Simple Habits for Sales Success: Play Loose

We’ve all seen individuals and teams at the top of their game.  While watching an athlete turn in a dominating performance is great, It is a truly something to marvel when we see the same person or team with seemingly insurmountable challenges, or facing an unexpected turn of events overcome these obstacles and succeed.  The underdog team. The club that loses their star player to an injury.  The person facing a setback coming back better and stronger.

Invariably, success under these conditions is due to a combination of factors: preparedness and “playing loose”.

I was reminded of this when one of my coaching clients focused our discussion on application and execution of technique after one of her sales calls didn’t go as planned.  The meeting was planned with a formal agenda, there was preparation involved for both the prospect and sales person, and the meeting was a critical step in moving a large deal to the next stage.

She expertly worked with the prospect to set expectations for the meeting, where they wanted to be at the end, and so on. She had a prep phone call with the prospect to confirm the agenda. She had clearly defined her “win” for the meeting. She role-played the call with a colleague.  Her materials and leave-behinds were strong, and nicely complemented the discussion she was about to have. She had a clear objective and next actions in mind.

About 15 minutes into the meeting, the prospect suggested a new topic, outside of the original scope. The sales person redirected the discussion back to the original topic but the prospect once again mentioned the seemingly unrelated topic.  The sales person, focused on the goal for the meeting, pulled the meeting back under control, but the prospect was only mildly engaged, and the meeting ended without the deal being advanced.

My coaching client’s questions to me were around ways that she could have done a better job keeping the discussion focused on the agenda and moving the deal towards its objective.  My response was simple:

“Why do you think the prospect brought up the new topic?”

Then, it hit her.  She was so focused on the original goal and ways to achieve it, she didn’t pick up that something might have changed and therefore she couldn’t adapt.  She was so wrapped up in her “game plan”, she didn’t notice that the rules of the game were changing in front of her.

Had she “played loose”, she likely would have picked up on the cue that something else might be going on, and she would have asked about it.

“That’s the second time you mentioned a broad geography.  I’m curious why.”

Instead, she “played tight” as if her and the prospect were actors in a play or partners in a dance routine. When it didn’t go as scripted, she didn’t adjust.

The ability to “play loose” only comes AFTER the basics are mastered. It’s critical to have the basics of the sales craft covered and practiced before “playing loose”. “Playing loose” does not mean “playing sloppy”.  Research on the industry, prospect, and competitors needs to happen.  Discovery of the prospect’s needs and buying practices, how the offering and proposal will be evaluated, etc., and the techniques to uncover these factors are prerequisites for success.

The adept sales professional will be comfortable with these and have made them habits so they are able to adapt when the prospect doesn’t respond as expected or something happens.  Company sales processes that are “procedures” and not frameworks can lead to “playing tight”. These processes are great for getting started and typically cover the basics, but the athlete needs to shift, bob, and weave to adapt to the changing field of play.

The true sales pro will sense the shift, and uncover what is going on, and adapt to a changing field of play.   And, close more deals!