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4 Characteristics of Adaptive Sales Organizations Nimble businesses focus on leading indicators and develop their approaches around data further upstream in their pipelines.

By John Holland Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The great baseball pitcher Satchel Page is credited with the quote: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." As companies try to gain or maintain competitive edges, their sales organizations are challenged to identify and react to change. While adaptive sales organizations are considered revolutionary today, they'll become table stakes for survival.

Here are four major characteristics shared by organizations that already have made the transition to adaptive sales.

1. Sales teams agree on a common approach.

Reaction to change is quicker and more concise if salespeople perform tasks within sales cycles in a consistent manner, employing the same skill set and messaging. Uncertainties rule in selling. As sales reps attempt to persuade organization to buy their offers, sellers have influence without authority over buyer actions. A defined process provides a fairly common lens through which to see all opportunities and sales situations.

Related: 4 Tips for Leading a Company in a Constantly Evolving Industry

2. Companies measure results.

Sales organizations have tracked and will evaluate quota performance into decimal points. We now recognize that YTD position against quota is a trailing indicator, analogous to driving a car while looking in the rear-view mirror. Adaptive organizations look much further upstream to understand how efforts and outcomes relate. Therefore, they seek to measure sales actions and buyer reactions in areas of leading indicators.

Business development provides one measurable example. Suppose a company has an average four-month sales cycle, and sales leads generated are 50 percent off during two of those months. Crisis looms unless leadership takes corrective action. Adaptive organizations study increments in weeks or even days to identify any shortcomings that could affect revenue further downstream in their pipeline.

Related: It's Mid-Year and Time for a Reality Check

3. Leaders identify what is/isn't working.

Sellers who fall below quota often are over-optimistic when qualifying "opportunities." As they prepare for pipeline reviews with their managers, they're more concerned about quantity than quality. Adaptive organizations seek different data points. If buyer actions can be measured in response to consistent seller efforts, companies can analyze the information over time to identify what works well and what doesn't. Successful activities become "best practices" within the organization, while unsuccessful tactics are changed or eliminated. The key is basing decisions on objective measures (buyer reactions), not subjective factors (seller opinions).

4. The business continuously evolves.

Markets, competitors, buyers and economic conditions all are in an unending state of flux. What works today may yield poor results next quarter. Adaptive sales organizations have the ability to tweak approaches on an ongoing basis. They measure buyer reactions and change on a nearly constant basis. If these companies try something new, they want to succeed or fail quickly so they can adopt or adapt approaches. Small sample-lot testing allows them to succeed even during times of high risk and uncertainty. When testing is done on leading indicators, companies enjoy longer runways than their competitors.

Related: For the Clearest Market Insight, Analyze Both Leading and Lagging Indicators

Adaptive sales organizations eschew Satchel Page's advice and realize they must evolve or risk extinction. The majority of the time, they look to the road ahead and use leading indicators. They reserve the glances in their rear-view mirrors to make course corrections within feet, not miles. This combination enables them to confidently drive forward, hitting or exceeding their revenue targets.

John Holland

President and Chief Operating Officer of CustomerCentric Systems

Frank Visgatis is president and chief operating officer of CustomerCentric Systems in Sutton, Mass. His company provides sales process consulting and training.

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