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Creative Solutions for Your Sales Team

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Wed Sep 17 2014

Creative Solutions for Your Sales Team
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Some sales organizations have made innovation part of their culture. Others are still stuck, trying to understand how innovative thinking merges successfully with metrics and quotas. So, year after year, they turn to “selling a solution,” “spinning the sale,” “building the “relationship,” or “challenging the customer” as a way to boost sales.

The problem is that, while the sales organization as whole predefines a solution or takes the customer through yet another new sales process, the sales team goes through the same old thinking patterns.

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Sales executives know they need creativity to produce new and better ideas, they just don’t understand how to get there. The first step in solving the sales innovation dilemma involves correcting some dangerous misperceptions about creativity.

Despite popular belief, creativity is not just about those “eureka moments” or for the lucky few pegged to have natural talent. It’s also not about some innate quality that can’t be learned, or even tied to artistic abilities like visual or aural expressions of painters, poets, and musicians.

Enter functional creativity

For business, it’s more appropriate—and useful—to consider something referred to as “functional creativity.”

Functional creativity inspires fresh ideas for a targeted issue or objective through a process defined by limits and boundaries, versus the free-thinking method that is often associated with creativeness. It means that functional creativity is better suited for the business mind because it provides a single right answer and allows everyone to view the problem through the same lens.

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This approach also means that anyone can be creative. Indeed, we all have the ability to be creative and innovative—we just need to break out of the comfort zone of old processes that result in predictable answers.

So, how can a business apply functional creativity to its own practices? Companies constantly deal with specific goals and timeframes which are, in effect, constraints. Functional creativity thrives within set boundaries because when that is combined with certain creative approaches, it enables inspiration for any business problem.  

Case in point

The Apollo 13 rocket was bound for the moon in April 1970 until a spark from an exposed wire in an oxygen tank caused a fire. In an instant, the mission changed from a lunar landing to a nearly impossible safe return home. Crewmember Ken Mattingly, who was grounded from the mission just 48 hours before liftoff after exposure to German measles, worked tirelessly in the Apollo simulator to find a solution.

Mattingly used functional creativity to recreate the astronauts’ situation and experiment within the constraints of severely limited power and water, which was needed to cool the capsule’s systems. He configured and reconfigured ways the spacecraft could safely burn through the Earth’s atmosphere. Finally, thanks to the ingenuity at mission control, Mattingly helped the crew to its famous safe landing.

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Becoming more creative

People are said to be either “left-brained” (rational and logical) or “right-brained” (creative and philosophical). Most sales organizations are built around left-brainers, and that’s fine as long as the teams become more innovative through a right-brain process. Here are four steps to get you there:                               

  • Step 1: Conditions. In the beginning, the sales team must define any constraints or conditions that may play a part in the problem. This is the time to consider issues like time, price or product specifications.

  • Step 2: Known approaches. The second step encourages teams to discuss ideas that have previously been successful. This examination of the past is the brainstorm portion of the process.

  • Step 3: Discovery. This very important step is often skipped by teams after the brainstorm because team members feel uncomfortable in this new territory, but it’s crucial because this is where innovation happens. During discovery, sales teams throw out previously-held assumptions, think of new ideas, then test their viability for implementation.

  • Step 4: Application. The final step is where the team makes their newly-discovered solution work. It is also crucial here to consider if the solution makes sense and to collaborate with customers while implementing it.

Becoming more creative is all about building on a set of principles and processes in order to grow capabilities. By teaching your sales team to use functional creativity and focusing on becoming a more innovative organization, your team’s sales performance and business solutions will grow exponentially. In what ways has your sales team built a truly creative mindset?

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