Two of the most important elements of effective sales are (1) understanding your clients, and (2) offering a solution that meets their needs. After all, if you don't know who your end users are or what they need, how will you possibly convince them to buy from you?
The process of getting to know your target customers and adapting your offerings to their pain points and goals dovetails nicely with the concept of ideation. Let's talk about what we mean by that term, and how it can help your team to improve their sales performance.
What is Ideation?
One definition of ideation is "the process of developing and conveying prescriptive ideas to others, typically in a business setting. It describes the sequence of thoughts, from the original concept to implementation." In plain English, ideation is the process of developing and implementing ideas.
Ideation is a big deal because employees and leaders that are 100 percent focused on going through the motions of their job will miss opportunities to improve their products, services, or strategies. It takes time and effort to temporarily step away from the routine tasks of your job and meditate on new concepts.
However, the rewards of ideation are well worth the investment. Just ask Beethoven, Einstein, and other geniuses of art and science who produced masterpieces through hours of deep thought. (But don't worry. You don't have to be the next Einstein to think up a great idea!)
Examples of Ideation
There are several examples of ideation at work in the corporate world. Steve Jobs may immediately spring to mind. His innovative approach to consumer electronics was the result, in part, of focused meditation on what customers wanted, and how Apple's products could fill those needs.
Google is another example (at least in its early days). At one point, the company encouraged employees to spend up to one-fifth (20 percent) of their time at work meditating on new ideas that intrigued them, and could eventually become solutions to real-world problems.
Even toothpaste companies have taken advantage of ideation as a business strategy. For instance, back in the 80's the team at Unilever had to brainstorm ways to compete with the two "toothpaste giants," Colgate and Crest. The solution? The world's first baking soda and peroxide toothpaste, Mentadent, which sold very well as a "specialized" product.
The point is, incorporating ideation into your business plan makes good sense, and can open doors for your team that you would never have known about otherwise. So now the question is: How does ideation specifically relate to the sales process?
Integrating Ideation into the Sales Process
If you really want to help your clients meet their business objectives, then it's important to lead them through the ideation process. This means taking them through two important steps: discovery and ideation.
In the first phase of the ideation process, you want to learn everything you possibly can about the client. Many companies will ask: "What's the main problem the client is facing?" and stop there. While that is a key question you need to answer, you have to go deeper than that.
For one thing, you want to divide that question into two parts. What challenge is the company facing? And what challenge is the individual (or team) facing? It's important to delve into both of these factors. Even if you have a "big picture" solution in your back pocket, it may not resonate with your client until they understand how it will affect them and their team personally.
Ask the "magic wand" question. In other words: "If you could wave a magic wand and instantly solve all of your business problems, what would that reality look like?" And this is key: listen to their answer. (It's amazing how much of effective sales is listening to the client, versus talking to them.)
When you're in the discovery phase, come armed with basic questions like:
This process of discovery is critical. You'll not only understand exactly where your client is coming from, but the answers to these questions will also set you up for step #2: ideation.
In the ideation phase, your main objective is to throw as many ideas as you can into the hat. In order to do that, you want to bring together as many stakeholders as you possibly can. This includes everyone from your original discovery session, plus any domain experts, the client's production team (if applicable), and so forth. Think of it as a mass brainstorming session with a clear focus.
Once everyone has assembled, draw a 2x2 matrix on the whiteboard. Mark your first column "individual;" your second column "company;" your first row "problems;" and your second row "solutions."
Start with the problems row. List out all the challenges and pain points that you identified in the discovery phase, both for individuals and for the company as a whole. (And remember, discussing individual challenges is a huge difference-maker throughout the entire process). Ask your audience if you missed any questions or pain points in the original discovery session. If they come up with any, write those down for future reference.
Next comes the fun part: brainstorming solutions to the client's problems. It's okay if your team comes up with ideas that are completely nuts! The point of this exercise is to explore all the options and opportunities that are open to your client, and think about ways to implement the best solutions.
At the end of this process, you need to make sure that there's follow-through in two key areas:
The entire ideation process can take anywhere from half an hour to a full day. But if you take the time to go through it, your team may come up with some truly amazing solutions. And your sales performance will improve as a result.
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