What Sales Teams Can Learn From Lean Startups

“Lean startups” follow a business strategy with a core goal of using constant, validated learning to build and test products, and ultimately get those products to market as quickly as possible. 

What does that look like?

If you’re a product developer, your client or product manager probably has a huge wishlist of features that she’d like to see in the app. But as the best developers in the business know, if you add all the bells and whistles, you’ll end up with a bloated and expensive product that won’t genuinely speak to the needs of its users.

Instead, good software engineers focus on building the Minimum Viable Product—a product that focuses on building a simple solution for its users, with the minimum number of features it needs to satisfy their demands.

This is the “lean startup” approach, and, while often applied to product design, it’s equally valid when it comes to sales training. Here’s what your sales team can learn from agile software development:

Understand your market first.

Good product developers spend time on customer research and validating ideas prior to building a product to appeal to them. Likewise, good sales teams must take the time to understand who their market is, and what pain points they’ll be able to solve with your company’s solution. This is about more than memorizing pages of scripts; it’s about gaining a genuine understanding of who your prospects are and being able to use that knowledge to develop effective strategies to help them solve their problems.

Learn on the job.

Product developers don’t spend months learning every programming language out there in order to build an app. Instead, they focus solely on making sure they understand the technologies that will be relevant for this particular project, learning much of their knowledge on the job. Your sales team should follow that model, as well: Instead of spending weeks in training sessions to dive into detail on obscure product details, your team should hit the ground running after getting a brief overview of your solution, and then rely on just-in-time mobile content to fill in the knowledge gaps as they come up.

Be agile.

Product developers often participate in “sprints,” which are generally two weeks in length, in order to keep projects moving forward. At the end of each sprint, the entire product team can review what was accomplished, and can change expectations and future deliverables based on their consensus at the time. Sales reps should also learn to be flexible; if a prospect expresses interest in one particular feature, even if it wasn’t in the standard sales pitch, your rep should learn how to move the sales conversation forward in the direction the prospect wants to go, and customize the pitch to focus on the prospect’s concerns. It will be essential for your reps to have access to in-depth product information that they can draw from right at the point of need, so that they can easily shift their messaging in order to suit their prospects’ changing needs.

Be quick to launch.

Product developers know that they’re likely to lose out on business if they waste too much time trying to get their product exactly the way they want it. The same is true of sales teams: Your competitors are also vying for a meeting with the same prospects, so it’s essential to make sure that your sales reps can get ramped up to speed within days—not weeks or months—of joining your company. That means you can’t keep them sequestered in a training room for weeks at a time. It’s important to send them out into the field quickly, armed with mobile content that they can use to gather the information they need on the fly.

When sales teams follow a “lean startup” approach, they can thrive by adapting their pitches to their prospects’ needs and desires effortlessly, without the burden of spending weeks memorizing scripts or participating in week-long training seminars. With a mobile-based content platform that enables them to seek out relevant information exactly when they need it, they can keep their pitches lightweight and flexible enough to appeal to any prospect they meet.

Agility isn’t just for software—when your sales team has the right tools at hand to adapt to any situation, they’ll be able to win business from their bloated and overly scripted competitors. Don’t waste time and money on prepping your sales team for every possible scenario. Give them the right tools, and they’ll get the job done. (Steve Jobs would be proud.)