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Question-storming, interrogation and simplicity. Creativity & sales.

Great salespeople are by default engaging their creative side – they create opportunities and demand where there is none, and are constantly seeking new ways to make a sale. As legendary ad man David Ogilvy famously said: “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”.

I’ve trained some big sales teams over the past few years and one of the many challenges they face is delivering written sales proposals in compelling and interesting ways that will cut through the in-box clutter. This often has to be done under immense time-pressures – in fact I would say that the sales teams are more time-poor than any other group I’ve worked with. The problem with having to work fast means that we may not analyse the problem in any great detail. Or we may just ‘cut and paste’ other proposals or solutions. But that won’t cut it. Creativity & sales may not seem at first glance to be bedfellows but there are hundreds of creative tools that can help sales people with their problem solving, and a couple are worth exploring here.

Attack the problem with a creative machete

 Whilst were often tempted to dive straight into solving the problem, taking a step back and ‘interrogating the brief’ to unravel the problem. Here’s an example: let’s say you’re pondering how to re-engage with a lapsed client – a common problem that sales teams face. On its own, it can seem so unwieldy that you don’t know where to begin; this method forces you to spend time either alone or with colleagues trying to reframe the issue so that you can find new ways in.

Answers to your conundrum might start to present themselves if you break it down into smaller chunks:

  • Why are they a lapsed client – what happened?
  • Are they now spending money elsewhere?
  • Is there still a place for our offer?
  • When did we last speak to them and what did we say?
  • What problems or challenges do they have that we could help with?
  • Is there an obvious moment when it would make sense for us to re-engage with them?
  • If I were them what three things would re-awaken my interest in our product/service?
  • Why are they spending with our competitors?

Question storming can be more useful than brainstorming in these early stages so that you get multiple perspectives on the problem.

One word, multiple answers

 Another tool that sales teams can use is known as the ‘one word’ solution, where the goal is to distil your problem down to a single sentence and then – you guessed it – just one word. Here’s how it might work with the lapsed client dilemma.

“How do we re-engage with lapsed clients?” as a problem statement might boil down to “our clients have gone elsewhere.” This may then distil down to “boredom”. What other words might be used? Look for synonyms in the thesaurus and find the word that you think sums everything up. If your colleagues do the same, you’ll likely end up with a whole list of words which may open up new lines of thought. For example, your list might include:

  • Apathy
  • Relevance
  • Price
  • Convenience
  • Outdated
  • Familiarity
  • Desire
  • Trust

Who knows were these insights into your customers’ minds could take you?

Creative thinking can help sales teams to come up with novel ways to approach customers; it can result in eye-catching deals and offers as well as a change in the way that you physically interact with clients. I don’t mean just offering them a coffee from a spluttering Nespresso machine – what would happen if you made a point of closing deals somewhere exciting, or you were able to introduce something funny or memorable when explaining your product?

Creative thinking is in part about flexible thinking – and it’s something we can all get better at with practise. One way to begin is to try and adopt a more curious mind-set; the more you learn about the world the more you can connect the dots when searching for new solutions. It also pays to be open to new ideas instead of rigidly sticking to old ways of doing things, and to contemplate ways to challenge your industry’s status quo.

This article first appeared on www.sales-iniative.com in December 2016.

Claire’s new book In Your Creative Element is out now by Kogan Page.

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