Did you watch the ski world cup in Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago? Try to put yourself in a world-class skier’s shoes and imagine being on the racing track and performing the downhill race. Knowing the racing track is one thing. Knowing that the weather and snow conditions will change while you wait for your turn is another thing. But being able to quickly adjust your decisions, strategies, tactics, actions, and behaviors to the new and changed conditions, and all of that without losing speed – that makes the difference. This is an excellent example of adaptive competencies in action. Now, what has skiing to do with professional selling? A lot.
Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time.
Customer situations, like skiing conditions, are never the same. Customers may be confronted with the same environmental context, but what counts is what it means to them. And that’s always specific. Every customer stakeholder group is different, especially the stakeholders’ different viewpoints on how to approach the situation. The customer’s desired results and wins are also different, every time. That does not mean that there are no clusters and patterns to work with. Of course, there are efficiency and growth challenges, transformational and effectiveness challenges, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are different, but formalized, buying processes. But the characteristics of each specific challenge and the related buying culture are different in each customer situation. And this uniqueness requires adaptive competencies to win business in a scalable way.
Selling approaches have to be relevant, valuable and differentiating – and that requires adaptive competencies
Whatever the methodology is you trained your sales force on, the difference between average and world-class goes beyond execution – it’s about salespeople’s adaptive competencies based on a learning culture. Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations. For sales professionals, that means being fluent in all relevant selling skills and competencies, and being fluent in various knowledge areas (customer and capability knowledge) and their specific area of expertise. Only on such a solid foundation can adaptive competencies be developed and then applied effectively. Only world-class ski athletes can win completely different races such as the Beaver Creek race and then the Kandahar race the following week. And that’s the same in sales with your A-Players.
Building adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching
Every sales force has different and specific challenges, a unique enablement and training history and, therefore, a different point of departure. Whatever your specific situation might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed. This foundation is mandatory. You don’t train a ski athlete on the Beaver Creek racing track before the athlete is a highly skilled and experienced skier.
Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement.
Key learning objectives should include situational awareness (the twin to adaptive competencies), applying principles instead of rules, and creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking.
Adaptive competencies, well applied on a solid foundation in a learning organization, reinforced by coaching, are a key differentiator in today’s complex, constantly changing B2B environment.