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The Pulse of a Firm’s Learning Triggers the Adaptiveness of Its Practices

One of the common themes in conversations we’ve been having recently with business executives is how different things are today than they were 1, 3, or 5 years ago. Many say that sales which used to come predictably, and quickly [say, within 6 months] are now taking twice as long to close. In addition, for many, win rates are poorer than they used to be. In response, firms adopt new business strategies. They launch new products. They enter new markets. They hire new sales people. Yet, according to a study by Forrester Research, CEOs see shifts in business strategy being impeded by sluggish adjustments in sales execution.

As a result, there’s mounting pressure to improve the adaptiveness of B2B sales practices. Unfortunately, well intentioned responses to this pressure often fail to improve adaptiveness. Typical changes mistakenly focus on:
- faster execution, with the aim of completing existing tasks more efficiently OR
- more information available on the front-lines, with the aim of completing tasks more knowledgably

What’s missing from this equation is any proof that specific changes yielded specific improvements in results. What’s worse is that attribution, where there is any, is a long time in coming. Therefore, adjustments are shaped by assumptions of what works best; what’s implemented are tools and info to allow what’s assumed to work to happen faster. Several months later, when revenues fall short of expectations, the head scratching begins, pressures for change re-appear, and the whole vicious circle starts in earnest again.

From what we’re seeing, the only sure bet, today, is that what worked on the front-lines of sales last week might or might not work as well this week. That if we want added agility in sales practices, what’s needed are approaches to sales execution that constantly test prevailing assumptions. Approaches that quicken and amplify ‘learning moments’. Approaches that shrink the time it takes for Reps, their peers, and their managers to observe the buyer impacts of incremental sales efforts. Approaches that reveal contexts that nudge small changes in practices, quickly. Quicken the pulse of a firm’s learning in B2B sales and you’ll improve the adaptiveness of its practices. Adaptive sales organizations are curious, and constantly adjusting, at speed, with certainty. IMO, that’s what growth-focused CEOs are looking for.

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Many thanks to Victor Cheng for his inspirational thoughts on the importance of shrinking decision cycles, Verne Harnish for his on the concept of out-learning your competitors, and our clients for constantly reminding us that their best weeks are their most learning-intensive ones.

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