Inspiration for innovation in sales is everywhere, if you know where to look. It’s not the flashy new technology products or a hilarious marketing campaign scanning your boss’ face into a dancing meme. Real creativity is sometimes the simple combination of existing ideas.
Don’t be fooled by simple ideas. They can result in customer solutions that win deals, or a new sales strategy that catapults your team to the top of your market.
Paul Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing at Intuit, combined parallels to work through a tenuous situation with the company’s channel partners. “Over the years, we had amassed a lot of value added resellers to take our product to market,” he says. “The name of the game was to get more distribution points, so our sales organization signed some great resellers and a lot of marginal resellers.” The typical partner program allowed them to earn a percent of the product mark-up and receive a lot of vendor support, like training and co-marketing programs. It became a strong package of financial benefits for the reseller.
The problem, he says, was that they provided the same partner program to all resellers, regardless of their level of engagement in the sales process. They had resellers driving sales, and resellers who received leads from the company and lived off of license renewal income. It worked in the short term when they were getting the business up and running, but it was expensive and unsustainable over the long-term.
According to Johnson, “There wasn’t a straight-out way to solve this.” If they decided to remove the lower contributing population of resellers and sell direct, they would take on a huge infrastructure cost of having to hire a new sales organization. Also, they could potentially scare off the good resellers who may have feared that Johnson would eventually go direct to the customer and remove them from the distribution channel. “If we came up with something on our own, it would carry a lot of risk because the resellers would assume that it was to our advantage,” he said. So Johnson and his team talked to the resellers to understand their business priorities and sensitivities. He also put together a reseller advisory team. Instead of proposing a new program to them, Johnson laid out the situation and then posed a range of options that his team pulled together from different technology and distribution environments. None of the components alone was the answer, but they were like puzzle pieces they could put together, overlap, or break apart. They asked the reseller advisory team not to give them a solution but to propose additional pieces from their experiences.
“After a few iterations of working with them, we had some really bad combinations – like going direct for major accounts and outsourcing just the implementation and service – and some better combinations – like segmenting the reseller base by business model, mission alignment with our company, and sales potential,” he says. “We came out with a program that looked at a few major reseller segments. The resellers that didn’t fit this new program weren’t happy, but most understood our logic. But the resellers with the right alignments got a better program than they had before. It made sense for their businesses and ours.”
Where do you see innovative ideas in sales?
Last week I wrote about how to avoid reinventing the wheel. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.