sales

Can you guess the most important goal for the sales team in your company? You got it right. The answer is ‘to sell”. And for many companies, it’s not just to sell – but to sell a lot, and as quickly as possible. 28% of surveyed companies indicated that closing more deals was their top priority task.

And how do you do it? Most probably by setting up weekly or monthly sales goals and benchmarks with commissions and bonuses.

Take a moment to think about how this pressure to close deals may be affecting sales conversations:

Are your salespeople taking the mandatory time to prepare for every call?

Do prospects feel understood and prioritized?

Or do the conversations feel rushed and impersonal?

What if just for some calls, the priority wasn’t to sell – but to learn?

Making this change would mean dipping your toes into the emerging trend of design thinking for business.

Read also: How to use design thinking to succeed in e-commerce

Design thinking basics

This aptly named methodology was created by/for designers, but has since proven successful in a myriad of other applications.

The design thinking approach has one goal: to understand and solve the problem for the customer, and is characterized by empathy, customer-centricity, and curiosity.

Design thinking as a whole may be a complex, in-depth set of principles. But when it is used to address other business problems, those principles that are most relevant and useful are applied. 

The discovery phase is where design thinking principles can make the biggest impact when it comes to the sales process.

Here’s how you can learn how empowering your sales representatives to think like designers can drastically enhance their chances of conversion.

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Read also: How can design thinking solve your next marketing problem?

Establish trust and credibility with Design Thinking

The pressure to close a sale quickly often causes salespeople to take the path of least effort when researching prospects. The internet becomes their sole source of data, which frequently results in a shallow, one-dimensional understanding of who they’re trying to speak to.

Not to mention, once you depend upon internet research alone, you merely know what everyone else knows about your prospect.

How will you offer unique solutions with just the standard information?

Design thinking inspires you to travel deeper – to get closer and more in touch with your customer.

Brianna Layton, Salesforce Account Executive, shared a story on the Salesforce website about how design thinking was applied by them to a customer pitch for a product distributor and retail company.

Brianna started interacting with the brand in every place she could think of along the consumer’s journey for 2-3 weeks before her presentation. 

She visited the company’s website, signed up for their rewards program, tweeted them, downloaded their mobile application, and bought their product at a physical store.

When she presented her insights, after a short moment of awestruck silence, the customer demanded to listen to more – asking questions, posing scenarios, and demonstrating the amount of curiosity and gratitude that may ultimately result in a successful sales pitch.

Take a lesson from Brianna. Head to the store, download the app, visit the restaurant. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer’s customer.

Introduce yourself to the brand by experiencing the brand.

Now you’ve got an edge in terms of a unique point of view to share with your client. Not only will they see your level of dedication, but they’ll also see the worth you will provide them before even mentioning your product or offer.

You’ve taken the time to know them and you’ve shown that you’re interested in revamping their business.

I don’t think there’s any better way to start a sales conversation.

Have more authentic conversation with your prospects

Another habit perpetuated by “always be closing” mindset is to start giving solutions before even fully understanding the matter that needs to be solved.

This is how sales scripts can be the devil in a not-so-convincing disguise. 69% of surveyed buyers say the way sales representatives can enhance the sales experience is by paying attention to their requirements.

The discovery phase shouldn’t just end with preliminary research. The most important thing to remember here is that most people don’t like being sold to, but they do like having their problems resolved. Design thinking suggests that even when you have the captive attention of your prospect, you should stay curious.

Ask relevant questions.

Research shows that top salespersons ask 10 very targeted and relevant questions per hour while average performers ask only 6 questions.

Discover something that genuinely stuns you.

Look for the unmet needs in the hacks and workarounds your clients have created for their customers because your client’s current system is failing them. And this should not happen just for the sake of being able to respond with, “I have just the right thing for that;” but in an attempt to embark a different kind of conversation – a real, customer-centric conversation that aims to uncover what your customer truly values. Only then you can start to create a custom solution.

Read also: Use Design thinking to transition to a digital workplace

Broadens the scope of opportunity with Design Thinking

Design thinking doesn’t just suggest curiosity just for the sake of it.

When you take the time to get inside the brain of your customers – and the brains of their customers – you may uncover certain challenges and problems they didn’t even know they had.

Salespersons often set out to offer a “simple solution” when in fact their customer’s problem is not so simple. In this way, design thinking challenges salespersons to become detectives. Not just in finding out information, but in piecing it all together to discover the full story.

Customers may report having problems that you detect are simply symptoms of a larger issue. When the popular sales processes say “we’ve got the prescription,” the design thinking processes say, “we’ve got the diagnosis.” Don’t miss the significance of this subtle shift.

To help your customers discover problems they didn’t know they had means that you’re able to identify and offer solutions you didn’t know they needed. And while prolonged curiosity may temporarily kill the close, in the end you’ll be able to offer multiple quick fixes that result in a bigger piece of business.

Of course the main goal will always be to close. And it will not be realistic or even feasible for representatives to extend their discovery process on every single account. But let’s think of design thinking for sales as a mindset shift – one that molds a salesperson’s thought process from “what can I offer to you?” to “what can I learn about you?” Just this shift alone can make a world of difference in customer conversations. But if you want to see the full impact design thinking can have on your bottom line, give some of your sales representatives the time and resources needed to apply this method to selected accounts. And learn how far a slight curiosity can take your sales business.

If you are looking to upskill and would like to learn more about design thinking, look no further and start with Stanford GSB Executive Education’s Design Thinking course in collaboration with Great Learning.

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