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Sellers Need Project Managers, Here’s Why

March 31, 2020 | Katelyn Fossen | No Comments |

In my recent chat with one of our sellers, Josh Wagner opened the conversation by saying he loves project managers, because they’re good at all the things he’s not: planning, organization, meticulous details. (See more on how I got into Project Management and why I love it in our video here.) Beyond personality traits, sellers can benefit from the knowledge project managers have at their fingertips to help them sell more, and therefore make more money.

The Organizational Benefits of Sales and Project Management Alignment

There’s plenty of documented insight (including our very own research) into sales and marketing alignment. But when it comes to the relationship between project managers and sales? Cue the crickets. Thus, we have a great opportunity to fill the gap in awareness about this critical relationship.

The list of benefits for project manager and sales team align starts and ends with its positive impact on your customer experience. When conversations between these two groups devolve into frustrated expectation-setting, or haphazard updates, all parties suffer.  

Understanding Project Managers as People

On behalf of professional project managers around the world, please know, we do more than follow-up with you when you miss a deadline. The function of project management in most organizations (especially in a service-based organization like ours) aims to reduce costs, improve efficiency and generally solve problems that keep anyone on the team from doing their best work.

If you talk to folks who loved working with a project manager, you’ll probably hear sentiments like this:

  • They were the heart of our team.
  • They were the master communicator on our project. I always knew what was going on and what was expected of me.
  • I felt at ease because I knew they’d remove blockers with speed.

Project managers are organized, yes, but we’re looking holistically at a project and the people on the team to determine how to best get things done. We care about our team members and share in their success. If you search traits of successful PMs, you’ll find the majority of those skills are soft-skills, like leadership, team-building, etc.

What Project Managers Can Provide Sales

Now that you understand a little bit more about what drives project managers, let’s consider the value that project managers can provide to sales. 

  • Updates – How’s that onboarding project going? Oh, we just lost our major stakeholder? Sales can use this intel in three ways:
    • Upsell – Perhaps this means there’s an opportunity to sell additional products or services to a new stakeholder
    • Churn Reduction – Most sellers maintain responsibility for existing customers for at least a period of time
    • Net New Logo – That last stakeholder went somewhere right? If they bought from you once, they’ll likely buy from you again. It might even be a way to do your good deed by getting that person a new job, maybe even at a current prospect, who, with a lack of leadership won’t sign the deal? BOOM! You’ve just made a friend for life.
  • Effort estimation – Project managers can guide how much time it takes to service a particular project. If sales wants to have a realistic picture of a project they’re about to close (ahem, make it bigger), their project management team can paint that picture and/or share important lessons they’ve learned from previous projects. 
  • Realistic timing – Project managers excel at giving sellers help setting realistic start dates and understanding average project durations. If you have a relationship with us, we may even be able to prioritize and move urgent client needs forward.
  • Single source of truth – It’s not unusual for there to be numerous cooks in each project kitchen. Project managers provide a central source of truth for what’s going on so all involved parties can get the answers they need efficiently.
  • Developing new & existing business – Beyond providing sellers intel, project managers can also help close deals. They can join calls, knowing what to listen for and speak to their experiences on past initiatives, which can help a hesitant prospect make a decision more quickly with the added perspective and information. 

Tips for Working Together

Even with this deep understanding, challenges are a part of life. Fortunately, most issues are ones that could be prevented, especially if you’re aware of their likelihood. Here are two common breakdowns in the sales and project manager relationship, so you can watch for them: 

Unmet expectations with deliverables. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Someone, not naming names (ahem, you, the seller), promised a deliverable to your customer by a certain date, but didn’t run it by the project manager. When the project manager sees it, they realize there’s no way it can be done in that amount of time. This creates a host of problems. In order for sales to set delivery up for success, it’s important they have early (and frequent) touchpoints with the project management team so unmet expectations can be avoided. 

To resolve: Invite project managers to regularly talk with your sales team. Ask them to communicate project status, yes. But more importantly educate them about the value of relationship building intel. For example, if a client suffered an injury, you can send them a bottle of bourbon to numb the pain. You can do that for your project managers too. We like bourbon. 

Consider starting a short 15 minute sales & project manager scrum once a week to get on the same page.

Confusion about billing terms and special conditions 

By the time a project manager starts working on a project, the contract is already nailed down. If special contract terms exist, sales must communicate these clearly to project managers. For example, if a certain initiative must be completed by a specific date in order to get paid, the project manager must drive the team toward meeting that deadline. The alternative costs companies money and people their jobs.

To resolve: Notify project managers of newly signed contracts and call out these special terms. You can also attend project kickoffs to ensure you reiterate the special terms. Be sure to allow time for project managers (or other team members) to ask questions. And if you really want to make a project manager smile, set yourself a reminder to send a note two weeks or whatever timeframe would make sense reminding them of that special term. Project managers may be more organized generally than sellers, but remember, they like to be a part of a team and a reminder shows you care about their work and goals.

In Conclusion

Where do you stand with project manager and sales alignment? If you’re like most companies, there’s room for improvement. But if you prioritize these conversations, you’ll be setting these departments – and the rest of your business – up for success. 

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