What is Project Management?

(and why does it matter for salespeople?)

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Fewer than a third of all projects were finished on time & within budget in 2013

    (source: Standish Group)

That's a pretty shocking stat, isn't it, when you think about how much project budgets are (if companies have them - and I've worked with organisations who have no fixed project budgets at all) and what can be at stake if deadlines are missed. Missed deadlines don't just mean an irritated boss and a few extra pounds (euros, dollars...) on tying up loose ends - if you have a lot depending on a project, or if you're in a competitive situation, it can mean huge costs in terms of hours, consultant's fees, and lost sales. Perhaps another shocking statistic is that 51% of organisations have no project management training in place (source: PM Solutions)

Faced with stats like these, you could be fooled into thinking that project management isn't important, especially if you're not a PM anyway. Let's take a look at what project management is, and why it's vital to people in any role...

Project Management definition

At Navanter, we say that:

Project Management is the process of breaking a unique task down into manageable chunks through planning and monitoring, in order to achieve the task within time and budget, and to the original scope +/- any agreed changes.

There are other, more in-depth definitions out there for people whose job it is to manage huge engineering, IT or construction projects, but for most of us, this is a good, uncomplicated definition.

Why is Project Management important in sales?

Whilst it's shocking that so many organisations have no PM training in place, we need to remember that most of the training that is happening, is for project managers themselves. And in most organisations, the non-PMs get no PM training at all. And that's a problem, because one of the biggest areas of conflict in business, is between sales and delivery departments. I've worked with these two areas of businesses for most of my career, and the same complaints come back again and again...

The salespeople always over-sell - this can't be delivered as sold! The salespeople have no idea what it takes to deliver on their promises!- project manager

Our delivery team doesn't care about customers at all - they don't seem to realise that if we don't sell things, we won't make any money!- salesperson

At Navanter, we passionately believe that salespeople benefit from the organisational skills that project management brings, and that PMs benefit from the communication and questioning skills which come naturally to salespeople. In fact, a growing but significant minority of our work is cross-functional between these two areas, and people leave the training room with increased empathy and a shared desire to succeed for the customer, in the interest of future repeat business and strong client/vendor relationships.

In today's competitive world, it's no longer acceptable to sell something which is delivered late or over budget, or not to the agreed scope. Nor is it acceptable for customers to have to wait beyond what are, in fact, unrealistic time-scales. Trust is built by the reliability and dependability which comes from a connected organisation where sales and delivery are singing from the same hymn sheet.

The 3 main components of project management

The most immediate benefit for salespeople when learning project skills come from three areas:

  • Planning skills
  • Risk management skills
  • Communication skills
Let's take a look at each of these...

Planning skills

Probably the thing that most salespeople are worst at, planning skills are at the heart of project management. The ability to see the end goal and break this down into smaller chunks in order to achieve it more predictably and efficiency is vital to any project manager. It's said that if the project is planned well enough, it will run itself. Of course, that's not quite true, because surprises happen (see Risk Management, below) but if you know what you want to achieve and how you're going to do it, you can provide numerous benefits to your customers:

  • Accurate pricing (so you maintain a healthy profit margin)
  • A realistic deadline (so they get what they want, when they expect to get it)
  • Quick-and-easy status updates (so clients are informed of progress and see you as a reliable organisation)
  • An understanding of what's required to deliver what you've sold (so there's less internal conflict)

Risk Management skills

Hand-in-hand with good planning skills comes risk awareness. How many times do salespeople plan to do something just in the nick of time, only to find that something unexpected happens? And if you cut your deadlines close enough, it doesn't take much to throw things off-track. Risk Management is about taking time out (perhaps with others) to consider what unexpected elements there are in your tasks and to plan to either prevent them happening, reduce their impact if they do, or build contingency into the plan to allow for these things to possibly take place.

Communication skills

This third component of good project management is the area which salespeople should already be highly skilled at, because it's what's done on a daily basis with customers. Feedback from PMs in our PM/sales workshops is that this is the area PMs most need to improve on - particularly the questioning techniques which salespeople employ to get to the heart of what the client is trying to achieve. In fact, the PMI found that 43% of project managers felt that poor communication skills was a major cause of project failure.


So there you go - you now know what project management is, and why project skills are so important to salespeople. Bringing the skills of PMs to salespeople and vice versa leads to better team-work, more connected organisations, and a better customer experience. And of course, some of the biggest sales that happen are projects in their own right, which need to be planned, risk-assessed and communicated throughout customer organisations.

If this has resonated with you and you’d like to learn more about how we can help your sales and delivery teams to come together, get in touch today for a consultation.

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