How Do Sales And Innovation Work Together?

Every couple of weeks I get calls from clients asking questions such as, “How do other companies in my industry implement cross-selling?” Or, “How do companies in my industry motivate their teams on multi-year selling?” But they don’t really want to know how other companies in their industry do it. What they want to know is, “What should I do,” because right before they called me, they were grasping for solutions and replicating the status quo.

The Innovative Sale Process is a left-brained thinking process that helps to generate right brain innovation. Sales organizations need the structure of such a method to address the range of variables that define sales challenges and the constraints of time, product, price, and organizational capabilities among others. They also benefit from the defined steps in the process that ensure the team moves beyond the known approaches – the solutions they’ve developed in the past – and pushes through to a phase of discovering new ideas. Sales organizations can use this process to develop external solutions – in customer situations where the need to differentiate determines whether a deal is won or lost. The process can also be used internally for the development of other sales programs, such as a new channel partner plan, a new incentive design process, or a new value proposition for a customer segment that fits within the overall sales effectiveness strategy.

As illustrated above, the Innovative Sale Process consists of four phases: Conditions, Known Approaches, Discovery, and Application; and eight steps within those phases: Define the Challenge and Constraints; Gather Insight; Create the Initial Approaches; Destroy False Assumptions; Combine Parallels; Explore Horizontally; Develop Vertically; and Implement and Communicate. The Innovative Sale Principles are at the center of the Innovative Sale Process.

  1. Conditions: In the first phase, Conditions, the sales rep defines the challenge through a problem statement. In this phase we also define any constraints or conditions that are important to consider, including time, price, or product specifications that the customer has requested.
  2. Known Approaches: Phase two consists of Known Approaches; discussing ideas that have worked before. Almost all sales organization brainstorming consists of this phase – in fact, typically, this is the entirety of their brainstorming. Sales executives list their Known Approaches and then immediately jump to Application to begin implementing their “solution.” They’ve reached their solution development limits early and hit an innovation roadblock. While going with what’s familiar may feel like the right thing to do, they’ve missed the opportunity for Discovery and put the sales team in an undifferentiated position. Known Approaches are what everyone else is doing. But, by moving from that 4:00 position – Known Approaches – over to the 10:00 position of Application, we miss the whole area of Discovery.
  3. Discovery: Phase three, Discovery, is where the innovation happens. We destroy assumptions, think of a range of ideas, create combinations, and then test their ability to be implemented. A sure sign you’ve hit the Discovery phase is when your team starts to complain about feeling lost, with phrases such as, “I think we’ve gotten a little off-course. Perhaps we need to re-set our approach and bring it back to center.” Recall the imperative Get Comfortable Being Lost. Sales organizations tend to resist Discovery because it’s uncomfortable, it’s new, and because frankly, it takes work.
  4. Application: Finally, the fourth phase is Application. This is where we bring sales innovation in for a landing and make the solution work. Check that the idea makes sense, and collaborate with the customer to implement it.


Last week I discussed principles of innovation. Contact me at with any questions.