and Delivery teams sit in close proximity definitely helps bring awareness to these challenges. In addition, as a sales or project manager, take a few hours out of your busy schedules once in a while and shadow one of your co-workers in the other department. It will help you become familiar with their processes and put your own work into context.
To ensure you have a steady flow of work, use a join system like Runn to track your delivery team’s current and upcoming work and make it visible for everyone to see. This not only helps you figure out time and people constraints for new work, it will also gives you a view on current staffing imbalances, conflicting project priorities and dependencies.
Collaborate closely during pre-contract consulting and planning, and involve the people who will be doing the actual work in putting together proposals and providing estimates. This doesn’t guarantee your estimates will be perfect (they never will be!) but they certainly will be more realistic. In addition, the delivery team will be able to raise any red flags which will help with setting client expectations and drawing up the contract.
Ultimately, professional services agencies need a steady backlog of high quality work. It directly translates into revenue, and the higher and more consistent the team’s billable workload throughout the year, the better. This however, can only be achieved if Sales and Delivery work together - so stop reading this blog and get those teams collaborating!
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