Using Patterns to Find Innovation in Sales


Within each of the six Innovative Sale Principles (pattern, variety, unity, contrast, movement, and harmony) are details about how to act on these ideas.

For example: what does pattern mean in a sales context?

I’m glad you asked.

In sales, Pattern refers to our instinct to find related ideas in any given situation. Have you been in a similar situation before? Have you heard or read about a similar customer situation? You might leverage those ideas, rather than reinventing the wheel each time.

Consider three ways to incorporate this idea into real sales situations:

1.      Get Comfortable With Feeling Lost

In customer situations that are really challenging – situations that demand something different to keep the business or win it in a competitive situation – sales teams typically lock in on an answer from a menu of choices they’ve used before. If they temporarily step off the map of their expertise, they quickly retreat.

Don’t retreat too early. When you’ve exhausted your first round of typical solutions, tally up the hours you’ve spent to that point. Then take an additional 20 percent of those hours and commit to working beyond where you stopped. Being temporarily lost is often part of innovative thinking. Consider the signals of retreat as indications to continue ahead, and see what outcomes are on the other side.

2.      Combine Unrelated Ideas

There are countless examples throughout history of new inventions that are actually, famously, the combination of two previously unrelated ideas. Joseph Pulitzer combined expensive high-speed printing with lucrative large scale advertising to create mass-circulated newspapers. Henry Ford combined Adam Smith’s division of labor and Eli Whitney’s assembly line (although, the Ford Motor Company learned of the moving assembly line through William “Pa” Klann’s visit to Swift & Company’s slaughterhouse in Chicago) to create the first moving assembly line in manufacturing and, subsequently, the first affordable car. My personal favorite is Johannes Gutenberg’s combination of a coin punch and wine press to create the first moveable-type printing press.

Combining ideas and significant accomplishments from another industry, culture, or even period in history and retrofitting them to your unique sales problem can spark original answers.

Don’t reach for the convenient answer that repeats the same patterns. Look beyond your company walls and your industry norms for solution components you can borrow.

3.      Become a Student of History

Becoming a Student of History can give you a rich inventory to source those unrelated idea combinations. We’ve been on the earth for 40,000 years, give or take a few millennia. Since then, two truths have held for sales. First, since many of our greatest innovations were actually inspired by advancing historic ideas with new technologies, it helps to know a lot of historic ideas. If Gutenberg had had to invent both the wine press and the coin punch before inventing a printing press with moveable type, his innovation would have been seriously delayed. Similarly, in sales, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time; we can build on what’s been done.

Second, history tends to repeat itself. Some goods – such as computers and industrial products – become commoditized as buyers become educated. That pattern may hold for your business, too. Other goods or services – such as document imaging and outsourcing – become more complex over time, and these companies are forced to change their sales process. That pattern may hold for your business as well. In which direction are your products and services heading, and how can you take a first step in that direction?

History builds the hooks upon which you can hang new ideas and quickly create new associations. Without this knowledge, you’ll operate with limited vision. Know the history of your business and sales model. Understand how your customers’ businesses evolved. Look for the patterns and trends that may continue ahead and give you additional insight.


Mark Donnolo is the author of “The Innovative Sale” and “What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation,” and managing partner of SalesGlobe. Email him at .

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