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Adaptive Sales Strategies for a Volatile World

By Robert Lesser | August 02, 2022 | 0 Comments

Sales Strategy and Leadership

My family recently returned from a tour of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and were awestruck by the wildlife, especially the marine iguanas.

The Galapagos are volcanic, desert islands with little food or water to offer. It’s only in this isolated archipelago that the land iguana evolved to feed on algae and seaweed in the ocean.

Almost 200 years ago, Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos and formulated the principle of ‘natural selection’ by observing the evolution of marine iguanas, the giant tortoise and birdlife in order to adapt to a harsh habitat.

Since my return from the Galapagos, I’ve discussed adaptive sales strategies with my clients who are looking to drive growth during uncertain times in a demanding environment.

In this spirit, I point to three sales strategies for adapting to volatile business conditions:

Sensing Demand

Declines in capital spending account for about half of the fall in GDP during recessions for the G7, according to The Economist newspaper.

Similarly, for B2B sales leaders, declines in business investment signal a potential downturn.

Sales organizations can mine real-time, internal demand metrics to guide decisions and feed into scenario planning. During a Gartner roundtable, sales leaders spoke about using early-stage sales pipeline metrics as leading predictors of an economic slowdown.

I advise my clients to create their own dashboard to answer a question that may not be answered through pipeline and forecast planning:

Is demand softening for our products?

Sales leaders and their marketing counterparts should choose high-volume, early-stage metrics that provide early warning of declines in demand and before deep engagement with the sales team clouds the picture.

I recommend creating a demand-sensing dashboard pulling from these data sources:

  • Intent
  • Digital engagement
  • Lead volume and pipeline creation with conversion rates
  • Early-stage pipeline, including conversion rates and cycle time
  • Deal sizes

Planning for Volatility

Last week, the American economy contracted for two consecutive quarters flashing a ‘technical recession’.  The compounding pressures of scarce expensive talent, persistent high inflation, and global supply constraints are squeezing sales organizations.

Planning in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, commonly referred to as ‘ VUCA’, creates the need for a framework to plan for disruptive scenarios.

Scenario planning is a useful tool for assessing potential revenue implications resulting from future uncertainties, pressure-testing current assumptions and exploring long-term trends.

The outcome is a playbook for sales organizations to take strategic action as the environment shifts. Developing scenario plans collaboratively with the CEO and CFO creates alignment around the potential impact of environmental pressures and agreement on next steps.

Here are some examples of disruptive pressures and shocks that can be addressed with scenario planning:

  • High inflation persists as demand weakens
  • The US dollar continues to strengthen
  • Russia cuts off natural gas deliveries to Europe
  • Commodity prices spike as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spills over into neighboring countries

Taking Action on Talent

We have found that almost half of CFOs find it difficult to find and hire enterprise talent and a similar proportion of CFOs expect to see a significant wave of workforce resignations.

Sales organizations are challenged in attracting and retaining sales talent. On the recruiting front, many leaders cite open territories and a challenge to fill those roles with good candidates in a decent amount of time.

Here at Gartner, we just released new research on seller motivation that identified some surprising insights on the drivers and detractors of motivation. By properly addressing detractors, or drag as we call it, sales leaders can realize greater improvement in seller retention and performance.

Sales leaders can use Stay Conversations to assess seller motivation proactively and then should consider initiatives that improve the quality of coaching feedback, reduce administrative burden, and identify seller career paths.


Since the Covid-19 Pandemic broke over two and a half years ago, sales organizations have adapted to the new landscape with a rapid expansion of virtual and hybrid selling, digital customer engagement, sales tech and e-commerce. As new challenges and risks emerge, sales leaders must sense, plan and take proactive action to adapt their organizations to a new and evolving landscape.

Looking for inspiration? Think of the Galapagos and the marine iguana.

For more actionable insights, click through to these informative blog posts and notes penned by my colleagues (all content is open access):

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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