Innovation In Sales—sounds a little like an oxymoron, something like sales intelligence. I was intrigued by the question my friend Lauren Harper posed on Focus.
Innovation is critical. The pace at which customers are changing the way they buy, demands rapid change and innovation. Without it, we will be left behind. We will become uncompetitive, our products and services will be commoditized, we will be left to fulfilling orders at the lowest possible price.
Yet innovation is tough–or we make it tougher than it need be. I think the problem is that we have a tendency to associate innovation with “The Big Idea.” Coming up with the big idea is tough. It takes a huge amount of time, very smart insightful people, lots of research and debate. Implementing the big idea is tougher. It probably means aligning lots of disparate interests, many moving parts, great change management efforts, and huge risks. It may take months or years to know if there is a payback.
I tend to like to think of innovation in sales as dozens to hundreds of little ideas or experiments. Innovation starts with each sales person looking at what they do every day. Trying something new–perhaps a new way to do a prospecting call, perhaps a different way of engaging the customer in a conversation about what they are trying to achieve, perhaps a different way of presenting a solution. It’s looking at each deal and asking, “What if I tried something a little different?” Perhaps it’s exploring personal performance, asking “What can I do to shorten my sales cycle?” “How do I improve my ability to win?” It may be asking the customer, “How can I be more effective in working with you?” Perhaps it’s getting rid of some bad habits. The biggest enemies of innovation at a personal level is being on autopilot, sticking rigidly to the script, not paying attention, going through the motions.
At an organizational and managerial level, the same principles apply. It’s encouraging your people to try some different things. It may be seeing one high impact thing a sales person is doing and sharing that “best practice” with everyone else — letting them experiment and adapt it to their own territories.
Ideas can come from learning from other organizations in other industries (that’s one reason networking events can be really powerful). It maybe seeing someone or organization doing something clever; then adapting it, tweaking it, and trying it in your own situation or organization. Reading, attending conferences, constantly learning, also provide great ideas. It may not come from a conference speaker focusing on the big idea, but from that conversation you had with someone during a break.
Not every idea will succeed, but since you are working on dozens to hundreds of little ideas, the risks of failure are probably very small or even inconsequential. Plus, even for those ideas that fail–there is something to be learned, perhaps even a new idea or innovation.
Set a goal for yourself and your team to come up with 5 new ideas that can be implemented tomorrow at no cost. Try them out, throw away those that don’t work, adapt those that do. When you’ve exhausted those 5, come up with another 5, repeat the same cycle. Dozens of ideas and innovations, executed rapidly can have a higher and faster payoff then the one “Big Idea.”