Enabling Principles To Develop Salespeople’s Adaptive Skills

Let me start by defining a couple of terms that I’ll be using throughout this article.

Principles provide guidance that are based on an organization’s core values how to deal with different customer situations. Principles require interpretation and adaption to the specific situation. Instead, rules are clearly defined statements with almost no space for interpretation. Rules define what and how to do in a certain sequence, given a defined situation.

Demanding, complex buyer networks require adaptive sales professionals

Today’s customers are very demanding and more risk averse than the customer from a few years ago. The number of involved customer stakeholders is growing, and buying processes are more formalized than ever. Decisions are no longer based on features and functions but on financial business performance criteria. Furthermore, every customer makes every decision differently, every time, which makes every sale different. Sales professionals have to learn, unlearn and relearn very quickly due to those changing buying environments. That covers all areas of knowledge, selling and problem solving capabilities. Therefore, an adaptive mind set is the prerequisite to remain successful even in complex environments.

Navigating complexity – principles are key to success

When embedded in a framework, principles, defined as guidelines (see above), and based on core values, such as providing perspectives, can be easily adjusted to those different and complex situations. Rules wouldn’t be flexible enough for complex environments. A customer’s journey has iterations, especially in the early phases. The more customer stakeholders learn, and the more new stakeholders get involved with different concepts, the more likely they will step back and tackle the challenge again from a different perspective. Ideally, a sales professional has provided a more value-creating perspective and caused such iteration. The flexibility of principles combined with the ability of the sales professional to apply those principles fast to new situations is an A-Player’s recipe for success.

Enabling Principles

Sales principles are focused to create a specific value for customers to help them achieve their goals. In parallel, they help to move deals forward. Sales enablement has to define those principles how to achieve each stage of the customer’s journey, derived from the sales methodology. As an example, the principle for the awareness phase could be to develop a shared vision of the customer’s desired future state to drive their desired results. There are multiple ways achieve such a shared future vision of success. But the success depends on the customer’s specific context, the stakeholder’s different concepts, and the sales professionals’ decision dynamic expertise and their adaptive capabilities to adopt principles to a specific situation fast and effectively.

Sales enablement has to build frameworks with enablement modules addressing those principles. Design point as always is: customers at the core.

  • Level one is the knowledge foundation. It covers packaging content modules stage per stage in interactive and dynamic playbooks. And it teaches how to use them effectively.
  • Level two is the skill foundation, it’s about all relevant selling capabilities, mostly provided as training services.
  • Level three makes the difference. It’s about training the sales professional’s adaptive capabilities based on the provided knowledge and methods. Training to create impact has to be an ongoing, consistent practice to achieve world-class performance. It has to be reinforced with a connected coaching practice by the front line sales managers.

Level three training – “selling simulation” would be the better word – is about practicing business awareness in different conversations with different stakeholders at different stages in different situations, but in a safe environment.

Enabling and sharpening adaptive skills is the missing piece in sales enablement that equips sales professionals to play in the Premier League, to deliver significant results in today’s complex and fast changing buying environments.

How do you equip your sales professionals’ adaptive skills?


  1. I find it paradoxical that you include Sales ‘playbooks’,
    by definition they are self limiting.
    Yet, you promote principle based ‘adaptive’ selling.
    By definition throwing the ‘play book’ away.

    I agree with the importance of Sales “simulations” in preparing Salespeople for selling. However, ‘simulation’ use is becoming too contrived, and script based in many Corporates. Where salespeople are taught to listen for ‘key’ phrases.
    Or, adopt a specific phrase for a particular Buyer ‘type’.

    Having sold in the IT and Telco arena for 30 years, I can assure that decisions were always Financial, and ‘functionality’ had always to be related to Financial pay-off,
    the much misused expression “Value”.

    I did not think much of Dan Pink’s patchwork quilt of ‘ideas’ on selling.
    However, he was dead right when praising “Improvisation”
    as the KEY to adaptive selling.

    Sales “improvisation” is, in fact, Interactive Competence,
    which is based on a broad competence in interactive skills.
    It’s what we say,
    how we say it,
    when we say it
    and to who we say it to,
    all of which determine our Sales success.

    • It depends on the definition of playbooks. For me, that’s always a very interactive, dynamic principle-based framework, linked to other resources, that covers stages by stage of the customer’s journey. I never perceived a playbook as a static, scripted tool. But that’s another topic for another blog post, which I won’t write.

      I like the term “improvisation”, as a results of adaptive skill sets as you described it. However, the term is often perceived in a negative way (not knowing what to do, but doing something). And that’s not what it should be.


  1. What Excellence And Buying Have In Common | Sales Enablement Perspectives - [...] an attitude and a level of ambition first. Excellence in complex sales requires a certain level of adaptive competencies…

Submit a Comment