Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 5 March 2014
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly (or thereabouts) newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.
In this issue of Report 103
As an experiment, I have added comment functionality to new issues of Report 103 and some of the more popular creativity articles on jpb.com. We shall see how these work out. Why not give them a try yourself and share your thoughts on this issue of Report 103?
Owing to a technical problem, about 5000 subscribers to Report 103 have only received last week's issue today! I do apologise for the late sending. On a positive note, you now have two issues of Report 103 to read this week!
By Jeffrey Baumgartner and Stuart Ayling
There is so much talk about the importance to business of creativity and innovation that it is easy to lose sight of just why creativity is important. Indeed, I expect the same CEOs that extol the importance of creativity in their organisations would be hard pressed to explain the benefits.
Fortunately, I am here to help!
In upcoming months, I will occasionally write articles on applied creativity that focus on how different professions can benefit from improved creative thinking techniques and ability. Today, we'll look at sales; in particular, we'll look at business to business (B2B) sales which tend to be for higher value items and often involve a number of factors which can add complexity to a transaction.
So, let's see why the heck a salesperson would want to think more creatively.
A shoe company sends two sales representatives to a poor, developing country in the tropics. Each representative is given a region and asked to visit towns and villages in order to determine market needs.
After a week, the first sales representative calls headquarters, and says dejectedly: "book me on the next plane back home. There's no market here -- everyone goes around barefoot."
The next day, the second sales representative calls headquarters full of enthusiasm: "Send me as many shoes as you can as quickly as possible. No one wears shoes here. The market potential is enormous!"
Anyone can see the situation that sits before them. A creative thinker can
also see situations that could sit before her. This ability to see potential
situations and the path to get to the potential situation gives the creative
salesperson a huge advantage over others who only see a single situation before
them. In the example above, the first sales rep only saw what was in front of
him: no shoes. The second rep saw a potential situation: all those bare feet
wearing her company's shoes. She also saw her role in realising that potential
Empowering Customers to Solve Problems and Achieve Goals
Businesses generally (if not always) make purchases to solve problems or achieve goals -- or at least perceived problems and goals. This means that the first thing a B2B salesperson needs to do is understand the client's business.
These days any B2B salesperson who considers herself to be professional will read up on a prospect before she makes contact, asks a series of pre-planned questions (many open-ended), listens to the customer explain their situation, and uses insights and information to educate the customer about her company’s product or service and the decision the customer is making.
Moving forward the salesperson will use the information gleaned from the sales
conversation to build a shared vision about how the salesperson's product can
uniquely or effectively solve the client's problem.
That sounds great doesn’t it? But is the salesperson being ‘creative’? Or are they simply being ‘professional’?
What are the hallmarks of a salesperson who is creative?
Levels of Creativity
Like in many other domains, when creativity is applied in selling it appears much more like a spectrum (a rainbow) rather than a dichotomy of yes it is creative or not.
For a salesperson there are often many possible paths that will lead to a successful outcome. And it is not always possible to predict which path is most suitable, or which will offer least resistance, during the early stages of the sale.
Following a process during the sale, as mentioned above, may indeed be professional. But it is not creative in itself. In fact, following a sales process could be the antithesis of creativity. Therefore it is proposed that it is the ability to see beyond the current situation and maintain the freedom of mind to create new paths that is a key indicator of sales creativity.
On a personal level, sales creativity can include how you interpret what you see and learn, how you undertake your role, how you interact and work with others, and how you present ideas.
On a product or technical level creativity in sales may relate to developing a range of potential solutions for the customer, having the flexibility of mind to understand or envisage how they will use those solutions, and being capable of considering other options that may complement or compete with the solution being offered.
All sales people do the basics. Creative sales people can do more because they
‘see’ more options.
In many ways sales creativity is about recognising the possibility of connections that are not already in place.
The creative salesperson can make diverse connections between a client's needs, the salesperson's own experience and her product. This enables her to present her product as one uniquely qualified to solve the client's problem or get the client to their goal.
A less creative salesperson will be less able to make such diverse connections,
will be more likely to sell by the book (i.e. strictly follow the process) and
is less likely to help a client solve their problems through creative thinking.
