The sales approach to project management

If that is true, project management is no exception.

Here are five reasons why a good project manager is also a great salesperson.

* The customer is always right. You must never lose sight of the fact that you are managing your sponsor’s project money. Any decision that involves a

change to what was promised (budget, resources, schedule and deliverables) needs to be brought to the project sponsor. As a project manager, you present options and make recommendations, but your sponsor makes the decision.

* Under-promise and over-deliver. Think about the last time you took your car into the shop. The mechanic tells you it will likely cost $800 to fix. He then calls and tells you it will only be $500. You are relieved. What would your reaction have been if he had originally estimated $150? Enough said.

* Sell incrementally. Thomas Edison was a magnificent inventor, but he was also a brilliant salesman. When he invented the light bulb, he got his customers to accept it by first installing a single bulb in their front porch areas and then a few weeks later installing a few more bulbs in their parlors. As good as new technology is, people like to ease into change. Three words of advice; pilot, pilot, pilot.

* Customers don’t like surprises. How fond are you of those extra costs that surface when you are in the final moments of buying a new car? How do you feel when they charge you $15 for the 20 litres of gas that is in the gas tank of your new $40,000 car? How impressed is your sponsor when he finds out you have just gone 10 per cent over budget on a project — after the fact? (And, by the way, that is not what we call a project change request — it is a project overrun notice.)

* Understand who your customers are.

Visualize a bull’s-eye. At the centre is your sponsor. The first ring around your bull’s-eye is where your key stakeholders sit. They have skin in the game, because they will be greatly affected by your project’s outcome. Moving to the third ring you will find your project team. They are not only the ones making your project happen, but they are ambassadors and messengers on how your project is succeeding (or not). The next ring contains those who are affected in a smaller way by your project’s outcome. Keep all these groups on your radar, and design your project communication based on their interest in the project. Even those who don’t read status reports will be impressed by the fact you send one every two weeks. Executives will want a one-page summary with indicators, the key issue, the main risk, budget vs. actual and your assessment of how the schedule is going.

My last word is this: take an oath to never report a task or a project as 90 per cent done. That is an insult to anyone who has spent more than a week around projects. Go with zero per cent, 25 per cent, 50 per cent and 100 per cent. You will find yourself motivated to turn those 50 per cent completes to 100 per cent. Happy selling.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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