Design Thinking and Sales – Let’s Connect the Dots

Sales | 8 minutes to read

26th Jun, 2018

What is design thinking?
In the words of Tim Brown, who coined the term, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

The term ‘design’ is often used to describe an object or an end result. But in reality design is a process of solving problems and discovering new opportunities. The various techniques and tools one uses to come up with solutions may differ but the core of the process remains same.

Design Thinking is a proven methodology for innovation that any business can employ to achieve extraordinary results. It encourages collaborative creativity to solve problems in a holistic and user-centered way. Simply put, it can be defined as a method of meeting customer’s needs and desires in a technologically viable and strategically progressive way.

Why is design thinking required in Sales?
In most organizations, salespeople are under an incredible pressure to deliver and hit numbers. A salesperson is expected to have a basic understanding of customer’s business objectives and organizational nuances, while keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to close.

While this type of sales approach might have brought business in the past, it is slowly turning obsolete, thanks to the changing trends and consumer values.  

Companies are now encouraging their salespeople to transform their conversations from pushing products or services to adding greater value for the customer.

And, they are making this shift with the help of tools from design thinking. There are three distinctive qualities in design thinking that are relevant to sales: empathy, curiosity, and customer-centricity.

  • Empathy: This is something we are wired for as humans. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of your colleagues, clients or customers. One way this can be achieved is by offering guidelines for questions that salespeople will ask their prospective customers. Salespeople should be encouraged to engage with customers in diverse ways and uncover more information than usual by asking more questions. All this is to be done by being genuinely interested and not to fill up some form.
  • Curiosity: Organizations should enable their salespeople not only to be more curious about the client, his challenges and his goals, but also observe their environment. They should look for how people work, what they work on, what process in the organization seems meaningful to them while there and what doesn’t. From this information, they can derive solutions which can add more value.
  • Customer-centricity: The third key quality in design thinking is customer-centricity. Thanks to internet, customers today are well versed about their options and interests before they even appear on the radar of any service or product provider. All this makes it crucial for the salesperson to dive in deep to understand the customer’s world, and not just show up to educate him or her about your product. Salespeople should be able to derive insights about what the customer’s wants and values are.


Design thinking in sales process
Now that we know the distinctive qualities required for design thinking, let’s take a look at the 4 steps that integrate design thinking into the sales process.

  • Defining the problem: This is one of the most important steps in the design thinking process. Salespeople need to have an in-depth understanding of the customers they are seeking to partner with. ‘Design thinking’ approach requires a team to always challenge or question the brief or the problem to be solved.
    This can be achieved by stepping back and challenging the established way we think. Observation take the center stage in this phase for it requires a keen eye and a fresh perspective to investigate the problems the customer or the client might be facing. The goal of this stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions.
  • Create and consider many solutions: Many organizations are in the habit of solving a problem the same way every time for the reason that it always works, and time is short. Design thinking requires that many solutions be created no matter how obvious the solution may seem.
    Looking at a problem from different perspectives will provide valuable results. Design thinking suggests an analogy that the results are better and richer when 5 people work on a problem for a day, rather than just one person for five days. This stage requires multiple perspectives and teamwork.
  • Refinement of the possible solutions: The few selected results or solutions to the defined problem need to be embraced and nurtured as some of the new idea can be fragile in their infancy.
    Design thinking enables their potential by creating an ecosystem conducive to their growth and experimentation. The goal of this stage is to achieve out of the ordinary results. It is possible that at this stage many possible options will need to be integrated to come up with valuable refined solutions.
  • Choosing the most valuable solution: At this stage you get to pick the ultimate solution for the defined problem. Prototypes of the solutions are created and tested to do so. The additional advantage of this step is the emergence of other unique ideas and strategies that are tangential to the initial objective. At the end of this stage, the ultimate solution to the customer or client’s problem is fully uncovered.

The result of the design thinking is a simple yet highly effective protocol that adds value to customer or client.  It gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we sell. Implementing design thinking may redefine the whole sales cycle or make a change in one or two areas.

It is not necessarily easy to get salespeople understand it, but it does appear to be worth the effort to bring in new change. Design thinking enables sales professionals to partner with customers to co-innovate valuable solutions and overcome complex challenges.

What do you think about this approach and how difficult or easy is it to break the molds of tested and traditional practices and donning the experimenter’s hat?

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