Apply Design Thinking to Sales

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain how design thinking solves modern sales challenges.
  • Describe how design thinking inspires interest and trust.
  • Identify ways design thinking can help you find solutions that work for your customers.

It’s Easy to Lose Focus on the Customer

Selling is highly advanced. Sales professionals benefit from new technologies that help predict a customer’s interest (for example, predictive analytics) and offer access to key contacts (that is, automated outreach applications). At the same time, selling has never been more challenging.

Buyers use technologies as well to do their own research and make decisions. The buying process now includes more stakeholders in decision making and is often managed either by a third party or a procurement team. In short, the complexity of sales has increased dramatically.

It’s also easy for salespeople to become distracted and oriented toward the products, services, and solutions they sell.

  • Most sellers experience an ongoing series of product and service trainings.
  • Sellers are trained on talking points.
  • They are held accountable to their sales targets and are constantly asked to provide forecasts about their progress with customer accounts.
  • Salespeople are rewarded for sales, for the numbers they bring in, not for the degree of partnership or how deep their relationships are with their customers.

All of these factors contribute to sellers being overly oriented to their own company and not focused on their customer’s business problems.

Use Design Thinking to Become a Trusted Advisor

Two sales people sitting with their customer

Design thinking offers sellers principles and a variety of tools that help them navigate this complexity. It also helps them increase customer interest and engagement toward a solution. First, by focusing on the customer’s end users, sellers can quickly learn important perspectives about the customer’s business. They can quickly learn their customer’s business language while also gaining insight into what their customer does well and where there are opportunities for improvement.

Second, by sharing these insights, sellers can differentiate themselves and establish trust. Some decision makers are also removed from the front lines of their business and don’t fully understand or appreciate the problems or opportunities they can pursue. Providing these perspectives helps create alignment and excitement across all stakeholders, since they all exist to support their most important stakeholder—their end user.

Implement and Iterate with Your Customers

Once salespeople have succeeded at inspiring alignment and engagement, it’s much easier to move into solution ideas. Remember the collaborative solutioning approach from the first unit. Design thinking can help establish and maintain momentum toward a solution. Frequently, solutions become delayed as decision makers try to create an ideal solution that minimizes any risks and optimizes all desired outcomes. Such high standards create a gauntlet that’s nearly impossible for a salesperson to navigate. But if you start small and revise the ideas quickly together, you can move toward a feasible and viable solution.

Adopting a design-thinking approach enables the seller to suggest either a smaller solution, or a solution subset the customer can implement or trial in order to build confidence. This sets the foundation of your relationship, and helps you move toward larger solutions your customer might have envisioned in the beginning. By shifting focus away from the one perfect solution toward something the customer can try and iterate, sellers can dramatically increase momentum especially for large and complex solution opportunities.


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