How do you sell a concept to a team and a client as an Agile coach?
Your first step is to stop thinking about it in terms of selling.
Offer. Don’t Sell.
As an agile coach, we don’t have products to sell. We have a strong belief that something will help and we invite the team or client to explore those opportunities.
Selling is trying to get them to actively buy something that you are selling. It is trying to get them to choose you, the tool, the concept, the idea, etc. You’re trying to create a behaviour.
That is a lot of pressure, and it has the potential to burn trust and credibility.
You don’t know and can’t know upfront whether the proposal will work. The complexity of the situation and the multitude of variables involved in every element of your work means that it may well not work regardless of the assurances you provide.
Offering an opportunity to explore a potential solution is an invitation for the team to engage, have a conversation and decide whether it makes sense to run a trial or not.
It is an invitation for them to explore whether this proposal, idea, tool, etc. aligns with what the team are trying to achieve and offers a safe opportunity for experimentation and trial. You aren’t pitching the thing; you are simply recommending one of many potential courses of action.
You need to avoid selling and focus instead on making offers.
You could start by telling the team that you have identified something that you believe could be useful to the team/client and articulate your line or reasoning for the recommendation. Once you have done that, you can facilitate conversations that explore the opportunity.
Ask the team what they think and what their line of reasoning for or against the opportunity may be.
Remember, they are the experts in their field and are better placed to understand the variables that may impact the success of the adoption. They are the people doing the work and are best placed to understand whether the proposed idea or solution is a great fit for the environment.
So, instead of willing them to do something you are instead helping the team consciously and intelligently make the decision that is right for them, in their unique context.
It may or may not include picking up the concept or idea that you believe is helpful, and that is ok, it is your job to present options and help the team offer opportunities, but it doesn’t mean that they need to accept or adopt all of your recommendations.
It takes all the pressure off you.
Your job is not to sell or put your neck on the block for an idea, tool or concept. You are a specialist with great expertise and experience who is helping the team identify potential opportunities and helping them explore whether there is a great fit or not.
You’re taking them out of the binary option of yes or no and helping them to decide whether it is a great offer, best declined or whether there is a counteroffer from someone within the team.
Make small offers. Don’t bet the farm.
Exploring and implementing small bets rather than betting the farm is a foundation of Agile.
Rather than investing years in a project and testing at the very end to see if it works or not, you are working on small items and continuously testing and integrating them into the product.
Making recommendations is much the same thing.
I wouldn’t walk into an environment and recommend an enterprise-level change that is going to cost millions and take years to identify whether it is a success or not.
I am going to work with the team to identify a range of small opportunities that will help the team improve or achieve their goal, and work through a process of experimentation, trial and error to justify whether the hypothesis holds true or not.
When you are making offers to the team, remember to keep these things small and simple.
I don’t even walk into a team environment and recommend that they do scrum. It is often too much for the team to take on and if they aren’t aware of all the benefits, I could be banging my head against a brick wall.
Instead, I would say ‘how about this?’ and offer something small that can be rapidly adopted and integrated into the team environment. It may be that we start with a daily meeting that mirrors the daily scrum or it may be that we set something up that resembles a sprint retrospective.
Something simple yet powerful that demonstrates the advantages of a certain style of working.
The same goes with tools.
I wouldn’t walk into an environment and recommend that we switch from X to Y overnight.
It would make more sense for the team to explore one tool, test the tool, evaluate what the data and evidence suggest, and decide based on that.
Build on the small successes
As you adopt small ideas, concepts, approaches, etc. you can build momentum by adding to what has worked with an improvement, adaptation, or amendment.
If the team have adopted the daily scrum, for example, we might recommend that the team build on that by having a review with customers, product stakeholders and key leaders within the organization.
We invite the team to consider having a monthly review where those customers and stakeholders get to see what has been built, explore how it works, and provide feedback as to whether it is on the right track.
Great, the team have just adopted a sprint review. You may still not be doing scrum, but elements are being adopted and as the team identify the value of these processes and events, it becomes easier to make a recommendation that will be adopted rather than resisted.
If the first tool you recommended is having a significant impact on the team, great, make a recommendation to explore the second tool in the arsenal and have the team experiment with that to identify whether it adds value or detracts from what they are trying to achieve.
Your expertise and experience really begin to shine at this stage.
With each recommendation that is adopted and proves itself to be of value, there is less and less resistance to your recommendations and ideas moving forward. The team are learning to value your opinion and expertise, and each success builds trust within the environment.
By regularly introducing sound, intelligent ideas and concepts to the team you are helping them build momentum and achieve their goals. You are helping them shine and delight customers in the process.
Don’t take the rejection personally and don’t let the success go to your head either.
Stay balanced, and neutral whilst retaining your optimism and enthusiasm for trying new things.
In my opinion, this process beats the concept of selling hands down and you will experience a great deal more success within the team environment by offering and inviting instead.
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