Managing Healthy Tension Between Consistency and Flexibility With Your Sales Team

June 21, 2018

As a sales leader, you have to make a choice each and every day. Do you control your sales process to the point of scripting out calls and messaging word for word, or do you let your sales professionals express their individuality and give them complete flexibility?

Most sales leaders would say that neither of those options is the right one. If you control too much of the sales process by scripting every possible move, you turn your sales professionals into robots. And that creates a bad experience for the buyer and seller. But if you give your team too much flexibility, you end up with inconsistent results.

Both consistency (control) and flexibility (independence) are required to succeed in sales. Too much of one and not enough of the other leads to missed targets. As a sales leader, one of the biggest responsibilities you have is to manage the right level of tension between the two ends of the spectrum. We’ll borrow some concepts from a management philosophy called “Polarity Management,” which is designed to help you navigate seemingly unsolvable challenges.

Flexibility vs Consistency

What’s important to understand is that you’re not looking for balance. The term balance implies that consistency and flexibility should be equally weighted. That’s almost never the case. Your market, product, and team may demand more of one versus the other. It’s your job as a leader to assess where you should be on the spectrum and then adjust. And keep in mind that markets aren’t static. You should adjust your approach every quarter based on results.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of consistency and flexibility. And be on the lookout for the next article in this series as we provide a framework for how to achieve the right level of tension. You won’t have to dictate the sales process word-for-word. And you won’t have to give your team license to do whatever they want. We believe you should give your reps ‘freedom within your framework’, as one of our customers has appropriately named it.

Consistency: The Pros & Cons In the Sales Process

Pros: Sales teams with a consistent process give buyers the impression that your company is professional and well run. If a potential customer thinks you’re making it up on the fly, they lose confidence in you. When your sales professionals follow the same process and speak the same language, it elevates the whole company. A consistent process makes it easier to forecast, identify what’s working, and coach your team. It’s also easier to add new team members because new hires know what to do to succeed on day one.

Cons: On the other hand, sales professionals are ‘professionals’ because they developed a skill set. Good sales people understand how to build relationships with buyers so they can solve problems together. To do that, they need the flexibility to tailor each conversation to the buyer. Without the flexibility to adapt, sales professionals can feel as if they’re a cog in a machine. For many sales people, that’s last thing they want. More importantly, being too prescriptive can cost you sales. While most buying decisions have the same core elements, the path to get there isn’t always the same. If you can’t make even small adjustments to your process to help the buyer make a better decision, you’ll unnecessarily lose quality deals.

Flexibility: The Pros & Cons In the Sales Process

Pros: Flexibility is about making room for individual judgement and selling style. With flexibility, sales professionals can read a prospective customer’s emotion and can pivot a conversation if it’s not going as well as it should. Flexibility allows a sales professional to feel valued, empowered, and supported in her role. It makes room for humans to do what they do best and that’s relate to another person.

Cons: While sales professionals may enjoy the extra flexibility in their roles, it can make sales leaders uneasy. With loose reins on the sales process, it’s much harder (if not impossible) for sales leaders to properly forecast or even set accurate quota targets. It’s also much more difficult to coach reps on how to improve the sales process or how to articulate certain messaging points when each team member has their own way of selling; their own version of messaging, objection handling, and even how and when to share customer success stories. Handing over the reigns of the sales process is enough to make most sales leaders very uncomfortable – and for good reason.

Managing a Healthy Tension Between Consistency and Flexibility

They are both the “right” approach to sales even though they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. That can make choosing a strategy seem difficult. What we tend to see is sales leaders swing back-and-forth like a pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other. It happens because they experience the downside of one end and then overcorrect.

The right approach is to manage the tension between both ends of the spectrum in a way that lets you access the benefits of each approach. The goal is to create a framework for success that allows sales professionals to use their natural abilities to find success within those guidelines (or playbooks, as we like to call them).

There is no magic formula for achieving a healthy tension between consistency and flexibility in the sales process – it depends on a number of factors:

  • The industry
  • The audience
  • The typical (or ideal) deal size
  • The sales cycle length
  • The size of the team
  • The complexity of the solution
  • And even regulations and compliance

Because each organization is different, as the sales leader, it’s your responsibility to exercise agile sales as a methodology and to constantly guide, measure, and improve your sales process to determine what that tension looks like for you and your team.

The Power of ‘Freedom Within a Framework’

The VP of Sales at Sigstr, Kevin Vanes, likes to refer to the way he manages the tension as ‘Freedom Within a Framework’. Kevin and his team live out the practice of sales agility on a regular basis. Kevin is constantly tuned in to metrics and data to understand the root of what’s working and what needs improvement. Sigstr’s ability to be agile has allowed sales professionals to select the decided upon next step while on the prospect call (flexibility), then continue to use the designated Costello template to stay on message (consistency).

For Kevin, ‘Freedom Within a Framework’ means that although he is operationally-driven, he intentionally puts up guardrails that allow his sales professionals to operate freely and successfully within boundaries. Each Sigstr team member brings something unique and meaningful to the table, so it’s important to Kevin that they are able to flourish in their own way while taking some creative liberties – so long as their freedom remains within the designated framework.

Kevin and his team are just one example of how sales teams that achieve this kind of positive tension can excel at all levels – both individually and as an organization. By achieving this tension, sales teams can continue to iterate and adjust the messaging to keep up with the constantly changing industry demands.

Frank Dale

CEO & Co-Founder

Frank Dale is the CEO and co-founder of Costello. Prior to that, he was CEO at Compendium, which was acquired by Oracle. Costello helps you be great in the sales moments that matter. Instead of saying "I'll do better next time," have the right conversation on the call the first time around. Costello helps sales professionals navigate calls, gives managers visibility into the quality of each deal so they can help sales professionals win, and helps vice presidents understand what’s working and what’s not, all while integrating with the solutions you already use like CRM.