Project Charters: A Key to Making Sales and Marketing Improvements Easier Than You Thought Possible

The thinking and planning tools offered by methodologies such as Six Sigma can be quite helpful to sales and marketing organizations, whether or not they have a company-wide process improvement initiative in place. The Project Charter is a great example of one such tool.

Once people agree that an improvement project needs to be undertaken, leading participants through a Project Charter discussion is an outstanding way to galvanize their support. Usually they learn things they hadn’t realized and find ways to complete the project faster and more easily than they expected.

To work well, a Project Charter should include the following elements:

What is the Project Title?

The project title should communicate the purpose and expected benefit of the project. This becomes more important as the number of different projects increase. The project leader should not overlook the opportunity to get the team to discuss and agree on the project title. While it may be an easy discussion, it also serves as a first “stepping stone” of a sound undertaking.

Who are the Project’s Leaders and Participants?

The leaders’ jobs are to establish the charter, lead the team and keep the project on track, and report on its progress. As in any organization, this should be someone who is best suited to drive results with this project. Participants should include a cross-section of individuals who have interests and skills that will be useful to the team.

What is the Problem Statement?

Salespeople especially can be impatient with the painstaking work necessary for implementing improvement projects. The problem statement is the first point at which this clash of instincts may arise. It is not that salespeople don’t understand or don’t care about the problem. It is because they are often so close to the problem that they think they understand it better than they do. Like anyone else who is close to a problem, they can be a captive of their own assumptions.

The problem statement allows the team to clearly define the exact nature of the problem and ensure they are clear on its importance. Simply by articulating the problem out loud people begin to realize their thoughts might not have been as clear as they assumed. They become aware of vague language or unwarranted assumptions. Only precise language enables them to put a stake in the ground about the importance of the problem, what it is, and what it is not.

For example, a team could begin with a problem of “not enough qualified leads,” believing this is obvious and defined sufficiently. However, with further digging they may realize the problem looks more like this:

Not enough qualified opportunities are being generated

  • The process for generating opportunities from inquiries is not clear or repeatable.
  • Our qualification tools do not work together.
  • We are leaking leads from the database.

We have no idea what to improve, because we do not know what we are doing now.

The people in the call center, who qualify initial inquiries, do not understand their role.

  • They do not understand when, how, and why to pass on a lead to sales.
  • They do not know how to judge whether prospects are a fit.

We need a means of identifying when the customer is ready to engage with our sales team in a buying process.

This problem statement requires the team to distinguish between terms such as “leads” and “opportunities” and to precisely define terms such as “qualified.” It requires them to specify the undesirable result, and to provide evidence for it. It helps people to articulate the underlying causes of the problem, which helps clarify how the problem needs to be addressed. Such a discussion may require an hour or more of focused discussion, which elevates the team to a common ground for getting something done.

What is the Project Objective?

With the problem statement in hand, the team is ready to define the project objective. The project objective transitions from a precise definition of the problem to a clear statement of what the team intends to do about it. It also includes a clear statement of what internal measure(s) will improve as a result of this project.

In the example above, the project objective could be:

To develop a repeatable, consistent process to move someone from being an inquiry to being a qualified opportunity

The measures to be improved could be:

Number of opportunities qualified (by sales) per time period should go up in relation to the current level.

Actually measuring this would obviously require some baseline data such as the number of inquiries and qualified opportunities that have been produced in recent time periods. Answering this question enables the team to begin taking those measurements and to assess the value of causing the desired improvements. Both are critical insights if a project is to be successful and relevant to the business.

What is the Scope of the Project?

This refers to the specific part of the process to be addressed and is particularly important when multiple projects are taking place simultaneously. The question to be answered is, “Where exactly in our process does this project begin and where does it end?” In the example above, the answer might be:

“From the first time someone inquires/downloads and gives us a valid name phone number” to   “When a sales rep converts a lead to a qualified opportunity.”

It can be easy for projects to overlap or overlook important elements, especially in complex organizations with multiple projects operating simultaneously. Precise language regarding project scope helps avoid this problem.

Critical to Value

This section of the Project Charter for sales and marketing is analogous to the concept of Critical to Quality (CTQ) in manufacturing or product development environments. CTQs are what the customer expects of a product–the specified needs of the customer. In manufacturing environments these must be converted to measurable requirements (specifications) of the product or service. This specification is the linkage between what the customer wants and the language we need to produce the product correctly.

In sales and marketing environments, the concept is still valid, but there is no specification for what a customer values. Instead, we can only observe whether or not the customer takes the actions we desire.

A crucial concept underlying sales process improvement is that customers will act if our process creates value for them. What they value can be understood in terms of their context–their goals and problems and their strategies and tactics for solving them–also known as the “Buyer’s (or customer’s) Journey.

Therefore, the Project Charter must spell out the value customers will derive from the improvement. Thus the first question that must be answered is, “In what way will solving this problem be critical to value (CTV) for the customer?” In our example the answer is,

“Having a repeatable, consistent process to move someone from an inquiry to a qualified opportunity will”:

• Help prevent those who do not need what we do from wasting their time
• Help more of those who actually need what we do to find us
• Generate confidence that they can trust us (we understand their needs, and we won’t waste their time)
• Help people learn what they want to learn quicker and faster

The second question is, “How will we be able to measure the impact on customers?” For this example, the answer was:

• More opt-ins, because we clearly communicate the value
• Fewer opt-outs, because we deliver what we promised
• Greater number of people engaging with us through the process
• Greater number of attendees at webinars
• Warm/nurture list (people who are interested in buying in the future) should grow

Definition of the Defect

The defect is the concrete, observable error or issue that needs to be corrected. The discussion necessary to define it forces all team members to agree on the specific problem to be corrected. Although the conclusion is often quite simple, getting to this point isn’t. For our example, the answer to this question is:

“When someone downloads our software, we are not handling the interaction effectively.”

It is also important to establish how much potential there is to improve the defect. This provides an indication of the value that will result from creating the improvement.

Project Milestones

As with any project, it is essential to establish milestones for accomplishing the project. One simple method is to capture WHAT needs to happen, WHO will be responsible for doing it, and WHEN it is to be completed. Once project teams have reached this point, the path is usually much clearer than it would have been without the steps of a Project Charter.

The Project Charter described here led the team to develop their first real process for lead qualification, which included a script for call center agents and qualification criteria they could use to score them. The result was not only an increase in the quantity and quality of qualified opportunities, but a means of measuring their production as well.

In fact, answering these simple, logical questions has untangled many a mare’s nest and led to simple ways to generate large gains in revenue as well as sales and marketing productivity.

David Lynn and Michael J. Webb
September 4, 2007

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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