When Sales Reps Need to Call an Audible

Carrie Ward

One of the most fascinating parts of football is watching how “thinking” quarterbacks approach the line of scrimmage. As a NY Giants fan, it’s ingrained in me to dislike Tom Brady. But his mental agility earns him the GOAT title (not the animal, but Greatest of All Time). Tom Brady assesses a defense, the game clock, the field position, and calls the right play for the situation.

Often these plays are audibles. His impressive situational awareness comes from lots of hours on the practice field, studying the playbook, and reviewing game film. 

In the coming days, thousands of sales teams will finalize plans for the annual sales kick off (SKO). These SKO agendas will cover a lot: go-to-market strategies, org structures, comp plans, product announcements. Most will also include the introduction of a new or revised sales process. And just like Brady, reps need great situational awareness to properly execute a sales process. A process rule book is important, but strong situational awareness turns average reps into “thinking” reps that know when to call the audible.

Run the Play …

Standard sales processes can work for up to 60% of all opportunities. And that’s great. A solid sales process can improve pipeline quality, increase close rates, and drive overall productivity gains. We’ve worked with dozens of clients over the past months on new sales processes that will debut at upcoming SKOs. A standard process playbook gets everyone working together to close a successful pursuit.

… But Be Ready to Call the Audible

In a recent study, we found that companies with an adaptive sales process – as opposed to a standard linear sales process – increased close rates by double digits. Reps in this model are more like Brady. They follow the game plan, but are ready to call audibles when needed. They rely on strong situational awareness to pivot toward the right action that moves the deal down the field.

This Fall we partnered with a software sales team on a new sales process that incorporated the principles of insight selling. We stressed the need to lead with insights rather than leading with their product features. We also emphasized the importance of framing the prospect’s business in the right context before the demo and price quote. The mantra was, “Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.” The sales team embraced the new mentality and the new process has already yielded great results. 

However, their small business team often receives calls from prospects just looking for price quotes. Many prospects know the product and the requirements, and they're looking for a quick, transactional experience. In fact, 70% of these buyers want to discuss pricing within the first 5 minutes of the sales conversation. During our project, we worked with the team to identify the situations where various audibles could be used. Many times, the rep can redirect the price-seeker to focus on the value of the product beyond price. Other times, the rep must adapt the process to address price questions directly.

Coaching the Audible

Even great quarterbacks need great coaches. And the same is true in sales. Our research reveals that over 75% of the highest-performing sales teams have sales processes that are actively coached (compared to only 18% of low performing companies). The good news is that we’re seeing an improvement in the quality and quantity of sales coaching.

When it comes to sales process, front-line managers must make sure their reps are executing the fundamentals. But they also need to support smart audibles. Legendary coach Bill Walsh is credited with bringing the concept of sophisticated play calling to the NFL. He solidified the idea that great play calls involve a partnership between the quarterback and the coaching staff. Walsh often commented how great game plans combine two things: 1) solid pre-planning of plays plus 2) in-the-game adaptation based on what the quarterback and the coaches saw unfolding.

To be like the best football coaches, sales managers need to continuously improve their own situational awareness. This includes knowing the variations of the standard sales situations their reps are seeing. It also means on-going reinforcement through active engagement in deals and field time with reps. What’s working with the current sales process? How many audibles are reps calling in an average deal? 

Managers must coach not only the sales process, but how to recognize and react to the exceptions to that process. They must provide training to reps and ensure the process – and audibles -- are part of everyday selling behaviors. 

Scoring More Wins in 2019

Having a standard, yet adaptive sales process is critical to success (yes, that is an oxymoron).  Adapting to the situation with the right play will increase close rates and deal sizes in 2019.

Throughout 2019, look for additional insight on adaptive selling: we’ve studied more than 10,000 deals and are excited to bring you real strategies to win in the modern selling environment. #FutureOfSales 

Contact us to more practical ideas for getting your sales team off to a fast start this quarter.

Carrie Ward

Carrie Ward

Carrie is an experienced consultant specializing in sales analytics, organizational design, and sales process optimization. She is the co-author of The Sales Compensation Handbook as well as numerous sales research studies.