ATD Sales Enablement Blog: Creativity for Sales—One Word at a Time


June 3, 2015

by Mark Donnolo, Managing Partner, SalesGlobe

Successful sales people are—more often than not—the ones asking their customers questions so they can fully understand the problem the customer is trying to solve. Instead of just taking the customer’s problem at face value, invest the time to redefine the problem, if necessary.

Another way to generate ideas is to look at creative solutions for each part of the customer’s problem. For example, imagine a software company trying to increase its license renewals. We can boil their problem down to one statement: “How can we develop a customer loyalty program that will increase license renewals?”

We can break this statement into parts. (I’ve emphasized the important element in capital letters.)

“How can WE develop a CUSTOMER LOYALTY program that will INCREASE LICENSE RENEWALS?”

Just by looking at the pieces of the sentence, we can look for parallel ideas that might match just one part of the problem. For example:

“How can WE develop…” Should your company actually develop the program itself or turn elsewhere for help? For the software company, the team might look at how other organizations use business partners, sales channels, or other credible sources to develop or implement programs. Looking for parallels here could lead them to leverage the talents and resources of their software reseller partners, for example.

“… a CUSTOMER…” How do other organizations define their customers? Maybe the sales team shouldn’t try to solve the renewal problem for every customer. Perhaps there are parallels for how other organizations have focused on specific customers, customer segments, or industries.

“… LOYALTY program…” Isolating the loyalty component can create a number of parallels to how organizations create relationships and foster trust to build loyalty.

“… that will INCREASE…” The element of increasing suggests parallels to growing quantities or – just the opposite – decreasing quantities. So in applying parallels we might look for examples of not only increasing loyalty, but also decreasing departure. Decreasing departure could generate parallels around disadvantages of leaving a situation, raising switching barriers, or creating more stickiness in the relationship or product.

“… LICENSE RENEWALS…” Focusing on license renewals suggests parallels to categories of agreements in general, and specifically contracts requiring people to stay with someone or something. The team also might look for parallels beyond renewing an agreement for a product to renewing an agreement for other related services that could increase loyalty for the main product.

For example, what if the software company found that customers really valued a related professional service they receive from the company, but the most economical way to get that service was to also maintain their software license contract? That would shift the parallel to finding related services that increase retention of core services.

Bottom line: Don’t take your customer’s problem at face value, and don’t assume all elements of the problem have to be solved in the same way.