Adapting to Customers’ Changing Needs: What World-Class Performers Do Differently

“The only constant is change.”
– Heraclitus

In the world of professional B2B sales, buyers’ behaviors are constantly changing, faster than ever before. For a sales organization, adapting to rising and changing buyer behaviors as fast as possible is not a luxury—it’s mandatory for survival. How can sales organizations prepare themselves to adapt, and how can they do it faster than the competition?

The ability to easily adapt to changing customers’ needs is, the first time, a “top 12 behavior,” which means it has a significant impact on sales performance.


This behavior is new to the top 12, which emphasizes its increasing relevance and impact on sales performance.  There is a considerable increase in the World-Class segment: from 85% in 2015 up to 92% in 2016. At the same time, All Respondents remained at a stable state of 40% in 2015 and 2016. So, World-Class Sales Performers address this issue differently to be successful and to remain successful.

Changing customer needs are not the only changes that impact sales forces.

There are several other areas that impact sales organizations. In our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, we assessed those areas that increase noticeably and significantly. Changing customer expectations are the most significant change (52.4%), followed by changing competitive activities (45.2%), complexity of product portfolio (39.0%), changes in the customer’s marketplace (36.6%), breadth of product portfolio (34.6%) and rate of new product launches (26.1%).

So, various changes seem to impact the salesforce from inside and outside the organization at the same time. Changes within the organization can be much better influenced than those that are outside the organization. So, sales organizations should focus on what matters AND what they can control. The challenge which World-Class Sales Performers seem to master better than others is setting up the structure of a sales organization in a way that allows the sales professionals to adapt better and faster.

What drives an organization’s adaptive capabilities?

An organization’s ability to adapt is driven by people – their mindsets, attitudes and capabilities to adapt. But not only people impact the adaptability to change. The importance of creating an environment in which people can be adaptive must not be underestimated. And this is where structure comes into play. Structure is an important prerequisite for adaptability. To be precise, what’s required is a formal and dynamic structure around the sales process designed with the customer’s journey as the main focal point. In this case, alignment to the customer’s journey is a key element, as changing customer expectations has been identified as the biggest change driver. That’s why mastering the biggest cause of the change will make adaptability much easier.

In our 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study, we found that the formalization of sales processes correlates strongly with the ability to adapt to changes AND sales performance.

Organizations with random (25.5%) and informal sales processes (44.1%) had low adaptability. But organizations with formal (56.6%) and even dynamic processes (79.4%) showed the greatest ability to adapt. Not only did adaptability increase, but sales performance did as well.

The quota attainment rate in random and informal process environments was only 47%. As soon as processes became more formalized (e.g., documented, implemented, and reviewed), the quota attainment rates improved significantly to 58% with formal processes and to 70% with dynamic (ongoing monitoring and tracking to identify improvement needs) processes.

Only when we know what we currently do and how we do it, can we achieve the adaptability we need to respond to customer changes effectively. And as a “side-effect” of adaptability, you can also improve quota attainment significantly.

Questions for you:
What are the main change drivers in your sales organization?
How do you prepare your organization to remain or to become adaptive?
How dynamic is your sales process?

Related blog posts:
Adaptive Competencies – Key Differentiator of World-Class Sales Performers
Adapting to rising buyer expectations requires principles, not rules
Formula for Successful Sales Transformation

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