And not creativity for the sake of creativity — not sales people pulling wild ideas out of the air and throwing them against customers to see what sticks (ouch!).
Sales creativity is designing innovative solutions that are relevant and meaningful to customers’ specific situations.
To better understand relevance and context in sales’ creativity, let’s take a slight detour into art history.
Take Picasso again. He didn’t redo what Michelangelo had done, or Rembrandt, or Monet .
Picasso built on what came before him and then made it relevant for his time: he put both the painting’s topic and style in context. For example, his early work Le Gourmet (1901) looks similar to Cezanne in topic and style.
But no artist gains fame by following others. Art prominence comes from creativity.
Although already famous, Picasso’s place in art history rose to number one when he created Guernica (1937) in response to the bombing of civilians during the Spanish Civil War. In that painting, his creativity built on what had come before him, framed the time he was living in, and created a new way of seeing it.
Sales creativity, to be successful, must do the same. It too must be relevant, in context, and insightful — for each specific customer situation.
Luckily for us, sales creativity is easier than achieving Picasso’s levels. Yet there are salespeople who believe creativity exists only in lowering the price; that selling is a transaction-driven, commodity experience.
Unfortunately for them, customers don’t feel that way. Customers buy solutions to achieve goals and fix problems — the more specific the solution, the more confidence they have it will deliver.
So, to creatively design sales solutions, here’s a simple 3-step process to work through.
1) Left Brain First
Left brain is the logical side, from which existing reality can be analyzed and then ferment into something new and creative.
But it has to start with an analysis of the way things are. Gather sales intel by asking great questions. Here are a few:
How is your client’s company doing in its market?
- What are the trends of stock price, earnings, and dividends –rising, falling, flat?
- Not looking for detail, just trends
- What are analysts’ consensus about your client?
- Not looking for all analysts, just a few of the leading ones, and their generalized thoughts
- What’s the competitive landscape for your client?
- Threatened by old competitors, new competitors, disruptive technologies?
- Any Public Relations’ train wrecks?
- Any catastrophic lawsuits?
- Any significant governmental issues / regulatory non-compliance?
What does your client’s company say to its market?
- What are their strategic initiatives as described in:
- Social media?
- Statements on web site?
- 10k guidance?
- Press releases?
- How do they describe themselves (narrative):
- Rising, falling, stagnant?
Client’s Departmental Reporting Structure
- Where does the department report to?
- Always this way, or changed, if so when & why?
Client’s Departmental Historical Train Wrecks
- Any past blowouts blamed on department?
- What happened, how was it resolved?
Client’s Departmental Immediate Challenges
- What’s first on their radar?
- Pains their dealing with?
Client’s Departmental Road Ahead
- Where does the department see itself going?
- Strategic Initiatives coming or in progress?
Client’s Departmental Relationship with Procurement
- Who has the power?
- Describe the business relationship (temperature) between procurement & department
- New leadership or staff in procurement?
Client’s Decision Makers
- Who is there to screen you out?
- Who’s job is to vet the practicality of proposed solutions?
- Who can pull the trigger and make the final decision?
- Who is a friend, foe, evangelist of yours?
- Who is retiring soon and looking to coast through the next year?
- Who’s star is rising and who are they aligned with?
- Who has a visible initiative they’re pushing for that your offering could help with?
2) Let Go to Ferment
Calling for creativity is like calling a cat — it doesn’t come when you want it to — but it comes when its ready.
So give it some time. (not planning enough time, read “Walking Backwards: Timeline for Rebids“)
You’ve just peppered your left side of the brain with data, facts and details of reality. And we’re now asking your subconscious creative self to show up. Sounds like a cat to me.
Ideally, you can take one or more days after doing step one above to let the knowledge seep across from your left brain to your right, intuitive, creative side.
But if you don’t have that kind of time, take an hour, have lunch, a coffee break, anything to distract yourself and disengage.
It’s like stepping on the clutch when shifting a car into another gear. It doesn’t have to be a higher gear, just a different gear, the right brain creative gear. And that means letting go for a moment and allowing your mind to ferment a little.
3) Harvest from the Other Side
With the passage of time, fermentation can occur. Ideas percolate up from the right side of your brain often at totally unexpected times (mine typically occur around 3am, waking me up with solutions hours before I’d like to be awake).
I believe it’s the tension created when you force your left brain to stop and NOT ask it to create something.
Interjecting step two before asking for creativity is the answer. It creates a tension, a desert without ideas. And nature abhors a vacuum. Your subconscious will kick your creative side into gear below your conscious radar.
And so creativity bubbles up, sneaking under the fence that separates your left brain from your right.
And without trying to rationalize or critique your right brain thoughts, just capture them. Be prepared, have something to write with on the night stand, use a cocktail napkin, record notes into your phone, or scribble on a newspaper (analog version).
Like a brainstorming exercise, you’ll review them later left-brainedly and discard the unworthy.
But now you’ll have a list of potentially creative ideas from which to combine or use independently as a solution to your customers’ situation. Because these ideas will have a tangential connection, sometimes a slim one, to your customers’ needs.
As you can tell, this process does not run on direct causal relationships, i.e. step 1 doesn’t naturally lead to step 2, which inevitably leads to step 3. Nope, this is what sales creativity looks like. And in a repeatable process so you can save your creative capital for the output.
Try the 3 steps out. Let me know what you think.