Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sales Innovation

Life is accelerating. Product life cycles are shrinking. Corporations must re-invent themselves every 3.5 years. Innovation is not a nice-to-have but a must-have. Historically new product development has been driven by marketing or engineering. There are several levels of innovation within new product development; brand new earth shattering products, major improvements of existing products, re-positioning existing products and cost refinement. At any given point most of these should be in play within your product portfolio. All of them have a price tag.

What I want to talk about is sales innovation. Whatever your sales force is selling today will be obsolete in just a couple of years. How they are selling will become obsolete just as fast. This isn’t a marketing problem or an engineering problem. It’s a sales problem. Sales need to apply the same methodology to sales innovation that marketing and engineering apply to product innovation. Here are the key steps:

Ideation (brainstorming)

The Product Development organization will spend anywhere from hours to days just brainstorming ideas. Sales organizations need to think the same way. Either as an individuals or as a group during sales meeting you need to take time to talk about new approaches to sales, underutilized markets, or sales strategies that need tweaking. The idea is not to filter these ideas but put them all on the table. The more the merrier. Later you can group them into subject areas. Now be responsible for following through.

Concept Development

This phase is a weed out phase. Collect as much third party information you can on the viability of the idea groups. Use the Internet, publications, friends or any other easy to access source. The goal is to identify the next BHAG by eliminating the dogs. There are a number of selection criteria such as consistency with corporate vision, greatest net new revenue volume, highest potential Gross Margin, length of sales cycle, shortest time-to-market, etc. You have to know your priorities. From a sales innovation standpoint you are not looking for R&D dollars and a long product ramp. You are looking at an evolutionary process, incremental improvement to the way you sell.


So you have found a couple of ideas that seem to have merit. You are still in the weed out phase. Do you have creditable primary research (ie. Customer testimonials, steering committees notes, marketing feedback from research) that supports the need to move forward? Do you have the core competencies to execute? Is there time, budget, and resources to be successful? Whereas concept development may rely on some subjective information, validation should be much more objective. Do the numbers make sense? Do I know the details of what I have to accomplish. If it were an R&D project you would have to have detailed specifications of requirements. Think in terms of that philosophy.


This is peddle-to-the-metal time. The best projects spend 80% of their effort putting together the specifications of what needs to be accomplished so that only 20% of the effort is used for actual development. If this breakdown of effort is reversed there is every chance that development will require re-work, re-work cost time and money, and you will miss your market window for execution.


They key to this phase is preparation, preparation, preparation. Are all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted? Is there a specific plan for go-to-market? Are you providing all the tools required to be successful?

I great place to learn more about this is through Ken Westra’s New Product Development trainings found at

Keep in mind this is sales innovation, not new product development. What is within your control? Your goal is to move your sales organization toward the next natural position in their evolution. What are innovations to look for?

New Geography

Are there pockets within your existing territories that are not being exploited? Are there territories that are not covered? Is there a way to effectively expand to these areas?

New Client Profile

Can you go up market or down market? Is there an approach that will provide a valid value proposition to larger prospect or smaller prospects? Can you go deeper and wider within existing accounts?

New Industry

Are there industry specific solutions that can be emphasized? Can you put together a capture team targeted toward specific job titles or work processes with an industry?

New Product Approach

Can you re-position an existing product with a new pricing model? Do your customers talk of unexpected benefits of owning your product? Is that an opportunity? Can you target ancillary products in the market that will benefit from your product? Can you build relationships with those vendors?

The key is that the outcome must first of all have a positive impact on results and second be repeatable. One-off initiatives, unless they have long lasting benefits, are expensive and send mixed signals to the sales force. One-offs have a tendency to detract from success not add to it. You may see a short term bump to results, but long term it just might be a distraction.

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship... the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. - Peter Drucker

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