The 4 Immutable Facts of the Agile (Sales) Imperative

3 minute read

When change happens, it’s often hard to predict what’s next. When it’s extreme change, as we experienced in the economy over the last year, you need to be prepared to ‘turn on a dime’ to respond to the adjustments in your environment as tasks once well understood metamorphose into unforeseen and unfamiliar challenges. The business context in which we now operate is extremely volatile, and while growth is returning in many quarters, the lack of predictability or reduced visibility of future sources of revenue continues to confound. There are four immutable facts:

  1. Volatility is here to stay
  2. (Mini)organizations must ‘turn on a dime’
  3. Demands Now Information now
  4. Accessible real-time metrics required

So, it seems we’d be well advised to consider how to be better equipped to deal with these continuously evolving scenarios. Here’s where we can learn something from a new breed of software developers. For many years, software was developed using what was called the Waterfall Method. Using this method the software project went through a very rigorous process that went something like:

  • Requirements
  • Analysis
  • Specification
  • Design
  • Coding
  • Testing
  • Deployment

Each step was fully completed before progressing to the next step. In theory this made sense, but in practice it placed unreasonable and almost clairvoyant demands on those responsible for the early stages of the cycle – requiring that all eventualities to be foreseen at the very outset. Any mistakes made in the early stages would stay with the process right through to the end and would only be evident when the project was over – and then of course it was too late. The consequence is one we’ve all experienced; software projects that were delayed or deployments that didn’t work, or didn’t work the way we wanted.

For the last few years, Agile Programming has gained prominence. With this method, a high-level plan or overall picture is crafted at the early stages, but in multiple ‘sprints’, elements of functionality are delivered and tested, and introduced early into the feedback loop. This resulted in a much more iterative process, built-in course correction, and major screw-ups could be avoided.

The business and sales worlds have a similar challenge to deal with. Long term planning is somewhat redundant in a world of extreme change. Chasing that one big deal or major business initiative without many interim deliverables can only lead to uncertainly and probable disappointment. Your main business sponsor gets replaced half way through the project – what do you do? The business strategy that’s not crafted with flexibility in mind is doomed to fail. The sales plan that doesn’t have alternatives is very risky. Building your account plan at the start of the year and not treating it as a breathing, living, evolving map can only lead you to one destination: failure.

The core idea here of course it that the pulse of your business needs to change. Short-terms wins are really very important to strive for, and to achieve – while at the same time keeping an eye on the overall strategic plan to ensure your long-term direction is on track. As you begin your journey through 2010, you might consider it worthwhile to consider how applicable these thoughts are to your environment, and if you think there’s merit, ponder these four consequences of this more Agile world:

  1. Volatility is here to stay
  2. (Mini)organizations must ‘turn on a dime’
  3. Demands Now Information now
  4. Accessible real-time metrics required

Then figure out your (flexible) plan to address. Better be Agile than Fragile.

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