Every company has a mission statement. Every company sets out each year with a plan, revenue goals and predictive changes they see as necessary to achieve their goals.  But few companies outside of those with an emerging product or a disruptive service, exactly mirror the plan they establish. Most, either adjust their targets or miss their forecast. I summarize this adjustment as “Planned Adaptation”. It can be summarized as “maintaining a strategy while changing tactics.”


Business leaders, like the three renowned coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots, Pat Summitt from the Pat SummittUniversity of Tennessee and Nick Saban of Alabama, start their fiscal year (or game) with a Game Plan.  The remarkable success with Belichick (5 Super Bowl’s) Summitt (8 NCAA Championships) and Saban (6 NCAA Championships) is their adjustments at half-time. They change their tactics but maintain their strategy.Look at the recent NCAA Championship. Coach Saban shocked everyone when he benched his star quarterback for an untested rookie. Alabama won in overtime and the rookie was named MVP. Coach Saban applied the principle of Planned Adaptation.

Now consider Toys R US, the stellar and beloved 12B retail chain that closed for business after 70 years. The outcry from consumers and efforts to reincarnate the retailer is evidence that it was not a ToysRUslack of customer passion for the brand that felled the company. Rather, it was a series of poorly timed adaptations to market dynamics that left them too encumbered to survive. Planned Adaptation is making the right adjustments at the right time.

Knowing how and when to adapt, based on an evolving marketplace, growing competition, or simply the pace of change is a skill that is difficult to quantify.  How do you adjust tactics to produce more revenue without adding to your infrastructure? Or, can you create a winning culture and initiate change with the same personnel?  These are two questions being asked every day by forward-thinking companies who know they need to adjust but aren’t sure how. I know both questions can be answered yes because I have a history of doing it.


Let’s get personal. I can honestly say I have never left a company where they were not better off than before my arrival. This effect is usually measured in revenue, and I calculate I have improved revenues for past employers by nearly a Billion dollars. But it is how they improved that goes unnoticed or unrecognized. Doubling a company’s revenue (Eg: $248M to $550M) is a great measure, but to do it with no increase in SG&A, the same size salesforce and a culture of happy and aggressive employees, is a direct result of both small and large tactical adjustments that kept both the company’s goals and a winning culture in mind. Turning companies from losses to profits in 6 months or less reflect on the bottom line, but willing suppliers, energized sales reps and satisfied customers are the true measure of future success.

I mention myself in this section because (1) This is my article (HA) and (2) Planned Adaptation is a skill, not a role, and the skill seems to be innate.

My very first sales position, I was re-writing the canned presentations into something more flexible and customer focused. I became known for writing a company’s STORY and adjusting as quickly as the story changed. More importantly, I was able to train the sales force on the message and measurably help them improve. I provided presentations that were flexible and adjustable in real time to the feedback and questions from clients.

The result (besides revenue growth) was that each client saw the company as the solution they each needed to see, with reps able to adjust how they presented the value proposition. The results of Planned Adaptation, even in a one on one setting with a customer, is something that can be transferred to the sales force.

In today’s marketing and sales talk trends, “we are moving big data analytics from “real-time” marketing to “right-time” messaging.” This matches the age of emerging millennial buyers and sellers with the need to develop mass messaging at an individual level. Seeing it succeed is very exciting for reps and for management, but there is one caveat.

The skill of planned adaptation cannot exist in a vacuum. Belief in the company and its inherent value is the genesis of a story. The process begins by seeing the value proposition from both the client and the company’s perspective and answering the question, “Why should a prospect say yes?” You cannot adapt at the right time if you don’t believe you can (or should) win. Belief is necessary, along with foundational ethics and passionate leadership.

This is found in both small startups and large enterprises and it makes for a great story to tell. Clients do respond.


As business leaders, we struggle with balancing what’s good for the company, the sales force, and our customers. We want to be profitable and ethical. We want to be successful and fair. We want to be liked and respected. But most of all, we want to believe we are doing the right thing. With the right intentions, we are usually correct. But that does not mean we always get it right. As the saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

So, the question is not whether the strategy is a good one, but when is it the right time to adapt?

Opportunities for growth lie in a company that not only can tell a great story but also in its speed of adjustment.

As examples, look no further than the Marine Corp and most recently the Army (June 2018).


Operation Desert Storm was a three-day war because of the speed of the military adjustments. It was little known that they had adopted the Planned Adaptation strategy captured by the brilliant thinking of an old fighter pilot, Colonel Boyd.  His concept of the OODA Loop (Observe -Orient – Decide – Act) is not summarized in the 4 steps, but in the speed of the transitions between those steps.  Think of it as applying the “Agile” development process to war (and sales.)

This is Planned Adaptation.

Thomas Friedman in his book, ‘Thank You for Being Late‘, calls this era the “Age of Acceleration.”  Everything is evolving at a dizzying pace, and Moore’s Law of doubling capacity every two years has shrunk to every few weeks.  Customers are overwhelmed and assaulted by every means possible; online, on phone, AI, IoT, Predictive Analytics, Mobile ads/apps, Digital Transformation, Cloud on the edge, Big Data. Everyone wants to turn a piece of information into a lead source.

How can you help your reps stand out? While many see the speed of change as challenging, it is really an opportunity to teach adaptation. The skills necessary to navigate the speed of change while meeting the expectations of shareholders, management, sales reps and the customer has never been more in demand. It’s time to teach your sales force how to adapt as the market changes and not after it has moved on.

If you find this topic interesting and have an opinion I know Kevin and I would love to read your comments below. Tell us what you think.

Kevin Elliott