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The Sales Innovation Dilemma: How Do We Get Creative?


Thu Jan 08 2015

The Sales Innovation Dilemma: How Do We Get Creative?

Raise your hand if your company currently has “innovation” as part of its strategy, major marketing campaign, or general buzz in internal meetings. Innovation—as a goal, a high-level concept, or just general talk—is everywhere. But where are all the new ideas for sales?

Sales organizations, in particular, are grappling with how to bring innovative ideas to their customers. How can sales people, who may or may not have had any formal training in bringing creative ideas to life, learn to think in new ways?


One of the first steps is knocking down a few misperceptions about creativity and innovation that seem to keep real, applicable, innovative ideas at bay.

Perception #1: You have to be born with creativity.

Reality: Most creators and innovators have learned how to be creative. And as in any other discipline, practice and tenacity are required before producing results.

Perception #2: Creative ideas come from eureka moments.

Reality: Creative moments are usually the culmination of a creative problem solving progression. In a majority of situations, brilliant results come amid numerous other ideas that never see the light of day.


Perception #3: You have to work in a heralded innovative organization to be creative (think Apple and Pixar).

Reality: Any organization can adopt innovative practices, and any individual can use innovative principles independently.

Perception #4: Innovation doesn’t apply to sales. Innovation belongs in product design or marketing, but not sales.

Reality: Innovation wins deals. Innovation can be the differentiating factor in a competitive sales situation and continued innovation can help retain customers.

Perception #5: Creativity is creativity; it’s all the same. A painter, musician, or poet can translate those talents to creativity in the business arena.


Reality: All creativity is not created equal. Most creative endeavors fall into one of two categories:

  1. artistic creativity, which does not necessarily have a purpose beyond art

  2. functional creativity, which seeks to solve a problem. 

As president of The University of the Arts, Sean Buffington understands both artistic and functional creativity. “We tend to think of creativity as something that resides in people who we think are creative,” he says. “We believe that creativity is a thing that some people have and other people don’t have. I would argue against that. While not everybody is necessarily visually acute or has the same kind of ability with their hands or can sing, everybody does have the ability to create; that’s something that is fundamentally human.”

Buffington adds: “But even though we’re all creative, our goals are different. Our purposes are distinct. In the case of the arts, the process is iterative and lifelong; it’s a process of learning and reacting and changing and adjusting."

"But in business timeframes are shorter and goals are different. In business, you don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘I made these four pieces of ceramic art and they didn’t really come out the way I like, so, I’m just going to put them on the shelf and go back into the kiln.’ In the case of business, the decision is more immediately consequential. The company either made money or it didn’t make money. It successfully entered that new market or it didn’t, and there could be real consequences that have to do with revenues, whether people are able to keep their jobs or not, whether the company can hire people or not,” Buffington concludes.

Bottom line: “Innovation” shouldn’t just be a buzz word. Sales organizations can use innovative thinking to develop better sales strategies, paths to market, and better solutions for their customers. Don’t be dissuaded by common perceptions about creativity, and don’t be afraid to take risks on new ideas grounded in functional creativity.

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