Sales is all about the process, right? If you follow the leading methodologies (MEDDIC, SPIN, Challenger), or sell in the acronym-filled world of SAAS, you’d be hard-pressed to conclude anything else.
Well, I’m calling bullshit.
High performing salespeople aren’t process-obsessed. They’re client-obsessed. That relentless focus on their client means they’ll bend the world to make good things happen. In the best moments, this involves more than a small dose of creativity.
I’ve always been astounded at how creativity is ignored as a value driver in sales. Especially, as in our work at True & North, we see first-hand how creative techniques add so much value to the sales organisations smart enough to embrace them.
Surely this is covered in sales best practice?
Traditional sales methodologies are fundamentally robust, emphasising the process through a linear series of steps to guide a seller from research to closing a deal. That being said, there are limitations.
The language of traditional sales is dry and technical, excluding potential practitioners, especially those who don’t identify as ‘salespeople’. This limits the pool and degree of adoption across a full client-facing team. In your organisation is it just the salespeople who interact with the client? Probably not, right?
The steps of traditional sales focus on the seller and what they need to do to complete a sale, which leads to an approach that’s geared exclusively towards achieving the seller’s objectives. This leaves little or no room for the empathy and humility needed for a truly client-centred sale/relationship.
The thinking in traditional sales only draws on convergent (logical/critical) thinking, any divergent (right-brain/creative) thinking is left to chance. So, meaningful client collaboration and creative problem-solving are out of the scope of these methods. What that means is, the opportunity for value creation — and therefore growth — are left on the table and off your revenue line.
How can you add creativity to your sales team?
Since 2014, we’ve been helping leading sales teams apply tools from Design Thinking and be intentional in adding innovation and creativity to the sale. Here are three lessons from our clients that drive sales through creativity.
- Slow down your thinking
A consistent reflection we hear from sales leaders is that they now see when they need to slow down. Whether it’s prospecting, preparing for a key client meeting or figuring out how to position a new product, two hours spent upfront will save two weeks down the road — speeding up your sale.
Sales leaders, it’s on you to give your team permission for ‘when’ and to show ‘how’ to slow down and think.
A good exercise to try is declaring assumptions. By vocalising the invisible beliefs and values at play within your team and within your client interactions you can find opportunities for improved performance. Try it for something bite-sized — For example: what are our shared assumptions about preparing for a client call?
By unpacking assumptions you find insight, unlocking better performance for you and better experiences for the client.
2. To collaborate, be intentional
Another reflection we hear is how beneficial it is for the wider client-facing teams to crack client problems together. Even in great teams, it’s not unusual that our workshops are the first time colleagues are collaborating on a client challenge.
Since a key difficulty of doing business in the virtual world is how much harder it is to collaborate, this reflection is even more alarming.
Sales leaders, schedule time for team members to come together and tackle a client challenge. If you want this to become a habit, you’ll need to be the energy behind this for the first few months.
Your first goal is to make it safe for diverse people to come together. You might try to do this by asking people to share something that unites them (rather than something that might divide them), this can be as simple as sharing challenges a category or a client faces.
3. Brainstorming is not what you think it is
With good reason, the idea of brainstorming with salespeople fills many leaders with trepidation. And yet, brainstorming is a fast and effective way of rapidly generating, iterating and selecting ideas that will unlock client growth.
With the right preparation, the help of some colleagues, and 10 minutes of focus, anyone can brainstorm effectively. Here’s how:
- Define a client problem (For example: Get more people to try Disney+), rather than your problem (For example: hit my H1 target).
- Boil it down to a simple 1-liner, as this will give you clarity.
- Turn this problem into a How Might We question and put it onto a virtual whiteboard.
- Ask 2 or 3 colleagues for 10 minutes of their time.
- Make the first few minutes of the brainstorm silent. This gives introverts (they exist in client-facing teams too!) time to think, driving the diversity of ideas.
- One by one, invite participants to share an idea and then encourage others to build on those ideas.
- At the end of the brainstorm, converge your ideas into one or two all-star ideas to take forward.
Other smart sales leaders are already benefiting from these techniques. Why not try one this week?