Creativity is ESSENTIAL to be a Top Performing Sales Professional!
Creative thinking is a critical element of selling. It is your ability to translate facts and figures into ideas and better outcomes for your clients. A famous example of selling outcomes comes to us from Theodore Levitt, an American economist and professor at Harvard business School. In the 1960’s. He was quoted as saying “People don’t want to buy a ¼ inch drill bit, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Today, it is not enough to explain the features and benefits, and superiority of your quarter-inch drill bit, you must determine the whys and how’s of the quarter-inch holes in the customer’s application, and then come up with practical and executable ideas on how your product will deliver better outcomes. That’s if you’ve made it all the way to the presentation stage. Creativity must kick in at the ‘Building Your Brand’ and prospecting phase as well just to get in front of the customer! Creativity in your sales process is a critical differentiator and most often translates to higher margins and personal earnings!
So what is creativity? I found dozens of definitions online, but I like this one best. “Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality”. This definition breaks creativity into two distinct aspects; having imagination, and coming up with ideas that are executable. I like to describe creativity as the ability to look at a problem or situation from a 360°/3D perspective, come up with several workable solutions, and to be able to discern the best solution for the situation that eclipses all alternatives. I believe the creative thinking applied to the sales process is the single most important aspect of de-commoditization in a world cluttered with choice and the proliferation of information at the end of a few keystrokes.
What do I mean by a 360°/3D perspective? So much of our training, education and life experience is based on linear thinking. First A, then B, then C. Either innately, or by training we look at situations in a fairly narrow radius of thought. The creative thinker broadens this radius and doesn’t look at the situation in a single dimension but examines it from many perspectives. In sales, the next step is critical. The imaginative thinking must lead to executable outcomes that exceed what the client is using currently, and other competitive offerings.
The creative thinker often thinks in pictures, and then can paint the customer or prospect into the picture using words (and symbols, for the visual learner). They paint the picture, then paint the client/prospect into the picture, fulfilling the need and eliminating the pain. They make the possibilities of the outcomes they have designed come alive in their client’s imagination AND in their emotions! Marketing research and apparently even neuroscience tells us that most often a buying decision is made emotionally, and then justified rationally. In my experience, I have witnessed this time and time again on D-Day (Decision Day). Creative thinkers paint mental pictures that evoke emotion! Ever been emotionally moved by a photo? Ever been emotionally moved by a pie chart?
Can you learn creative thinking? I believe you can! You probably witnessed amazing creative ideas coming out of brainstorming sessions with colleagues. There is incredible creative power in a group of your colleagues. At minimum, brainstorm with yourself if necessary! If you would like to be more creative, here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Be curious and asked lots of questions, especially in the discovery stage with clients and prospects. Be sure to ask some ‘feeling’ questions in the discovery process. So how did you feel when _____________ happened? Questioning helps to discover the real problem to be solved!
Be careful not to be locked in to your beliefs, especially those long-held. Be prepared to challenge the familiar. Paradigms often kill creative thinking and innovation!
When brainstorming, either in a group or on your own (yes, you can brainstorm as a group of one), as ideas start to flow, don’t stop the process to evaluate the individual ideas. Get all the ideas on paper, on a whiteboard or flip chart and keep going with as many ideas as possible. Evaluate and eliminate when the imaginative thinking is done! And park your ego at the door! Focus on what’s right, not who’s right!
Don’t stop at one solution. You’ve come up with a GREAT, executable idea. Then ask yourself “if that doesn’t work, what will I do?”~~ and keep going to solution 2 and so on. Try to find several distinct solutions for the same problem. Most great ideas have come out of a long list of alternatives and very often have been built on from an existing idea.
Spontaneity is great, but probably best not to let ideas tumble from your mouth at the discovery stage meeting with the client. Save this for your brainstorming session! Sometimes creativity needs time and patience!
Creative ideas can spring into your mind even when you’re not in those moments of discovery and imaginative thought. Write them down, or you’ll lose them.
Continue to learn. New and creative ideas often come out of the new learning.
Empathy, the ability to feel what your client is feeling goes a long way in coming up with creative solutions that resonate with the client. How’s your EQ??
Ever been scooped by a competitor who came up with a GREAT solution? If this happens, learn from it! Dissect it, perform a postmortem, reverse engineer what was done. Does a light bulb come on?
There are lots of books and YouTube videos on the creative process. ‘Thinkertoys,' by Michael Michalko is on my ‘to read’ pile. It looks a bit daunting but I’ll guarantee you I will come away with new insight on how to think (and act) more creatively. Another book on my ‘to read’ pile is ‘Think Smarter,’ by Michael Kallet. A quick peek at the chapter headings and a cursory scan tells me there are some knowledge nuggets waiting!
And a Ted Talk fresh off the press (March 2017, from Regina). The Secret Sauce of Creativity. Some wonderful insight here.
There is a HUGE resource available to you to help you become a more creative thinker, and by extension, a more successful sales professional!
Next post, Thing Six ~~~~~ ‘Manage Time’.
This is the fifth in a series of 10 articles on the traits and habits of highly successful sales professionals. Please consider providing some feedback by leaving a comment. If you enjoyed this article and would like to read future articles, please consider following me on LinkedIn.