Innovation. It doesn’t have to be solely from your engineering team. Your sales team can drive innovation too. Of course finding innovation and improvement from your sales team can be valuable in any setting. Who wouldn’t want to find a way to improve your sales team’s performance through modification of their approach? That said, finding ways to improve your business through your sales team can be especially valuable if you are in a low-growth or commodity industry.
But finding innovative approaches in a sales team is an infrequent and uncommon occurrence The risks can be high. Its rare to find someone who is willing to try something radically different in the interest of changing the way their company sells. No individual or manager wants to risk missing their number by being the one who tries the wild idea with their team. New approach? No thanks. I know I can hit my number with the same tried and true playbook.
So how can you innovate in your sales process or sales management system? Here are three steps you can take to create a sales culture in which innovation is valued, is encouraged and prospers.
1. Eliminate the social stigma
First, don’t call them “projects” or “initiatives” or “changes”. Those types of names create a sense of certainty that the idea will be right. I vastly prefer using terms like “tests” or “experiments”. It is ok to try a new idea and find that it was a bad idea. If you want innovation in your sales process, then there can’t be stigma to trying something and failing.
There’s a big difference in perception between working on a “a project that failed” and “an experiment that failed.” You hear about a failed experiment and you shrug your shoulders and say “oh, sure, experiments fail all the time.” A few changes in your vocabulary can lead to a vastly different state of mind around your office when it comes to pursuing a new idea.
2. Cut the bureaucracy
Next, it is key that there is very little friction when it comes to trying to start one of these “experiments.” Brad Coffey has a nice post on his blog with regards to experiments and innovation at HubSpot (sales and otherwise). He writes about early stage experiments:
No bureaucracy, no red tape, full access to information . . . Tests are run by everyone and anyone – but are generally done in spare time (nights and weekends) and with few resources. You don’t need to ask permission to run these tests – and by design no one ever knows all the [early] stage experiments actively being pursued. It’s open and distributed.
The key, to me, is not needing to ask permission. Treat your employees like responsible adults. Set the expectation that they need to hit their numbers and meet their standard responsibilities, but they are more than welcome to try things on the side. Innovation isn’t the sole responsibility of the managers or the leaders. Good ideas are not monopolized by the executives.
If you see an inefficiency in the way your sales team runs, go for it!
3. Make it easy to measure and compare
Lastly, if you are going to try an experiment, make sure you measure the results. If you are going to try an “experiment”, then you need to be able to compare the results of your innovation in a rigorous, reliable method. This is classic “scientific method” stuff.
Determine your hypothesis. Maybe it is something like “If we eliminate the full, 2-week trial at all customers under 5 seats, we’ll increase our volume of sales despite lower conversion rates.”
Once you’ve established that hypothesis, figure out how you can test it. Maybe you have enough opportunities that allow you to run an A/B test: one for whom you apply the old method, one for whom you apply the new method. Then, using an analytics tool like InsightSquared, compare the quantitative results between the two groups.
The key is to leverage analytics and numbers to make your case for (or against) your experiment. Any change in process or approach brings emotional baggage. The people who created the existing approach have a stake in the status quo and might resist. By grounding the conversation in numbers – widely accessible, commonly understand metrics used in your organization – then you’ll keep the decision making process rational and reasonable.
What do you think? How do you encourage innovation in your sales process? Sound off in the comments below.