Say what you will about Elon Musk, anyone who has ridden in or driven a Tesla will tell you how the ‘entire experience’ is just better. The sales model is different – gone are used car salesmen and dealerships stretched across acres of asphalt. The product is different – meticulously designed with a near perfect balance of the physical experience of driving a car and the incorporation of technology. The company is different – one of the fastest growing in terms of market cap quickly overcoming decades old competitors.
So what does that have to do with B2B enterprise sales you ask?
Damn near everything.
There is a great deal of discussion around the mega-trends affecting enterprise sales today – from artificial intelligence to augmented reality to generational changes and the continuing debate around how best to use the phone. Combine these trends with the macro shift all industries are facing around the influence of design and revenue executives have an unprecedented opportunity – to drive revenue growth and capture more market share by being purposeful and focused on human connection as they reinvent their sales and marketing teams.
Truly understanding the current opportunity requires realizing that, according to a recent Salesforce.com ‘State of Sales’ report, buyer experience or the sales experience has rapidly become a primary focus for revenue executives around the globe. This is a result of changing buyer dynamics, notably their expectations, access to information and comparison of B2B sales experiences with those in the B2C space.
Any B2B buyer or executive who owns a Tesla for example, has experienced the seamless, frictionless interactions of doing business with Tesla. And consciously or not, they want that same experience in their day-to-day, B2B lives. In short, buyers want to be known, want to collaborate with others who demonstrate an understanding of their challenges before the first interaction and they don’t want to be sold to because it creates too much friction.
Today the application of designed interactions is in nearly every aspect of the organization and can no longer be an ‘after-thought’ or a ‘nice-to-have’. Consumers and buyers expect well-designed interactions and are increasingly spending their money with companies that understand this and have invested in the purposeful application of design-thinking. From the sales and distribution model to the way tech is serviced in a Tesla, to the connection to larger, global issues – Tesla has designed every element of their business and the results speak for themselves.
This started with the advent of the iPhone and the way Apple revolutionized the concept of the user-interface. They moved the power from IT into the hands of the users and this empowerment continues to have large and seemingly endless impacts at all levels of industries and organizations.
As a result, sales and marketing executives must understand design thinking is not just for product teams, user-experience evangelists, and interface designers. Design thinking is ‘a method for practical, creative resolution of problems. It is a form of solution-based thinking with the intent of producing a constructive future result.’ It is a problem-solving approach centered around tools and processes to understand and take into account the emotional state of the buyer at every stage of their journey, not to just understand their stated and latent needs.
Some will say, ‘we leverage user personas’ or ‘buyer journey maps’, and it is true these artifacts were born in the design thinking world, but picking up the wrapping paper from a birthday present is not that same as unwrapping that present and finding a Tesla.
Revenue Executives Are Facing Some ‘Wicked Problems’
I am often asked by revenue executives, especially those leading B2B teams, why they should bother to invest in a design thinking approach to their teams. The answer is simple – the most effective sales teams and the most impactful application of design thinking results in human connection – and human connection is not easy.
Horst Rittel, a former professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was a design theorist best known for defining the term ‘wicked problem‘ and developing the Issue-Based Information System (IBIS) for addressing them. A ‘wicked problem’ is defined as ‘a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.’ And when we look at the landscape of B2B enterprise sales today, there is little doubt the problems and challenges revenue executives are struggling with are indeed wicked.
As society changes, buyers become more informed and expectations more clear, the fact that human connection is at the center of sales becomes even more critical and potential solutions as varied as the individuals dealt with on a daily basis. The opportunity revenue executives need to embrace is to design teams, methodologies, and approaches that take this into account, that provide a proven, repeatable method for sales teams and reps to connect in a meaningful, valuable, authentic manner.
This requires applying design-thinking on both macro and micro scales – from the way you do business to the structure of the organization to the way teams and individuals are enabled to the processes developed to provide revenue and business predictability. The approach can be uncomfortable and it should be. Design is not just about technology, products, and physical spaces – design is about applying intent to facilitate a more meaningful connection – and the future of enterprise sales needs this now more than ever.
Diverge to Converge
Sales and marketing professionals are often analytical. Success in these professions have historically rewarded the successful application of analytical thinking – and this will not change. However, when looking at ways to structure the sales and marketing teams of the future, when working to understand how to make your employees more effective – design thinking allows revenue executives to step outside the standard box of percentages, process, and tools to think in a way sales environments of the past prohibited.
Everything starts with a guided brainstorming session where ideas are collected with few limitations. The most effective sessions I have conducted remove the ‘fear of failure’ often hard-wired into individuals, replacing it with an environment where input and perspective are embraced. This can be a challenge for sales executives because it is not as rigid as sales processes and problem-solving sessions of the past.
Depending on the design-thinking process being applied there will be a number of stages sales executives must go through – define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement and learn for example. There are other variations in the process of definitions for each phase but in the end, regardless of what the stages are named or the activities conducted, the goal is to leverage divergent thinking first to uncover as many potential solutions as possible and then apply convergent thinking to find the optimal solution.
Revenue executives have an opportunity to think differently about their approach to sales and marketing – to elevate the human side in a consistent, repeatable and scalable manner. Without this type of approach, sales and marketing organizations will continue to be threatened by mega-trends and face becoming obsolete – much like Volvo declaring all their cars will have electric engines – because technology can replace their standard, analytical approach.
Stay Ahead of the Curve
While not the outcomes of explicitly design thinking approaches, sales is already undergoing changes. The renewed focus on Account-Based Sales is one example, the increased pressure on creating tailored, personalized content another. Both are the result of an increased focus on ensuring the buyer is involved in the development of a solution and their experience is more targeted and collaborative in nature.
But without placing tactics such as these in a design thinking framework, without leveraging this opportunity to approach sales and the human connection at its center from a new perspective, they will remain just that – tactics. To apply design thinking to sales and marketing, revenue executives must be purposeful and focused. Long term results will not be gained by simply adding a small electric motor next to the existing gasoline powered one, or adding a new battery or charging port. These are band-aid approaches to a system-wide challenge.
Revenue executives who continue to apply the same sales and marketing thinking that drove success in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s will continue to lag behind the mega-trends, will be responsive rather than proactive. There is a need for continuous innovation and evolution in sales, supported by the right tools and frameworks, all focused on human-centered results that drive business indicators.
Those that realize this and take the steps necessary to think differently, to sell and market differently, will be the industry-leading and recognized experts over the next decade. They will lead teams and business to greater heights of success and will be prepared for the struggles and challenges. They will understand the sales and marketing journey has changed, evolved, become more crowded and less predictable – and they will lead the teams that stay ahead of these trends.
Those who ignore the macro trends and emerging best practices will continue to wonder why their gas bills continue to increase while the miles per gallon stays the same of even decreases. They will have more challenges driving off into the sunset, simply because they did not take the opportunity presented and apply an approach that inspires thinking differently to truly achieve an innovate approach to a truly wicked problem.