Be Nimble, Be Quick: Agility Is the Modern Sales Skill You Need

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  • Agility is a concept that was reserved for ballers and champion thoroughbreds until a decade or so ago. Now, agility in sales is a valued quality that sales teams and businesses of all kinds look for when hiring. 
  • In sales, being agile is defined by a set of skills you can develop –we’re talking curiosity, flexibility, and disrupting patterns that just aren’t working.
  • Sales expert Amy Franko argues that agility is the “next-generation skill” of a “modern seller.”

Agility: Once the domain of athletes and animal trainers, now a business buzzword.

In software development, agile is a methodology that values collaboration, cross-functional teams, transparency, and the ability to turn on a dime. But what does the concept of agility mean in the world of sales? 

Author, trainer, and consultant Amy Franko says there’s a myth about agility: “Either you have it, or you don’t.”

But she doesn’t buy it. She argues that agility is a set of skills you can develop over time. 

“A working definition for agility is the ability to connect your past experiences to a current situation. I believe no experience is wasted,” she explains.

And an agile methodology in sales includes – as it does in tech – a generous amount of spontaneity, flexibility, ‘fail-fast’ mentality, and innovation.

In Amy’s book “The Modern Seller,” she outlines five next-generation selling skills – one of which is… you guessed it… agility. 

On an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Amy shares more about what agility means on the sales floor, as well as tips on how to strengthen your own agility skills. Bonus: They’re lessons that are just as useful in business as they are in life.

What is agility? (Bend, don’t snap)

Amy points out that, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, agility is among the top five skills organizations look for when hiring. And that’s across all sectors, not just sales.

People who are agile are quick thinkers and quick decision-makers, “but they also know when they need to pivot,” says Amy. “And they can filter a lot of information.”

Considering we’re overloaded with information these days, agility includes the ability to take everything in, process it, and pull out the most important bits of information. 

“Imagine being able to do that in a sales conversation,” she says. “Your prospects and clients are dealing with the same stuff. If we can filter and process for them, and help them see those nuggets and insights, we’ll move a sales situation faster.”

So how do we as sales pros become more agile?

1. Say “yes, and”: Take an improv class

sales methodology

If you’re not used to thinking on your feet and pivoting quickly, it’s only normal that you haven’t perfected the agility skill yet. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Amy recommends an unusual but effective way to build that muscle.

“Early in my career, I had the opportunity to go to Second City and take a one-day improv class,” she explains. 

At Second City, aspiring comics are taught to never disagree with what their improv castmates throw out there, no matter how ridiculous. The right answer is always “yes… and?” 

In other words, take whatever ball you’re thrown and run with it. 

Learning improv “will, hands down, help you in sales situations,” she says. Sharing a stage with people you don’t know and working together to put on a skit breeds the kind of curiosity and nimble wit that great sales pros need.

“If you’re not inclined to develop curiosity, you have to make a decision to do it,” Amy adds. 

If you’re not up for improv, you can start with something small, but creative. Whether it’s art, writing, fitness, or anything else that floats your boat, getting out of your everyday work and into a new scenario makes you a better seller.

2. Reframe failure

Amy’s next step toward agility is a natural extension of building curiosity: reframing failure.

If you’ve had a rough call or a tough block of prospecting work, take the data points that emerge and “use them to get better next time,” she says.

Failure has an emotional component. Amy recommends feeling it for a little bit (embrace, don’t ignore, your feels!), but you should absorb what there is to learn and move on. It’s important to never see anything as an absolute failure or an absolute success. 

“Everything falls on a spectrum,” she says.

Amy approaches every client and every deal with the expectation of winning. And then she works for it. And yet, “something might go off the rails, something I’m not thinking about,” she admits. “I’m going to be ready for that.”

3. Grow your own (mindset): Get continuous feedback

You, as the seller, own your performance cycle,” Amy says. “You own your mindset.” 

Along with that, “you own getting feedback,” she adds. 

It’s great to have formal feedback cycles and performance reviews. They’re compelling, and they’re useful. But they’re focused on the rearview, and gaining agility in sales means focusing on looking forward. 

It means asking for continuous feedback from your supervisor or your leadership. And if you don’t get it, you’ve got to find someone else who might be able to provide it – one of your peers, a coach, or whoever can hold you accountable and inspire you to climb up that ladder. 

“People who are agile are always looking for continuous feedback from the right people and using that to get better,” Amy says.

4. The need for speed: Be dynamic, but strategic 

Amy says that strategic speed is crucial to agile sales. She defines it as the ability to work toward short-term goals, with long-term goals in mind. 

If you have X number of calls to place or emails to send today, or X number of leads to put in your pipeline this month, those to-dos should always reflect your long-term plans. 

“Creating momentum in the short term means being able to create momentum in the long term,” Amy explains.

When we’re only looking at today’s or next week’s tasks, we can lose sight of where we’re headed in the big picture. 

“We can veer off the path, pretty steeply, and then we’ve got to make our way back,” she notes.

When planning your day, keep an eye on the most pressing projects, as well as your quarterly KPIs, annual quotas, or whatever metrics you use.

Strive for “a balance between the two,” Amy advises.

5. Bust your groove 

sales skills

Amy’s final tip is to “bust sales patterns” that aren’t working for you. 

Our brains are designed to create patterns.

“We’re always looking for ways to take something that’s complex and turn it into routines to follow,” she explains.

Routines are good for us, too: Whether it’s the ritual of coffee and a brisk walk with your doggo in the morning, or tea (or wine; let’s be real) and a bath at night, or even the podcast we listen to on our commute, routines provide healthy structure to our lives.

But “there’s a fine line between a routine and a rut,” Amy says. 

She knows this from personal experience.

Talking about earlier days in her career, Amy admits: “I was struggling with prospecting. I just was not getting good results. I needed a coach… an outside perspective. You might need that too.”

Amy’s coach helped her identify old patterns that weren’t serving her anymore. 

Patterns typically involve our environment and our behaviors. In her case, she was “stuck in a home office, which was not conducive at that point, to my business, or my life.”

Fortunately, when she managed to pinpoint what wasn’t working – her environment – she busted that pattern.

“When I went into an [outside] office, it changed the way I approached prospecting,” she says. “I planned better. I dressed for success. I had to be focused on what I wanted to accomplish in my prospecting block. It helped me to become more successful.”

Now, let’s be honest, in the era of COVID, Amy’s move might not be the best example. 

But the principle is the same: look for ways to spice up your game, and… flex

The time to apply agility in sales is now

Don’t fall for the myth that you either have agility or you don’t. Find opportunities to develop your agility skills over time. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen if you focus on learning and improving each day.

  
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