The sales to operations handoff can be tricky. In fact, diagrams that explain the modern B2B buying experience have so many ups and downs and twists and turns they make the most famous rollercoasters look like a simple line. Research from Gartner explains that much of the complexity for B2B sellers is a reflection of what potential clients see when they look in the mirror. Organizations are complex and need to have complete trust in themselves about what they’re doing.
Professional services organizations (PSO) often get caught in the middle. On one hand, yes, sales cycles are complex. The process can take anywhere between 6-12 months (or more) from start to finish and typically involves anywhere between 10-15 people with various levels of decision-making power. As a result, business consultants and implementation team members get pulled in many different directions along the way. They often have to figure out some answers to key questions such as who’s needs are most important? Which problem(s) need to be solved today, tomorrow, and later? How much end-user training is needed?
On the other hand, the sales process uncovers a lot of information. Now, this information may not change much from initial discovery and qualification to submitting an official proposal. However, entirely new information can surface at any point. This information may get passed around between the sales team and customer or from the sales team to the PSO team. If the information isn’t properly documented or if it hasn’t made its way to everyone, projects can take longer to get started, which may cause overruns. Worse yet, clients receive a poor impression of your PSO from the start of the project engagement.
5 Tips to Manage the Sales to Operations Handoff Easier
So, how can you ensure that the handoff from sales to your operations team for client delivery is smooth as possible? Let’s look at five suggestions.
1. Use Automation for Proposals
A clear proposal helps the project team know what has been promised to the client. Any constraints or expectations are set out before the project even starts. The project manager can have an informed and professional conversation with the client, who doesn’t feel as if they are providing the same information all over again.
This is all possible with proposal automation. Proposal automation is where your PSO has a library of curated content specifically for commonly-asked RFP questions. As proposals are received with new questions, you update the library. The end result is a constantly improving knowledge repository, with responses that can be copied and pasted to provide a proposal document. Then, depending on the nature of the project and the customer, those answers can be refined as necessary to provide exactly the information the client is asking for.
Finally, proposal automation ensures that the finished document is stepped through a workflow process to secure the necessary checks and approvals before it is issued to the client.
2. Use Workflows
Automating the workflow and making all aspects of the work to date transparent are ways of making the handover from sales to project that little bit easier. The end of the proposal automation process is a decision: either to proceed with the project or to record it as an unsuccessful bid.
Once a proposal is accepted by the client, relevant information can be pre-populated into the project management system to save the project team a job. As a project manager, you have everything you need to get started at your fingertips: details of key contacts, and outline of what is expected and what needs to be delivered, within any appropriate constraints or guidelines. The decision to proceed is effectively the mandate the project manager needs to get started, so pushing a proposal through a workflow reduces the time it takes to get to work.
3. Encourage Collaboration
Ideally, the project manager should be involved with the proposal and have the opportunity to meet with the client if that is part of the process. The more the project manager knows about the project before the work “officially” starts, the easier it will be to make an efficient start. This might not be possible, given the workload of project managers and the other initiatives they may be working on. However, the more focus you can put on cross-team collaboration, the better it is. Project managers will have some good ideas about how best to deliver the work, and will probably need to provide details around the types of resources required for the project or the timelines.
You could make these “transactional” moments, where the sales team asks a question and the project manager pings back a response. But it’s more effective to try to create genuine collaboration between the sales and project teams, and a discussion that lasts beyond the moment of this particular pitch. Try to build relationships between the sales and project teams over time. It’s a long term commitment but it pays off because the handovers will be smoother, and the proposals will be more robust.
You can start the conversation going between the teams with very simple steps. For example, once a quarter invite the sales team to present to the project managers, and vice versa. Socialize as a business across teams. Create opportunities for networking – virtually or in person – across the organization so that people get to know each other. All of these little interactions will make the handover process more reliable and faster.
4. Start Your Project With The Information You Need
Project teams are used to working in a changing environment, often without all the information they really need to make decisions. Many client engagements evolve over time, even for fixed price contracts, and PSOs need to be flexible to deal with that.
However, it is far easier to at least get a core set of information at the start of any project. That is likely to be different for different organizations. You might need to always capture certain information about the size of the client’s company, for example, whereas another PSO carrying out different engagements may be more interested in staff engagement or organizational culture. Whatever the key points are for you, try to include capturing them in the sales process. If you already do have relevant information on hand, make sure it is included in the handover process.
5. Make Knowledge Management Part of the Process
The sales team should pass on everything they have captured about the client organization. It may help to prepare this in a structured way, perhaps as part of the output of the process for a successful RFP. Build up your organizational knowledge by updating your knowledge management system with your latest intelligence.
Sharing information across the organization makes it easier for project teams to pick up the work and run with it. Equally, information gleaned during the sales process might be incredibly useful for other teams preparing other proposals. Handovers are more successful when the process is automated.
For more information on whether proposal automation is right for you, download our white paper on the five signs your organization needs to automate your RFP process.