Can Design Thinking Help Sellers?

It's now clear that design thinking, when done right, can be hugely helpful for designing products and services. That's how it's mostly used by organizations. That's also how we activated our company with IBM's enhanced version which we call IBM Design Thinking. I traveled the world introducing our approach to all of our product labs and I subsequently introduced a modified version to our consulting and technology services organizations. After my initial work with a business unit, we had dedicated staff activate teams within each of those organizations through bootcamps and set up a leadership team. All of those organizations are now effectively using IBM Design Thinking. 

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We've had great success using IBM Design Thinking in workshops with clients, particularly by our consulting and technology services organizations. However, we hadn't focussed directly on the sellers themselves. My focus for the last while with my team has been expressly in this space, the use of our version of design thinking to transform the way sellers think, perceive, and work. Based on my experience working with many organizations across many industries, sellers typically think about what they want to sell and how they can get the customer to want to buy it. They perceive reactions from their customer through the lens of the degrees of likelihood of them buying what they're selling, and the focus of all of their work is typically on, in fact, "selling". Of course, not all sellers think, perceive, and work like this but a significant proportion do. Customers react to sellers like these with suspicion, caution, and often with their guard up. They will typically try to minimize the time they have to spend with the seller. Of course, this minimizes the chances the seller has to actually sell anything. 

A design thinking approach to selling pivots the seller to focus on the customer. Rather than thinking about what they can sell the customer, they instead start with understanding the customer, the context of the situation they're in, what problems they have, and what opportunities may exist to improve their situation. They now no longer perceive progress with a customer solely through the lens of likelihood to purchase but also on how well a solution may solve their problems. Their focus now isn't on just selling but also on co-creating a solution with the customer that will satisfy their needs. We've tailored our IBM Design Thinking framework methods for this domain and have been seeing very promising business results where we've used this new approach. Customers also love the approach and want to spend more time on this because they're not being sold to, but rather are involved in co-creating solutions together to the problems they have. 

So, can design thinking help sellers? Yes! Here's another instance where the change in thinking, perceiving, and focussing that design thinking, especially our IBM Design Thinking version, fosters can transform ways of working and materially advance results on a team, in this case a sales team.