There are six Innovative Sale principles — inspired by principles of art — and each one has three imperatives that explain how the principle applies to developing solutions in a sales environment.
Principle 1: Pattern
In sales, pattern refers to our instinct to find related ideas in any given situation. Faced with a problem, our minds first begin flipping through our own portfolio of experiences; finding no suitable solution, we may jump to stories we’ve heard from those around us or examples from the past. We are seeking a match, preferably one that carries an answer we can apply to our current situation. The following three imperatives offer some specifics on how a sales organization can use pattern as a foundation for innovative thinking:
1. Get Comfortable with Feeling Lost: In challenging customer situations that demand something different to keep the business or win it in a competitive situation, sales teams typically lock in on an answer from a menu of choices they’ve used before. If they temporarily step on the map of their expertise, they quickly retreat. Don’t retreat too early. When you’ve exhausted your first round of typical solutions, tally up the hours spent. Then take an additional 20 percent of those hours, and commit to working beyond where you stopped. Being temporarily lost is often part of innovative thinking.
2. Combine Unrelated Ideas: There are countless examples throughout history of new inventions that are the combination of two previously unrelated ideas, such as Johannes Gutenberg’s combination of a coin punch and a wine press to create the first moveable-type printing press. Combining ideas and significant accomplishments from another industry, culture or even period in history and retrofitting them to your unique sales problem can spark original answers.
3. Become a Student of History: This can give you a rich inventory to source those unrelated idea combinations. History builds the hooks upon which you can hang new ideas and quickly create new associations.Without this knowledge, you’ll operate with limited vision. Know the history of your business and sales model. Understand how your customers’ businesses evolved. Look for patterns and trends that may continue ahead and give you additional insight.
Principle 2: Variety
Variety describes the dissimilarities or contrast in design, and the same idea naturally applies to innovative thinking in sales. You are more likely to have the elements of the right solution for your customer if you work with abundance. Variety also offers diversity. Innovation is born in the diversity of ideas that sometimes can only be produced within the safety of quantity. This is true not only when you’re pitching new ideas to a customer but when you’re brainstorming new ideas with your team. The following three imperatives offer ways to work with variety in your sales innovation practices:
1. Produce an Abundance of Ideas: Idea generation is critical early in the creative process. At the beginning of your sales innovation process, focus on creating numerous ideas rather than trying to generate the perfect idea. Don’t self-edit your ideas or narrow your options too soon.
2. Think in Divergent Directions: After you’ve generated your initial idea options, lay them out in an array from left to right either on a whiteboard, spreadsheet or paper. Put them in any order. Then select and reposition the ideas you think are the most likely answers in the middle. Place the most conservative ideas to the right and the unique ideas to the left. Assess the divergence of your ideas. Based on the most important factors you’re trying to address for your customer, are the ideas on the left at least 50 percent different from the ideas in the middle? If not, continue broadening your range of options.
3. Know That Less Is More: As you begin to converge on your answer, subtract the nonessential elements. Test how much you can remove to increase the clarity of your solution while still retaining the core ideas. At what point of subtraction does your solution no longer work? Creativity does not mean complexity.
Principle 3: Unity
In sales innovation, unity refers to how all of the elements work together to make a whole. With a sales innovation team, the collaboration of diverse individuals creates energy and output that’s greater than a single point of view. The following three imperatives of unity explain how a sales organization can work as a whole while valuing its individual parts:
1. Assemble the Right Team: A team where members are well prepared and focused on a single objective can have an exponential effect on developing a great creative solution. As you pull your team together, avoid going for the comfortable arrangement of friends with similar views. Leverage roles, personality types, and the right level of familiarity to create a dynamic team.
2. Collaborate as an Individual: It’s important to find ways for everyone to integrate their own thoughts while working together. Healthy working teams avoid group-think by encouraging productive disagreement. Establish a team culture of valuing ideas regardless of organizational role.
3. Understand Other Perspectives: It’s natural to have a bias toward your ideas. When a customer or team member describes an idea, you may find yourself comparing it to your idea, listening for points to counter or support. Instead, try suspending ownership of your current idea in an effort to understand other perspectives and extend your range of thought.
Principle 4: Contrast
Contrast invites the sales team to critically question and push back against established practices. With contrast, teams also get comfortable with divergent opinions and the initial criticism that almost invariably accompanies new ideas. The following three imperatives of contrast explain how testing boundaries and accepting criticism can lead to innovative ideas:
1. Break Rules: Look for two types of rules: operating and procedural. Operating rules are core to the survival and operations of the business. For the sales innovator, these aren’t the rules to break. Procedural rules govern the supporting processes of the business. While these rules are essential, they also can be broken carefully if breaking them improves the company’s capabilities. Know your internal and customer rules, classify them, and then break them to see what possibilities are revealed.
2. Don’t Accept the Accepted: Accepted truths are habits and practices a company has “because that’s the way it’s always been done” regardless of whether there is logic to support it. These practices are legacies: pseudo-rules created informally over time. Disrupting such legacies presents great opportunities for differentiation.
3. Get Comfortable with Criticism: If you’re breaking procedural rules or accepted legacies, don’t be surprised if your new idea runs into rejection from colleagues or customers. Try to get over the surprise and learn to be attracted to rejection.
Principle 5: Movement
Movement refers to the natural progression of ideas as we proceed through the problem-solving process. Unfortunately, innovative ideas rarely occur in a flash, and we have to be disciplined in our approach to development. The following three imperatives offer ways to include movement in your innovative thinking:
1. Ask the Right Questions: Questions are more powerful than statements and are the fuel for divergent thinking. Effective questions follow a model of testing the objective, the constraints and the possibilities for direction. Use an effective questioning model as you begin your thinking, and keep questioning the customer and the team throughout the process.
2. Grow with the Flow: When your team finds that its rhythm and ideas are beginning to flow, the process becomes easier, and the work of thinking ceases to become work. Flow can happen at a personal or team level.
3. Walk Away from the Problem: Taking time away from the problem can be as valuable as the time focusing on it. The best ideas often come after a period of incubation. Let your subconscious chew on the problem for awhile.
Principle 6: Harmony
Harmony is achieved when there are several different but related elements in a composition. Sales teams can use the principle of harmony like a checklist to make sure what they’ve designed can be implemented by the organization. Do the elements of the idea work together in a cohesive way? How can we implement the new idea so it works for the customer? The three imperatives of the harmony principle that follow will help you implement your innovative sales ideas:
1. Keep Perspective: Context is critical in sales innovation to maintain a connection to reality and to other related sales disciplines. Remember to look at the big picture as well as its parts to keep your ideas in context.
2. Check Degrees of Change: Once you converge your thinking and finalize your solutions, you’ll need to evaluate the degree of change your customers, partners and sales organization can handle. Before you implement, understand the magnitude of your proposed solutions, the relative value of the customer or segments with which you’ll propose the change, and the risk you’re willing to take relative to the positive outcome you expect.
3. Be Persistent: In most creative sales-solution situations, roadblocks and barriers appear. While innovation is marked with exploration, another critical characteristic of functional creativity is completion. Push the team during the process with an eye toward converging on the solution.