Thursday, January 2, 2020

Why Every 21st Century Sales Leader Needs to Be a Creative Problem Solver


Guest post from Mark Donnolo:

In my new book Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, I recount an auspicious meeting I had many years ago with Steff Geissbuhler, a partner at a prestigious New York City design firm. I was in art school at the time, studying graphic design and branding. Thanks to a couple recommendations from professors, I landed an interview with Steff for an internship with the firm. As he reviewed my portfolio, I expected him to ask how I got the ideas for my logo and design assignments. Instead, as he flipped through the pages, he asked me one question, over and over: “What was the problem you were trying to solve?”

It took me a while to fully appreciate Steff’s question. Design isn’t about creating something that looks great; it’s about solving problems. The same thinking applies to solving sales problems. Practitioners use a time-honored methodology called design thinking, a five-step, iterative process that starts with empathizing with those who are facing the problem, then defining the problem, brainstorming, and building and testing a prototype—all the while going back and forth with stakeholders, fine-tuning to get the solution right.

In my work with SalesGlobe I’ve developed Sales Design ThinkingSM   to help sales leaders solve problems around any sales or business challenge, like sales strategy, organization design, sales capacity, sales compensation, change management, and of course quota setting. It’s less ethereal than design thinking and more practical for the business environment.  

Beyond solving strategic business or sales problems, how can we build our creative problem-solving capabilities to become more competitive in our careers and industries?  Recently, in a nationwide survey of educators and policymakers, Adobe found that three quarters of the respondents believe that students need to develop creative problem-solving skills for their future careers. Almost 90 percent said that students who excel at creative problem solving will have higher-earning job opportunities, and 85 percent agreed that these skills are in high demand for today’s higher-paying careers. As I’m fond of saying, “You can’t offshore, automate, or AI creativity.”

Yet the respondents overwhelmingly agreed that this critical skill is either ignored or under-taught in schools.

That’s why I’m on a mission to share this skillset with sales executives.

Sales Design Thinking has five phases: Articulating the Problem Statement; Redefining the Challenge Question; Thinking Horizontally and Combining Parallels; Developing Vertically; and Managing Change.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation – communicating about organization changes after an event such as a merger or acquisition – and put that through the Sales Design Thinking process.

1. Articulate the Problem Statement. Typically, it goes something like, “We need to communicate the new organization structure following the merger because the team is confused – and we’re afraid they’ll miss their number.” But if you try to solve for that problem statement, you may miss the underlying issues. So, step one is to check yourself. Are you asking right question?

2. Redefine the Challenge Question. After thinking it through and discussing it, you’re likely to turn your problem statement into a Challenge Question. A Challenge Question is more powerful because it comes from expanded thinking, but also because it is a question. And questions provoke thinking and ideas more than statements, which tend to be static. For something as important as organization changes following a merger, a communications strategy has to be designed thoughtfully. Ultimately, your Challenge Question could end up closer to: “How can we best use all available communication channels to deliver a campaign to each audience about the changes that will affect them across the organization?” The Challenge Question focuses on more components than a problem statement and gives us a better starting point based on the real problems or root causes. In redefining the Challenge Question, a lot goes into discovery, including understanding the story of how we got where we are and creating a solution vision about what great looks like. If you think you understand the whole story, the news is that you probably do… but only from your perspective. This is where gathering insight from the team, the organization, and from analytics comes in.

3. Think Horizontally and Combine Parallels. In other words, brainstorm each part of the Challenge Question and start expanding your thinking. The best brainstorming comes in the form of questions that evoke further thinking. Who are the audiences? What are the key messages? How do people understand and process messages? What are the options for communications vehicles? How do they align to each audience? What’s required for someone to understand a message in terms of vehicle and repetition? What is necessary for someone to believe a message? For each question and each answer, look at how you might combine them into possible solutions.

4. Develop Vertically. Now you can begin to narrow down the universe of possibilities, solving for the challenge question and factoring in degree of change, and ease and cost of implementation. If the organization has sales teams on three continents, for example, it’s unfeasible to discuss the changes with everyone in the same room. But asking each sales executive to reach out to sales managers over the company’s instant messaging platform could be a highly effective way to make the message stick. Perhaps having them conduct follow-up workshops in person may reinforce those messages. Your challenge in developing vertically is to narrow down and simplify the abundance of ideas you created in horizontal thinking.

5. Manage Change. Change management requires a structured approach with frequent reinforcement. Messaging isn’t a one-off; it’s an ongoing process that requires management – and may also require tweaks and shifts as you roll it out.

Sales leaders face weighty challenges from strategy to execution to change management that have a direct impact on business results. You’ll find that if you pause, think, and practice the five steps of Sales Design Thinking, you’ll start seeing new ways to solve the real problem.

Mark Donnolo is founder and Managing Partner of SalesGlobe, a leading sales effectiveness, consulting, and innovation firm. For over 25 years, Mark has worked with Global 1000 organizations on strategies to grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of sales, marketing, and service organizations. Areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark is the author of numerous books and articles. His newest book is Quotas! Using Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Challenge (ATD Press). Mark’s earlier books on sales effectiveness include: Essential Account Planning; What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation; and The Innovative Sale. Access complimentary resources and subscribe to Insights at SalesGlobe.com.  




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