In a 2012 presentation for Corporate Visions, Scott Santucci of The Alexander Group [at the time, with Forrester Research] noted that CEOs are increasingly worried that their selling systems are not adapting quickly enough to accommodate changing business strategies.
In response, we’re seeing savvy sales organizations find ways to become more adaptive in an effort to be more consistently high performing. Intriguingly, as Stacy Blanshard noted in a recent article for the BBC, more adaptiveness may be merely an observable effect of what happens when analytics reach center stage in decision-making. Firms become fundamentally curious, collaborative, and adaptive, at speed, with certainty.
While exceptional today, adaptive sales organizations will be table stakes for surviving the fog of revenue uncertainty. They have four major characteristics in common:
1. Using a common approach – Reaction to change is quicker and more concise when salespeople approach tasks they have to perform in sales cycles in a consistent manner. Uncertainties rule in selling. Sellers have influence without authority over buyer actions. When sales execution occurs in a consistent fashion, the effectiveness of sales practices becomes easier to discern and hone. Firms gain the advantage of being able to gauge the progress of opportunities through a reasonably common lens.
2. Measuring progress in small, fast, increments – For decades sales organizations have tracked quota performance using trailing indicators. It’s been analogous to driving while looking in the rear view mirror and its been often accompanied by quarter-end surprises on deals that failed to close. Adaptive organizations use more granular measures to see how today’s sales efforts are likely to affect revenues much further upstream. They gauge buyer reactions to sales efforts in ways that produce faster, more precise, leading indicators of future sales. Adaptive sales organizations know when appropriately targeted titles are engaging with sellers, and doing so with pace. Their surprises aren’t occurring at quarter-end, they’re occurring at day’s end. They’re spotting and fixing mistakes long before deals are lost and quarter-end arrives.
3. Focusing on buyer outcomes – Sellers (especially those below quota) are often over-optimistic when qualifying “opportunities.” They focus on quantity rather than quality in pipeline reviews with their managers. When things aren’t going well, they try to do more and do it more quickly. Day-to-day, they’re held accountable for activities. Adaptive organizations focus less on how much sellers are doing and focus more on how much buyer progress is being achieved from what sellers are doing. ‘Best practices’ are identified and honed based on objective measures of the effectiveness of sales practices. Every incremental selling effort produces proof points on what’s working and what isn’t. From the fog of uncertainty, patterns of effective sales practices emerge.
4. Continuously improving – Markets, competitors, buyers and economic conditions are in a constant state of flux. What works today may yield poor results next quarter. Adaptive sales organizations constantly tweak their sales practices in response to what they’re seeing and learning. When they try something new, they can see their successes and failures quickly. Small sample lot testing allows them to find their fast paths to success, even when risks and uncertainties are high. When able to test the immediate buyer impacts of new sales practices, companies enjoy faster success than their competitors.
A shout-out of thanks to Scott Santucci for his forward-thinking perspectives on sales performance
and Tim Harford for his writings on organizational adaptiveness. Their thoughts sparked ours.