What the Aspiring Creative Salesperson Should Do
One problem facing the aspiring creative salesperson is that if she has had
comprehensive training in how to sell her company's products, she has also had
her head filled with conventional solutions to customers' questions. In many
cases, these responses will be fine. But when things do not go as planned, the
customer has unexpected needs or the salesperson sniffs unanticipated opportunities,
the automatic responses taught in sales training will not suffice.
Opportunities to Apply Creativity in Sales
There are a multitude of opportunities for a salesperson to apply creativity. The danger is that many of these opportunities appear disguised as straightforward decisions about procedural aspects of selling.
The best creative salespeople recognise these ‘hidden’ opportunities and incorporate creative thinking in the way they make that decision. Less creative salespeople have a myopic perspective and simply make the decision based on their sales play book, what they learned in training, what their boss told them to do or what they have seen colleagues do.
Some of these opportunities for creativity include:
Determining who would make a good prospect and how they should be approached.
Setting the agenda for client meetings. Making a decision on what to cover, how and when.
Deciding which questions to ask during the sales conversation.
Deciding how to ask specific questions to get the most informative answer.
Being able to manoeuvre the sales conversation to answer unforeseen questions or explore unanticipated opportunities and still maintain forward momentum.
Managing the interactivity and sequence of contacts within a complex account structure.
Deciding how to communicate the value being offered to the client. This must take into account the variables of each sales situation.
Developing effective methods to present information, whether one to one or to a larger audience.
Providing feedback for their organization, such as ideas to the marketing team on what clients really need.
Most importantly, the creative salesperson needs to learn not always to jump in with set, conventional answers in response to the needs of customers. Sometimes this is fine, especially when a customer's needs fits a standard situation. But when a customer raises unusual and unexpected questions; when she puts forth objections that are not in the training manual; when negotiating according to a set plan does not work, the creative salesperson needs to pause and look at the situation in detail and from various perspectives. Critically, she needs to see the situation as much as she can from the customer's perspective. Then she needs to use her ingenuity and creativity to find ideas and build creative visions that respond precisely to the customer's expressed needs.
Cosmic creativity, in particular, is about learning to meditate and visualise situations in order to see them from various perspectives. Anticonventional thinking (ACT) is about questioning problems and goals in detail in order to understand them better (creative problem solving also starts with a phase of questioning a situation). Instructing your sales teams in these methods can better enable them to think and respond creatively to clients' needs.
Providing sales people with useful questions and helping them to develop the skills to listen deeply can position them to understand better a client's needs and interpret them.
Role-play exercises can help sales people practice these methods and are a great tool to increase their self confidence in applying creativity. responding to them. Role playing provides the opportunity to experience the ‘unknown’ aspects of creativity – feel the fear and do it anyway - and will help them increase their comfort zone when using similar approaches with real clients.
If your sales people can respond to your customers' and prospective customers' needs with creative approaches and solutions incorporating your products and services, that gives you a huge advantage over competitors whose sales teams learn by-the-book scripts for selling and appear inflexible or unwilling to adapt.
About Stuart Ayling
After I completed the draft of this article, I sent it to my friend, Stuart Ayling, to review. I've never been in a sales position and realised I might be making some poor assumptions about the profession. Stuart had the audacity not only to rewrite much of the article, but to improve upon it considerably. That's not surprising. He knows a thing or three about sales.
Stuart is Chief Sales Strategist at Marketing Nous. Through his speaking, consulting and training he drives sales performance improvement in companies that sell services or technical products. Download his free sales improvement guide 'The Assassin Analogy'.
Learning how to think more creatively in general is a good thing -- but learning how to apply creativity in your specific work is especially powerful. The ability to apply creative thinking to your profession, your work and your operation enables you to:
- Out-think the competition.
- innovate better; innovation is after all the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value.
- Be more flexible to changes.
- More precisely meet your customers' needs.
If you want to boost the ability of you and your people to apply creativity in your operations, get in touch with me. I would be delighted to draw up a creative plan especially for you!
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