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How to Use Design Thinking in Sales Discovery
August 17, 2016

In the second of a three-part series, Somersault Innovation Co-Founder Ashley Welch gives specifics on how using design thinking during sales discovery works. Read part one here, and keep an eye out for part three, where Salesforce account executive Brianna Layton will detail her experience selling this way.

In most sales organizations, there is incredible pressure to deliver. I’ve been in sales for over 20 years and know this firsthand. Management is under tremendous stress to hit numbers. Salespeople are hired because they’re closers, and are rewarded when they do so. This combination leads to the tendency to push for a close, versus staying open to uncover bigger opportunities and adding greater value.

At Somersault Innovation, we teach salespeople how to transform their conversations from pushing products or solutions to creating value for the customer. We are using tools from design thinking to help make this shift. There are three principles in design thinking that are equally relevant to sales: empathy, curiosity, and customer-centricity.

The sales discovery mindset

When we say we teach empathy, it’s really about reminding people to be empathetic — something we are wired for as humans. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of your customers in order to relate to their world. One way we encourage empathy is by offering guidelines for the questions salespeople ask their customers.

For example, we suggest they seek specific examples from their customers, not what “usually” happens, and elicit stories as often as possible. Salespeople find that not only is this a different way to engage customers, they also uncover so much more because they stay present and ask more questions than usual.

For curiosity, there are several design tools we offer. One is called “fly on a wall” and the other is called “show me.” For fly on a wall, we send the salespeople to a paint store to practice the technique. We’ll instruct them not to engage with anyone and only observe the environment around them. They look for how people enter the store, how they exit, and what seems meaningful to them while there and what doesn’t. From this observation, they can begin to derive what customers care about.

The other tool, “show me,” is more hands-on. Instead of asking customers how they, for example, enter data, the salesperson asks, “Can you show me how you do that?” Often, what people say they do and what they actually do is different. We are teaching salespeople to be detectives — and collect relevant information about their customer’s world that point to underlying motivation and unmet needs.

The third pillar is customer-centricity. We remind salespeople, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” We encourage sellers to begin to derive insights about what their customers care about, and even their customer’s customer, so they can share this with their customer. This is not about offering solutions, or even being “right,” but rather an attempt to spark a different kind of conversation about what the customer values.

Today’s buyers have changed

Daniel Pink writes about how we’ve gone from a “buyer beware” culture to a “seller beware” culture. There’s so much information available to customers today via the internet that customers are often well versed in their options and interests before the salesperson even enters the scene. It is therefore incumbent upon the salesperson to really understand the customer’s world to add value, not to just show up and educate him or her on a product/solution.

On top of all of this, we all know that sales is hard, especially prospecting. This approach offers a new set of tools to prospect, which is powerful and more engaging for the salesperson. As one leader at Salesforce told me, “Short of a referral, this is the fastest way to crack into an account.” It gets a salesperson into the field to experience their customer’s context and then to use this experience to have an authentic conversation with the customer.

Isn’t this a no-brainer?

Yes, listening and customer-centricity seem like they should be automatic skills, especially for someone in sales. Yet sometimes this fast-paced and complex world has driven the humanness out of us. We have so much on our minds and are under so much pressure to deliver that we forget we are actually selling to another human being. In addition, typically salespeople are naturally good at closing and therefore not as inclined to stay curious and empathetic, yet we need to be good at both to be great at sales.

At the end of the day, buyers are driven by emotion as much as by logic. If they view you as a trusted advisor, they are much more likely to buy from you. Design thinking helps salespeople make the shift to becoming a trusted advisor. Our results show that when salespeople expand discovery, they end up closing much larger opportunities than they would have otherwise. This results in tremendous growth in pipeline and revenue for their companies.


“Salespeople are naturally good at closing and
therefore not as inclined to stay curious and empathetic.”

Ashley Welch | Co-Founder, Somersault Innovation

This article was originally published on Quotable by Salesforce

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