Yes, I know the majority of you, justifiably, will think this title is an oxymoron. Something like jumbo shrimp, virtual reality, exact estimate, definite maybe, short meetings, job security, detailed summary, Microsoft Works (oops).
This impression is reinforced by the imitative behaviors we constantly see in selling, focused on doing more of what we know doesn’t work, but doing it because that’s what everyone does. We continue to focus on pitching products, when we know we have to focus on the customer business problems. We know we have to engage customers in things they care about, yet we focus on what we care about–getting the order. We know when what we do isn’t working as well as it should, we should change, instead we just pump up the volume. We know we must create value, yet customer increasingly see no value in working with a sales person. We have to help customers buy, yet customers don’t find us helpful. We know we need to achieve our quotas, yet year after year, we have fewer sales people (as a percentage) making quota. While we need our customers to change, internally we tend to embrace the status quo.
Given that history, why would anyone ever pair the words, “sales” and “innovation?”
Perhaps I’m thinking aspirationally. But I’m inspired by a small number of organizations that seem to do this, continuously. Organizations recognizing we, as with our customers, live in a VUCA world. That things are constantly changing both for us and our customers. These organizations recognize that what worked yesterday is no longer likely to be as effective today, and tomorrow will not work at all. Or some are at the forefront of driving these changes, envisioning new possibilities that help both customers and ourselves.
The mission of sellers, in fact, is to help our customers think differently. We sell change! We help customers innovate, to imagine a more effective way to achieve their goals, to eliminate or reduce the challenges they face in doing their jobs, to grow and achieve their dreams.
Sellers, also, are a great source of innovation within our own companies. We see things that are impacting our customers. We see changes within markets, industries, our competition–each of which present opportunities or threats to our own companies.
What does it take to innovate–both with our customers and within our own organizations?
- We must first recognize and enthusiastically embrace the fact change is our job and if things with our customers are constantly changing, then we must constantly be changing. This requires an open, growth oriented mindset.
- We must recruit people with demonstrated capability around change, curiosity, problem solving. We must build organizations with diverse experiences/capabilities.
- We must develop skills critical to driving innovation and change. These include ongoing training in curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, problem solving, collaborative conversations, change management, project management.
- We must encourage healthy experimentation, debate and disagreement within our own organizations–facilitating collaborative discussions about how we change.
- We must recognize failure is part of the innovation process. We don’t purposefully fail, but will fail. We have to learn from those failures, correct them, and change.
- We must recognize blind compliance is the enemy of what we are trying to achieve.
- We can’t help our customers innovate and change, if we don’t understand them, their customers, their markets and industries. We have to speak the language of our customers in order to connect and engage them in change conversations.
- We must recognize the most difficult parts of change, for our customers and within our own organizations, have little to do with selecting a solution, but the change management process itself. If we are to be innovators and change agents, we create the greatest value in helping the customer manage and gain confidence in their change management process.
- Leading sellers go beyond this, they recognize customers may be blind to the need to change. They may just be so busy they don’t have the chance to think about what’s happening and how they might change. These sellers incite their customers to change, then help them manage the process with confidence.
- And we must constantly be looking at how we might change, grow and improve. We must understand that watching our competitors, imitating what they do, copying each other does not set us apart, does not differentiate us. Rather we all become stuck doing the same thing. While there might security in numbers, that security usually means we are all failing in similar ways.
- If we are to be differentiated, we have to be different. Not just our products, but in how we engage and work with our customers and each other.
Where do we start? Actually, it doesn’t matter. Don’t waste time trying to figure out the best starting point. Choose one of the areas above, start there. You will discover these are all closely related and interconnected.
As we look at innovation and change within our own organizations, how do we do this? Who is responsible, where do we start? While innovation and new ideas can come from any part of the organization, we just have to encourage these and be open to them, there is a part of the organization having the mission for innovation and change.
Yes, it’s another set of oxymorons: Sales/Revenue Operations and Sales/Revenue Enablement. We need to hold ops and enablement accountable for continuous improvement, change, and innovation. We need to empower them to do this, supporting them in this mission, investing in their capability to do this. More on this tomorrow!