In our quest to find out more about the characteristics exhibited by effective salespeople, this week we look at the role of creativity and innovation.
Creativity is largely viewed as the responsibility of the marketers and innovation as the product/service development team’s jurisdiction. However, the salesperson who can hone these skills is able to differentiate themselves from the competition, generate a greater number of opportunities and identify and articulate real insights for their customers.
We’ve put together three techniques salespeople can develop and apply to ensure they remain one step ahead of the rest when it comes to creativity and innovation.
Adapt and Evolve – Be change-ready
Change-resistant people are almost never creative or innovative and, as human beings, we are naturally averse to change, with salespeople being no different. In a study by Hubspot, over half of the salespeople asked (59%) reported that once they figure out what works for them, they don’t change it. But selling methods are constantly changing and therefore the salesperson too must be change-ready and open to new ideas and methods.
If we take a look at the history of selling we can clearly see that sales strategies and methods are constantly evolving. Every few years we have a new methodology, the latest ‘craze’. Except, rather than a craze or fad, these methods have all been developed in response to the latest research, technological developments and cultural, environmental and economic changes. For example, in just the last ten years, we have seen the widely-adopted ‘Solutions Selling’ approach lose favour to the ‘Challenger Sale’, as sales professionals try to find more creative and innovative ways to influence buyers who are engaging less and less with salespeople. Those who fail to evolve will fall behind, opening up the way for their more innovative and change-ready competitors.
Try the following tips:
- When faced with an idea you feel initially opposed to, the tendency is to come up with all of the reasons ‘why not’ to pursue it. Instead try first writing down and focusing on all of the positives. If you do have negatives, come up with ways around these, rather than just seeing them as blockers.
- The ‘lone-wolf’ and competitive tendencies of salespeople can lead to a reluctance to share best practice and seek advice. Instead of going it alone, make a point of actively seek out the ideas and opinions of others and sharing your own. Two heads really are better than one!
- To avoid falling into the trap of always doing what you’ve always done, every 4 weeks, reflect back on your wins and losses over that period. Write down what went well and what didn’t go well. Explore the reasons behind the successes, so you can repeat these and brainstorm alternative approaches to areas that did not go so well.
Become a storyteller
When I was a child my mum would buy me the Storyteller magazine each week.; a short collection of stories and poems that came with a cassette tape (“A what?” I hear everyone under the age of 25 cry). As I played the tape, I would be transported to wherever and whenever the story was set. Never would I just sit and read the story in the magazine, why would I when I had the tape – ‘the Storyteller’ – to bring it alive?
Storytelling carries immense power for the salesperson, not only in the development of their own creativity but, critically, in the ability to engage with customers. More than just a list of facts; a story provides context and purpose and, critically, it invokes emotion; all things essential for the salesperson if they are to truly articulate the value they offer to their customer. Let’s imagine we want to tell the story of The Three Little Pigs, the facts of that story are:
- There are 3 pigs who leave their mother’s home and need to build homes of their own.
- One builds a house made of straw, one builds a house made of sticks and one builds a house made of bricks.
- A wolf blows down the straw house and then the stick house.
- The wolf then tries to blow down the brick house, but is unable.
- The wolf climbs down the chimney of the brick house and falls into a pot of boiling water/onto a fire and dies.
There is nothing incorrect about these facts, but without understanding the motivations and emotions felt by both the pigs and the wolf, we are less engaged and don’t know how to feel – perhaps the pigs were the villains and the wolf had come to save the day. The point is that the story element is the piece that, not only makes it more interesting to listen to, but also creates a sense of how you should feel. The ability to replicate this as a salesperson, is the ability to help your buyer ‘see the future’; to understand how they and their colleagues/customers will feel as a result of purchasing your products/services.
Now caution is to be advised as it’s critical to strike the right balance; when preparing for a pitch, consider time constraints and audience preferences and ensure that you have included all of the essential information. For those uncertain on how to begin, creating analogies is a great starting point; using well-known examples from film, history and personal experience to invoke feeling, create relatability and deliver impact.
Continued learning enables creativity and innovation. It makes us more knowledgeable, more adaptable and more efficient, increasing the number of opportunities open to us and heightening our chances of success. And yet, few salespeople actively seek out learning opportunities. In the Hubspot study, just 16% of respondents reported seeking out their own sales training when asked how they try to improve as a salesperson.
There are a number of sources of learning available to salespeople and the successful salesperson will have most, if not all, of these covered off;
- Company-sponsored training – As well as making the most of the sales training offered to you, actively seek it out; voice your desire for self-improvement.
- Mentoring schemes – A mentor can be somebody in your organisation or external. Look for somebody from whom you could learn and approach them about the idea of mentoring (you make have to seek support from your line manager first). Of course it will be dependent on their availability but, if you can get it to work, mentoring is a fantastic form of learning.
- Reading – In addition to the plethora of sales books out there, the internet provides us with a rich and varied library, available at just the click of a button. Subscribe to relevant and informative blogs so you receive their content directly to your inbox. Make the most of ‘dead time’ whilst waiting for appointments, sitting on a train, etc to catch up on your reading.
- Networking – There are 3 main forms of networking available to salespeople and you should be taking advantage of all three. Business to Business; whereby your customers and prospects act as partners and introducers, local networking clubs/events and larger conferences/events, which you can attend either as a delegate or manning a stand for your organisation.
- Coaching – If your organisation does not support a culture of Sales Coaching, this one can be a bit more difficult to implement, because you need your coach to be someone who has the coaching skills required to help you develop. If this is the situation, again voice your desire for coaching. There is loads of research out there demonstrating the value of coaching, which can help you make your case. The ICF (International Coaching Federation), for example, have found coaching significantly improves, amongst other things, work performance, time management, team effectiveness, self-confidence and communication skills.
- On-line forums – These offer a great arena for salespeople to share ideas and best practice. In addition, having a strong online presence is a great way to boost your credibility and build trust with customers.
Growth Accelerator is our own creative solution to many of the larger issues that senior sales leaders face such as profit leakage and profitable growth on large deals and strategic accounts. If you want a 14%* shorter sales cycle and learn how to properly coach deal opportunities, then contact the team today on 01778 382733 or firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a consultation.
In our next blog post, we’ll continue our close-up on the effective salesperson by looking into business acumen.
*2014 Aberdeen Group Study