Ideation Selling – A New Approach to Customer Development

A television commercial recently produced for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee features Al Pacino reprising Coach Tony D’Amato’s pre-game speech from the movie, “Any Given Sunday”. He says, “…the inches we need are everywhere around us – every minute, every second, we fight for that inch…” In sales, it’s an appropriate way to think about the many tactics we use to recruit new customers, especially C-level executives. When it comes to gaining access to decision makers, what really works?

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to consider this question in my personal selling efforts, for my clients, and with some colleagues who have introduced unique thought leadership in this area to the sales discipline. Ideation Selling represents “extra inch” thinking in an industry where many leading sales training and consulting firms offer homogenous approaches to address executive level business development. Here’s some background about how this breakthrough process was conceived.

Over the past two decades, business leaders extensively focused on strategies to improve operational efficiencies and enhance profitability through expense management. I refer this approach as, “cutting your way to success”. Since the 2007 recession, organizations have been further challenged with an economy dominated by significantly lower demand and radical changes in buyer behavior. (For more on changing buyer behaviors, see my post, Introducing the 99 Questions Methodology.) Recently, executives have redirected their thinking away from sustaining existing business models and towards business models that offer new business growth opportunities.

Instead of business efficiencies, leaders are concentrating on empowering employees to communicate and collaborate, directly responding to customers as individuals, and facilitating business partnerships to jointly develop new markets. Significant evidence of this sea change in executive perspective was documented in the 2012 IBM CEO Study, Leading Through Connections The business model of the future is all about Innovation.

This change in C-suite mindsets led my friend and former co-worker Curtis Brooks at The Magis Group to reexamine how Sales organizations approach executive-level business development. Curtis argues that sales leaders must throw out the traditional paradigm around sales prospecting and qualification if they expect to gain access to today’s corporate decision makers. This paradigm is at the heart of nearly all current sales training approaches: in order to gain executive access you must gain recognition of one or more problems they must solve in their organization. As a problem solver, your sales conversations demonstrate value; that is, how your product or service addresses that executive’s problem.

The difficulty is that the current sales environment and your target executive’s mindset render the problem solving paradigm irrelevant. When executives focused on internal business efficiencies, problem solving communications aligned with their interests, allowing sales people to gain access. A new communications approach is required to establish alignment and interest with executives driving an Innovation-based business model.

Having successfully sold and trained sales people in traditional sales methodologies, I admit that at first I found this concept hard to accept. As a sales person, I was trained to think about prospecting in terms of customer “Goals, Opportunities, Problems and Needs”, and my sales conversations were directed to align my products with them. In truth, only “Problems” truly surfaced as the primary mechanism to gain executive alignment. Also, my experience with marketing people has been that they also viewed the product vision as describing how a product solved customer problems.

Ideation Selling argues that a completely different messaging and selling strategy is required to circumvent the problem solving paradigm. Unlike traditional sales methodologies, Ideation Selling aggressively integrates elements of marketing and a radically different sales conversation with some new sales techniques:

  • A greater emphasis on customer targeting, using specific criteria to identify, score and rank potential prospects. This results in having to target fewer prospects with greater probability of success in reaching each target executive.
  • An efficient discovery process that identifies where innovation messaging opportunities exist. These discovery communications identify real business topics that better align with an innovation-focused executive’s style and vision. The result is that sales people lead with more compelling business messages that provide executives with unanticipated insights, ideas, and analyses aligned with innovation and creating new market opportunities.
  • True peer-focused communications similar to management consultant communications with clients. The “forward thinking” tone and communication style creates a perception of greater professionalism. Executives are more likely to have a proactive conversation with someone who acts and sounds like a peer.
  • Restructured communications techniques for sales call conversations, presentations and the sales call process that capitalize on discovery and provide valuable business insights to the customer executive. This requires a re-thinking of all the sales process deliverables, but the result is more rapid alignment between the customer executive and firm’s product/service.
  • “Ideation” techniques are used to define, design and build the sales messaging strategy. These techniques are more often found in marketing branding exercises than in designing sales messaging. Creating the messaging strategy this way along with the other above-mentioned elements produces a more proactive sales effort – instead of responding to RFP’s, why not send out unsolicited proposals and start the sale from there?

The Magis Group has documented how their clients have achieved spectacular results from Ideation Selling to dramatically increase qualified executive sales prospects and close more business. Ideation Selling enhances your current sales process because it starts “above the funnel” where sales organizations have the greatest difficulties improving seller productivity. You still use your current sales methodology once you move opportunities into a qualified sales cycle.

To paraphrase Coach D’Amato, fighting for that extra inch means the difference between winning and losing. If you are looking for that “extra inch” to change the game in your prospecting and build new executive relationsips, I recommend you investigate Ideation Selling.

In future posts, I’ll be providing more details about this groundbreaking new methodology and how it works. Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about Ideation Selling.


Author: Terry Walsh

Terry Walsh is a Trusted Executive Advisor known for his work helping clients create and execute revenue growth strategies, organize and build sales teams, and implement CRM systems. He focuses on helping sales leaders achieve their potential in building and managing effective sales teams. Author of “99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals” (Amazon), which outlines a road map for success in both individual sales and managing sales teams, implemented in dozens of clients. Terry's 25+ years’ experience and a proven track record help organizations build high-performing, well-managed sales teams that drive maximum revenue and create enduring customer relationships to exceed revenue, operational and strategic goals. Terry is currently a Partner with Funnel Metrics, LLC, a leading professional services firm that offers a unique suite of sales enablement and performance management solutions designed to help businesses improve revenue growth and predictability.a Previously, Terry worked as an executive sales leader for major companies including Culligan International, Cendant Corporation, Whitman-Hart/marchFIRST, Digital Equipment Corporation, and others. He has supported dozens of clients as a consultant, trainer and project leader to enable effective sales organizations.

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