This week’s contributor, Hamish Knox, is the president of an authorized Sandler Training® center located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a valued partner of The Devine Group for nearly 7 years. As a licensed member of the global Sandler® network, Hamish works with business owners and chief executives who are serious about creating sustainable sales cultures.

George Carlin once said, “It’s the context that makes them good or bad.” He was talking about words, but he could have been talking about salespeople.

Successful salespeople read the context of their situation (association luncheon, meeting with an upset client, presentation for high value prospect) and adapt their behavior accordingly instead of following a predefined script. Attempting to assess your current salespeoples’ adaptability through observation in the field may produce some data, but it will be colored by your opinion of each rep and the probability that they are on “best behavior” because their leader is with them.

What our clients appreciate about the Devine Inventory® assessment is they get a clearer picture of their salespeoples’ individual behavioral preferences so they can effectively coach and train them to adopt behaviors that are more beneficial. When determining a salesperson’s flexibility to adapt, we find these six competencies from one of The Devine Group’s sales assessments give us the clearest picture.

These following four competencies have a positive correlation with flexibility; the higher a salesperson’s preference for the behaviors that drive each competency, the more likely they are to be flexible.

  • Reading the Situation – before adapting behavior, a salesperson must be effective at accurately assessing their situation.
  • No Need for Approval – if a salesperson seeks to get their emotional needs met more than have a successful business interaction, they’ll be less likely to adapt their behavior if doing so may result in disapproval from the other party in their interaction (networking event, cold call, discovery meeting, etc.)
  • Emotionally Objective –remaining emotionally unattached to an outcome (e.g. a closed sale) creates more flexibility in a salesperson’s behavior
  • Self-Awareness – salespeople tend to be “I-centered” instead of “other focused” meaning they tend to talk about themselves and their products/services instead of seeking to understand their prospect’s world. A greater preference for self-awareness indicates that a salesperson can adapt their behavior to be “other focused.”

The next two competencies have a negative correlation with being flexible. That is the higher a salesperson’s preference for the behaviors that drive each competency the less likely they are to be flexible.

  • Relationship Focus – if a salesperson’s focus is to “preserve a relationship” (which may only exist in their head) instead of having a successful business interaction, they are less likely to adapt their behavior. Relationships are important to success in sales, but not at the cost of a salesperson’s time and information.
  • Accepts Rules and Direction –The preference for “accepts rules and direction” is agnostic to who is providing the rules and direction as long as the salesperson views them as being in a position of authority. This can includes the prospect and often is counterproductive to the sales process (e.g. providing a quote without properly qualifying).

Two caveats.

  1. Looking at one of the above competencies in isolation to assess a salesperson’s ability to adapt their behavior to a specific context is a bad idea. It will cause a skewed opinion of that salesperson.
  2. A salesperson who is not compliant with all six doesn’t mean they aren’t able to adapt their behavior at all. There are degrees of adaptability.

Fortunately for salespeople and sales leaders humans are trainable. With objective data, a development plan based on that data and a commitment from you and each salesperson on your team to develop their flexibility adapting their behavior to different contexts will burn less mental calories and they’ll have better business conversations.


Hamish Knox (@sandlerhamish) is a Sandler trainer in Calgary, Alberta Canada.