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Driving Innovation In Selling

by David Brock on February 1st, 2022

How do we innovate in selling? How do we change, adapt new methods, approaches, even entirely new business models to engage our customers more effectively? How do we learn and grow?

Sadly, too often, we don’t challenge ourselves with these questions. “If it ain’t broke…….” The problem is, it IS BROKEN! Year after year, we see declined in percentage of people achieving quota, declines in our ability to achieve our goals. Customers are, increasingly, seeking a rep-free buying experience.

Yet we keep doing what we’ve always done, at ever increasing volumes. Not long ago, I saw an interesting discussion. One expert was taking the position that SDRs are always entry level positions. Steve Hall had an interesting idea, “If prospecting and engaging our customers is one of the most difficult things in selling, why do we put our least experienced people in those roles? What if we put our experienced people in those roles?” What amazed me was, most of the discussion in response to Steve’s comment was, “SDRs have always been entry level people, we can’t change that….”

When we do try to innovate, too often, we look in the wrong places. We look our competitors–particularly those that may be leaders in our sector, we look at what they do and we copy them. That’s not innovation, it’s copying. And if our strategy is to copy, then we are always condemned to be no better than second place.

Or sometimes, we look at the “cool kids,” and we emulate them. Another conversation, recently, “Slack doesn’t have sales people, perhaps……” First, Slack does have sales people, but let’s imagine they don’t. Why should we copy them? They are a great company, but does what makes sense for them make sense for us? Will we achieve Slack’s level of success just by emulating them. In reality, Slack’s success is about everything they do, their culture, their business model, certainly their solutions, their people. What Slack does is successful for them, but not a promise of success for us.

There’s another approach to driving success, it’s Product Led Growth (PLG). It’s hugely fashionable right now, so many organizations are trying to copy it. But the problem with PLG is it’s all about a hot product! While I’m oversimplifying it, we want to minimize the friction that sales creates reducing it to electronic fulfillment (no sales involved) or order taking. But how many organizations can create and sustain a “hot product” strategy. Even worse, what if we copy those selling approaches for high growth PLG companies, but we don’t have hot products?

So where do we look for innovation, how do we think differently about selling?

A few of my favorite places/methods….

I always learn so much from people and organizations selling commoditized products. For example, consider many of the basic materials organizations. Competition can offer exactly the same commodity. Here sales people know success is not about the product, it’s about a whole bunch of other things. It may be services offered in complement to the commodities, for example logistics, supply chain management issues or other things that make the customer use of the offerings easier. Or it might be innovation that helps the customer think differently about the offerings they provide their customers. For example, one of my clients helps their customers come up with custom formulations to maximize their customers’ abilities to sell their own offerings. These companies tend to be more focused on their customers and what their customers are trying to achieve though their “total offerings.”

Whatever it is, they have learned success is not about “how great our products are.” Now here’s a thought, what if we had a hot product and we combined some of the practices of these companies that sell commoditized products. That could drive really different ways to engage customers.

Another place I look is in markets and segments very distant from the markets/segments we participate in. We’ve seen some of this with adaptation of consumer product company sales approaches to complex B2B. As I’ve mentioned before, if we are a SaaS company, we don’t learn a whole lot by looking at how other SaaS companies sell. Likewise, if we are an IT Professional Services Company, we don’t innovate by looking at what other in our industry do. But if we look at very different markets, we might come up with new ideas and approaches.

For example, in B2B sales, I’ve always been fascinated by looking at the “fashion industry,” and how to adapt some things they do int complex B2B sales. Or I like looking at what professional services companies do, adapting them to embedded product companies.

But as we look to “artfully plagiarize,” what other do, we know we can’t copy–because their businesses are so different. Instead, we have to think how do we adapt them–how do we take the concepts, but tweak them, change them, adapt them to what might work in our organizations.

Then finally, and I hope obviously, we have to look to our customers. Where are the areas they struggle the most? Where do they need and want help? How do we help them more effectively achieve their goals? How do we understand what’s happening to them, their markets, and industries?

Once we do this, we need to think, what do we change to work more effectively with them and create value together.

Innovation is tough in whatever area you are trying to innovate. It’s hugely challenging in selling.

At the same time, it’s never been so important! We and our customers are facing increased challenges, disruption, more rapid changes, and skyrocketing complexity. What got us to where we are today, probably won’t work as we look forward. We have to innovate!

Afterword: As important and change an innovation is to us, it’s critical for our customers–and they struggle with it. These same approaches and tools can be used in working with customers helping them think about change.

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  1. David, I have commented on your posts and blogs many times. I really enjoy your thinking.
    I have run a sales and management coaching business for 37 years and so little has changed.
    There have been the latest fads that come and go but there has been very little REAL innovation.
    Why is this? As salespeople we promote innovation every day, we paint pictures of the benefits and proudly display the ROI.
    Guess who is reluctant to take their own advice? The sales leaders and the sales team. Crazy – even when they are in trouble there is massive resistant to change.
    I have a proven system that helps SDR’s to put experienced salespeople in front of fully qualified buyers with a customer calculation of the ROI. There s only the final solution to be discussed.
    This is not a pitch for my product, i don’t need that. The comment is about how easy it is to sit wth the key buying influencers and quickly get a trial started…and that’s where the challenge begins. With the sales manager or head SDR.
    They fear innovation instead of embracing it. I often hear comments that indicate overconfident incompetents who would rather stick with a broken system than collaborate with innovation.
    We generally make the sale but who has taught this level of management automatic resistance.

    • Tony, first, I’m so sorry for the slow reply, thanks for your patience. I couldn’t agree with you more. We sell innovation and change, but we are the worst in innovating or changing what we do. Thanks for the outstanding observation.

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