“Agile” Is the New Buzzword. What Does it Mean for Sales Training and Coaching?

This article originally appeared here in the Training Industry blog.

The Case for Sales Agility

If you’ve spent much time around a sales force recently, you’ve probably heard a new buzzword: agile. Agile selling is a concept that says that salespeople need to adapt their sales approach to meet their customers’ needs. Those needs can be defined in a variety of ways, but the goal of sales agility remains the same: to make salespeople capable of adapting their sales process to each buying process.

At its core, it’s almost impossible to argue against sales agility. Of course, sellers should sell differently in different situations. No football team would run the same play over and over, regardless of the defense. No golfer would use the same club to hit every shot, regardless of the distance to the hole. No surgeon would use the same surgical instrument, regardless of the procedure. So, why should salespeople sell the same way in the face different buyer needs?

Our research shows that top salespeople, in fact, do use a variety of sales approaches, depending on the situations they encounter. More specifically, they predominantly use four common approaches:

  • Consultative: The seller seeks to understand the buyer’s problems and solve them with the appropriate solution.
  • Disruptive: The seller challenges the buyer’s thinking and redirects his or her buying criteria.
  • Value: The seller demonstrates the cost-benefit advantages of purchasing a product.
  • Product: The seller educates the buyers on the features, functions and benefits of a particular offering.

We’ve discovered that poorly performing salespeople adhere to none of these approaches – they “wing it.” Average performers consistently follow one of the approaches, never varying their sales approach. And top performers use at least two of the approaches – satisfying the buying needs of more customers.

The Case for Better Sales Training

Despite the seemingly obvious need for sales agility, traditional sales training has followed a much different strategy: Select a single sales methodology, and deploy it relentlessly. Then, five or seven years down the road, select a new sales methodology to replace the first, and then deploy it relentlessly. Repeat as needed.

Does your organization follow this approach? Are half of salespeople failing to reach their quotas? If so, research says that this is not a coincidence.

It’s time for a new goal for sales training. Rather than enabling the consistent execution of a single sales process, we need to enable sales agility. Salespeople need help doing what the best sellers do intuitively: Adapt their sales approach to each buying situation. We must build more sophisticated sales forces that can dance to the tune that every buyer hums.

But Wait…

You may have concluded this new training mission could complicate matters. If organizations can’t get sellers to consistently follow one sales process, how could they follow four, or three, or even two? Fret not. Defining the common situations salespeople encounter and then matching them with an appropriate sales approach is not much harder than deploying a single process. In fact, it’s somewhat easier.

When a sales training program reverse-engineers actual buying scenarios, it immediately resonates with sellers. When it acknowledges that there’s no single best way to sell, it resonates with sellers. When it demonstrates tactical responses to specific buying cues, it resonates with sellers.

In essence, an agile sales approach is relatively easy to deploy, because it fits with reality. It doesn’t force a single sales process onto buying situations where it might apply only 25 percent of the time. It aligns selling efforts with the salesperson’s natural flow. It just makes sense.

The Proof Is in the Numbers.

In our experience, companies that have replaced their rigid sales process with a more agile approach average a 24-percent increase in their deal win rates. They are more attuned to buyer needs, and they are better able to meet those needs with appropriate sales tactics.

It’s time to rethink the way we prepare our salespeople to succeed. Let’s leave behind a century’s worth of simplistic sales methodologies and embrace sales agility. It’s a buzzword worth hearing.