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What Is Adaptive Selling?

Adaptive selling is a well-researched, behavior-based approach to sales that balances customer personalization with efficiency. Adaptive selling empowers sales teams to tailor their messages and processes to meet the individual needs and preferences of each buyer.

One of the benefits of serving many sales organizations over the last few years is that I’ve had the opportunity to get insights into a lot of our customers and how those teams work. As a sales team grows, you end up on a spectrum of how you structure things and how you try to replicate success and scale effectively.

We typically see sales teams taking one of two trajectories to scale their team: fluid selling or rigid selling.

Adaptive selling is the middle ground between fluid and rigid sales organizations. It’s an approach that’s been around for decades but has been difficult to implement until recently.

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What Is Fluid Selling?

A fluid sales organization is very unstructured. It’s kind of like the Wild West. You give salespeople some rough guidance, but you ultimately become very dependent on the top-performing, most talented reps.

That usually is tough to scale, because those reps have unique insights. They’ve got this almost founder-type DNA, where they just have a feel for things. They can’t really describe what they’re doing in the conversation, but they just know how to demo the product.

Or it could be because of their charisma, where you happen to have some salespeople who are great fits for the product and great on the phone. And that’s also hard to scale, because those are hard things to teach.

Over time, a fluid selling approach creates unpredictable performance, inefficient teams and an inconsistent buyer experience.

What Is Rigid Selling?

The other side of the spectrum is the more rigid sales organization.That’s where you take the approach of saying, “We have a script, we have a process, and we have a list. Just apply the script and the process to the list and scale that up.”

In theory, it always works. “We can just replicate these numbers. If we’ve got 10 reps, why isn’t it going to work when we have 50?” But what ends up happening in reality is, the numbers get way less efficient over time, because you start playing a numbers game.

We all experience this, probably daily, where we get inundated with generic email and LinkedIn messages. When you’re being treated as a number, you feel that. So if you take this approach, you start seeing less responsive, less engaged prospects. Things just don’t work as well, even though you have a script and a process that are well organized. You end up creating this machine that gets less and less efficient over time.

And because of this, you end up seeing a much higher cost of acquisition and low morale among the sales team, because it’s not fun to work in a rigid environment like that.

Why Is Adaptive Selling Important?

Adaptive selling is important because it drives efficiencies from your current sales team without increasing headcount. It’s a way to implement a flexible system at scale. With the appropriate tools, you can bring in a junior sales rep and help them communicate like a senior rep as fast as possible.

With adaptive selling, you are creating a process for people, but that process has the flexibility to adapt to different situations and different buyers. You’re going in with a specific approach, but you’re also equipping reps with insights that allow them to adapt to different buyers and situations, instead of solely relying on their own talent or a rigid script.

It’s a way to implement a flexible system at scale. With appropriate tools, you can bring in a junior rep and help them communicate like a senior rep as fast as possible.

Benefits of Adaptive Selling

Adaptive selling is not the only approach to help your sales team be more effective, but it’s one that can very quickly elevate the communication skills of your reps — resulting in better personalization and increased win rates. It’s not a magic tool that’s going to unlock some trove of customers. That’s not the point. It’s providing your reps with tools so they can think and adapt on the fly, so they’re not reciting the same sales pitch that worked for one customer but is irrelevant for another.

Ultimately, adaptive selling helps sales teams be more flexible communicators, build faster rapport with prospects and convert deals at a higher rate.

Want to learn how to use adaptive selling to scale your sales team? Watch Drew D’Agostino’s full-length video on our Fuel platform.

Sales Team Structure Template

Set your sales org up for success with the templates and frameworks in our free GTM strategy playbook.

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Sales Team Structure Template

Set your sales org up for success with the templates and frameworks in our free GTM strategy playbook.

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