There’s another element, too: sales innovation needs leadership with vision. The perfunctory purchasing manager will often reject a new idea out of aversion to any departure from the norm. That person may feel responsible for the ultimate success or failure of the solution, and wants to only deal with the tried and true solutions.
If the customer’s company has an innovative leader, the customer will likely be open to innovation. Be on the lookout for enlightened visionaries, and beware of the protectors of the status quo. As Allen Kay, president and CEO of Korey Kay, explains, if there’s a lackluster leader, people may fear introducing new ideas.
“No matter what the leadership is, they have to have the guts to move stuff up the chain of command,” says Kay. “And in large corporations, many people don’t have the guts to do that.”
One of the first clients Kay worked for was a large insurance firm. Kay was working with Lois Korey at the time, and she told him, “It’s impossible to sell this client anything. Everyone is so frightened that they won’t approve anything beyond the lowest level. They’re afraid that if they approve something and the boss doesn’t like it, they’ll get in trouble. Therefore, nothing ever gets beyond the first level.”
This was a terrible problem for Korey and Kay, because, as Kay says, “We were presenting really wonderful, wonderful stuff and it was going nowhere. No one was benefiting.” But Korey had a creative idea to solve this problem: a stamp that read, “I disapprove of this ad.”
“So, we then presented our ideas to the insurance customer. It was a poster at the time, and Lois showed it to the guy and he said, ‘No, I can’t approve this.’ She said, okay. She took out the stamp, she stamped the ad, and said, ‘Would you sign it please? The agency has a new policy. When somebody disapproves of something, they sign it and it goes to their boss, so the boss knows what they disapproved.’ But the guy wouldn’t sign it,” explains Kay.
“On the very day we presented that poster, it went all the way to the top—approved,” concludes Kay.
In the best customer situations, you’ll meet with people who are willing to say, “Yes, I like this idea. This is cool.” If you have a leader who likes cool ideas, it’s much easier to gain acceptance. If the people up and down the line have the guts to approve it, innovation gets through. The chain can break anywhere along the line, but if belief in innovation doesn’t come from the top, the sales rep’s job is that much harder.
The truth is that the people rejecting your ideas probably have some power. It could be your customer rejecting your proposals, or it could be a team leader. Because these people have power, their rejection is going to sting a little more. But you still have to consider the validity of their statements—without getting emotional about it. Determine whether you’re going to press on if you think your ideas are defensible, or if you’re going to accept what they’ve said and modify your ideas based on their input.