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Does Your Sales Team Sell Products Or Solutions?

Ways to brainstorm and generate creative, profitable sales ideas.

The ability to generate creative ideas that lead to selling solutions may be the one thing that can set a sales team apart from competitors. In a world where technology is obsolete five minutes after it’s unveiled and globalization ensures that someone, somewhere, can make it faster, cheaper, and/or better than you, maximizing your human capital and the ability to find innovative solutions for your clients is no longer optional. It’s mandatory.

Eight Behaviors to Generate Profitable Ideas
1. Accept all ideas.
2. Defer judgment.
3. Share the focus and accept and styles.
4. Declare early and strongly.
5. Create a status-free environment.
6. Create a reward system that recognizes risk-taking.
7. Acknowledge the idea’s potential.
8. Perceive change as fuel.

The human mind has amazing potential and every one of your salespeople has unlimited creativity locked inside them. Perhaps they have considered a new way of selling to your existing customers or discovered an amazingly successful way to explain the benefits of a particular product. Ideas are great, but you won’t profit from them or realize the true potential of your sales force unless you deliberately put in place a process to draw those ideas out and turn them into usable solutions that bring value to your clients.

Brainstorming as an individual and sales team will lead to increased sales only if you can translate those ideas into new and innovative ways to approach finding a solution for each unique client.

But how exactly do you do that? What are some ways to generate ideas that will translate to client solutions?

  • Having a leader-initiated and team-approved ideation process makes sales innovation a priority. Scheduling a solution-generation session gives the process the amount of time and attention it deserves and communicates to the team how important innovative solution selling is.
  • Ideate from the point of view of the client. Spend your brainstorming energy on thinking of things that the client would think valuable, not things that you would like to sell.
  • Ask yourself, “What would the competition do?” Sometimes looking from the competitors’ view will uncover unexpected solutions and, perhaps, even beat the competition to the punch!
  • Think of solutions that are beyond your own product line. If you are limiting your solutions to only the product you sell, it will translate into a narrow approach to your sales process and your perspective of clients’ needs. If you brainstorm a solution that is outside your current product line, you may just come up with a new product for R&D or, at minimum, be able to offer the idea to your client. By taking this approach, your client will clearly see that you are trying to help generate solutions and not just pushing product.
  • Invite your prospects and clients to brainstorm solutions with you. Just knowing that you are taking the time to conduct a formal solution brainstorming session on their behalf will go a long way in building a relationship that perceives you as a partner and solution provider and not just an order-taking sales stiff.

Even with all of the “feel good” reasons aside, the big reason to transform your frontline salespeople into innovative solution superstars has a dollar sign in front of it. Ideas are the wellspring of solutions, and more ideas mean better solutions. It is a mathematical certainty. In a very tough global economy, your ideas are your edge.

Eight behaviors help individuals and groups more rapidly generate big, bold, creative and profitable ideas and solutions.

Every one of your salespeople has unlimited creativity locked inside them, be it a new way of selling to your existing customers or a successful way to explain product benefits.

Accept All Ideas
Don’t just accept the ideas that you feel comfortable with or that seem to make sense to you. You don’t have to implement every idea, you just have to acknowledge them. The more ideas you start with, the better the solution.

Defer Judgment
Deferring judgment allows ideas to ferment, to split, to mutate, to grow. Think of the mathematical possibilities that 1,000 ideas could spawn if you just give them a chance! The solution for your client is there; just wait on the judgment and let it show itself!

Share Focus and Accept All Styles
Be sure to put mechanisms in place that allow people to find and contribute ideas and solutions in ways that best suits their personality, expertise and style.

Let each member of your team declare their point of view early and strongly. Make it clear to your sales force that they need to contribute their ideas and points of view right away, when someone can actually use the information and it can affect the solution you are going to deliver to the client.

Create a Status-Free Environment
When you hold a solutions brainstorming session, make it crystal clear to the team that there is no “leader.” The flattening of hierarchy increases the comfort level, openness and productivity of the group. Tell the team that last year’s sales numbers, awards, salaries and corner offices are meaningless during the session. Remember that some of the most innovative ideas spring directly from lack of knowledge and inexperience.

Create a Reward System
Most companies base their reward systems entirely on results. Doesn’t it make sense to also reward the process that leads to the end result, not just the result itself? Take advantage of the competitive spirit of most salespeople, and throw out a small reward to the person who finds the most innovative solution, regardless if it leads to a sale.

Yes, First!
By saying “yes,” you’re not agreeing to implement the idea. You’re simply acknowledging the intrinsic value and potential it possesses. “Yes and” is the conduit to the next part of the solution and the vehicle to the next action. At our theater, we use the term “Yes and” as a way to drive the improvisational scene forward. You can use it to drive the team toward the next great solution.

Perceive Change as Fuel
While it’s only human to find comfort in stability and consistency, the reality is that change in the business world is inevitable. Your solutions have to change as aggressively as your clients’ needs. If you can approach the ever-changing needs of the client as a way to fuel your innovative solution generation, you will get to the client before the competition every time!

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John Sweeney Meet the Author
John Sweeney is a speaker and trainer and the owner the Brave New Workshop Theatre, the nation’s oldest satirical comedy theater and world-renowned school for improvisation, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and on the Web at www.speedoflaughter.com.

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