The Creative Quotient
Unleash your sales team’s ingenuity to close deals
Last month I witnessed a painful, but familiar, sight. I was working with a company that prides itself on its nearly six sigma business processes, and I watched members of its major account teams suffer through the mind-numbing, semi-annual exercise of account planning.
Grown men and women sat hunched over conference tables filling out forms about account strategies for an upcoming meeting. Afterward, the plans would be filed away, unused for at least another six months.
In most companies, account strategy development is a futile exercise of documentation and proposal creation that stifles the creative process so important to developing real customer solutions. How can we introduce sales process innovation to bring our account strategies to life, increase our team’s creativity and improve our close rates?
Over several decades of working in both the sales effectiveness disciplines and creative disciplines with major corporations, we’ve learned that the Creative Quotient drives growth. The idea is to challenge a sales team’s thinking and then leverage their creative and quantitative sides to develop solutions that differentiate the company from competitors.
Creativity is key here, but it’s important to understand the difference between artistic creativity for the purpose of expression, and functional creativity for the purpose of solving a problem. We’re not prancing around with finger paints to find our inner Picassos. We’re solving a sales problem. Focus your sales team on problem solving. With the right process, the right creativity will emerge.
Challenge. Start by defining your specific sales challenge with the customer and your objectives for the outcome. A major staffing company we recently worked with (let’s call them X Corporation) was trying to woo a large manufacturer account from a competitor. The manufacturer used hundreds of light industrial temps on its assembly lines. Its challenges were that the temporary personnel had high turnover, the company had numerous safety violations and the business had incurred high costs to continuously replace headcount. Winning this account would be a big victory for X but the competition was fierce.
Parameters. Each challenge has parameters for its solution. X’s parameters were the customer’s cost and resource limitations. Many sales teams first would try to find a way to cut costs and price to win the sale -- a sure path to a bad solution. With a clear challenge and parameters, we put the initial ideas on the table -- the first generation approaches. These are the typical solutions. Acknowledge them, and put them aside. Although one of those ideas could be part of the answer, most will block our thinking. X’s team brainstormed its first generation list and cataloged it for future reference.
Assumptions. The next step is to destroy false assumptions. The X team’s environment was full of assumptions, many based on “the way we’ve always done it.” Identify every assumption about how we address the challenge, rate their validity, and remove the ones that don’t hold absolutely true. Then question these true assumptions again as you move ahead.
Possibilities. Combining horizontal possibilities is where things get exciting. It’s been said that there are no new ideas. While this could be true (or a false assumption), an abundance of innovation today comes from combinations of ideas and applications of existing ideas to new challenges.
One of Henry Ford’s innovations, the moving assembly line, was actually the improvement of an existing approach for a new business challenge. In sales, the application of existing technologies for telecommunications and the web has opened a new world of methods for working with customers, from telesales to social media for sales. Draw upon sources such as parallel examples from other businesses and industries, examples from history -- even unrelated situations might spark new thinking.
Step back. At this point, walk away from the process. After intense sales process innovation, temporarily moving to other business will allow the team’s subconscious to digest this work and generate additional solutions. Ever wonder why your best ideas spontaneously come to mind in the shower? It’s your subconscious at work, and it will produce the same results with sales process innovation.
Score. With a range of horizontal possibilities developed, the X team rated each one and then developed the top three vertically. Vertical development entails going deep and building out the solution. X Corporation then took its top choices, tested them, and proposed them to the prospective customer. The solutions included new methods for forecasting attendance, gaining feedback from temporary workers, improving the work environment, and enhancing safety processes that would reduce turnover and costs.
It might seem like a lot of work, but while X employed its Creative Quotient process, its competitors proposed lower rates in an attempt to “buy the business.” For its hard-fought sales process innovation, X Corporation won the business, and earned a place with the manufacturer as a partner that crafted a new solution for the customer rather than a supplier that facilitated a historic problem.
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and The Sales Leadership Forum. He specializes in helping leading sales organizations drive sales productivity through sales process innovation and coaching, sales strategy, and incentive compensation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.