Are you Gambling with your Sales Force? Take Three: How Top Performers Execute Sales Agility

Sales Training Agile Sales Sales Transformation Sales Enablement

In our previous two blogs about gambling, we pointed out parallels between selling and poker. Both involve making the best decisions possible in conditions of uncertainty. Neither selling nor poker are a binary affair, where the next best step is glaringly obvious. Playing poker is subtle. The best poker players evaluate the situation they are facing, including the hand they are holding, and make the best decision given that situation. It doesn’t always work out the way the player wants; however, the best poker players move forward confident in their decisions, knowing that over time the outcomes will be favorable. In this blog, we take a similar approach. We explore the decisions sellers make to navigate the situation they are facing.

What is the Buying Situation Telling You?

We introduced five primary categories of buying factors:

sales agility training

The highest performing sellers seek information about these buying factors to get a more complete picture of the situation they are facing. But it doesn’t stop there. Top sellers then go through a process of making sense of what they’ve learned. They orient the information to form a more holistic picture. Only then, after they have gathered and oriented the information, do they decide the best path forward. For sales training to be effective, it must incorporate assessment of buying factors and how to make sense of them.

Which Pattern of Selling Behavior is Best?

The only reason to analyze a buying situation is to use that insight to make better decisions about how to sell given that situation. This is where the idea of sales methodology becomes both important and problematic. Most sales methodologies available in the marketplace today claim that if you adhere to the methodology, you have a better chance of winning a sale. Top sellers know this is wrong. In fact, according to Forrester Research, top performing sellers never list lack of a formal sales methodology as the tool they need to sell more stuff. Your top performers are the least likely to adopt your one-size-fits-all sales methodology because they know that selling is situational.

The research originally conducted by the Florida State Sales Institute, and further validated by VantagePoint’s ongoing research, indicates that top-performing sellers adapt their sales approach based on the buying situation they face. They display strong sales agility in the way they adapt. Average and low performers use one primary approach regardless of the situation they face. That means that when you deploy your standardized sales methodology across your entire sales force, in effect, you are training your sales force to be average. Ouch!

Top Performers Use Four Sales Strategies, Not One

In multiple studies over time, it has become apparent that top performers display four primary patterns of selling behavior:

  • Consultative: needs based, collaborative buying process.
  • Disruptive: insight based, challenges buyers thinking and assumptions
  • Financial: ROI based, helps buyer build a business case for the purchase
  • Competitive: Product and service focused, buyer is deciding amongst competing alternatives

Which one is best? It depends upon the situation. There are conditions present in a buying situation that make one of these sales strategies preferable over the others at any given point in time. The interesting thing about these four patterns of selling is that they are a synthesis and simplification of the best methodologies available in the marketplace. We have a client that actually said to us “I wish I could pick and choose a bit of this and a bit of that so that I had the right tools in my toolbox.” Well, that’s precisely what the research has revealed. That top performers do exactly that. They pick and choose based on the buying situation they face. They don’t over-engineer their approach. They bring the minimal effective dose of sales tactics that are appropriate for the situation. As the situation changes, the tactics change accordingly.

How Does an Agile Seller Choose Which Sales Strategy to Use?

There are two fundamental answers to this question. The first answer is that in general, certain buying conditions warrant certain selling behaviors. For example, if a seller is facing a group of buyers that have insufficient understanding of the problem they are facing and have a vision of a solution that marginalizes the desired outcome, the best approach would be to disrupt the buyer’s way of thinking. This is a challenge-oriented approach. If a seller is facing a buying team that is early in their buying process, open to dialog and exploration and looking for guidance, then a consultative approach is best. There are conditions that make one approach more favorable than another at any given point in time. That is the fundamental idea of sales agility. Assess the situation, choose the best approach, and execute that approach effectively. Reevaluate. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There is a second choice for those organizations that want a higher level of precision regarding the interplay between buying situations and sales patterns that win. This is where machine learning becomes quite helpful. Over the past three years, VantagePoint has developed a proprietary algorithm – the AgileEdge® – that uses deal level data to accomplish the following four insights for a given organization:

  • The buying factors that provide the best predictor of changes in seller behavior
  • How those buying factors cluster together into unique buying situations
  • The pattern of selling behavior (sales strategy) most likely to lead to a win in each buying situation
  • The level of effectiveness of the sales force to execute the tactics in each of the four sales strategies

This level of precision is possible and extraordinarily helpful in providing guidance for sellers on when to run which sales play. It helps reduce uncertainty and aids in better and faster decision making by helping all sellers elevate their game to better align with buyer preferences and increase win rates. It makes sales training highly relevant, powerful, and actionable. It dramatically improves the effectiveness of sales coaching. Now that is insight you can take the bank.

Any comments are welcome: If interested in further discussions around this topic, contact me at In addition, you can watch our video “How Machine Learning is Changing the Game of B2B Sales”

Read our first “Are You Gambling with Your Sales Force? What Professional Poker Players Have to Teach us About Sales”

Read our second “Are You Gambling with Your Sales force? Sales Agility = Better Decision Making”