Eight Ways to Turn Reps into Creative Thinkers

By Michael Michalko

Success in sales depends on how well you differentiate yourself and your product. That requires creativity.

Average salespeople may be a dime a dozen, but truly original, creative thinkers are harder to find. Customers want to work with a salesperson who can generate ideas to set them apart from and ahead of their competition. Use these sales management tips to boost your team’s creativity and your bottom line.

1. Encourage daily improvement. Ask your team to concentrate on improving just one selling skill each day. At the end of the day, allow salespeople to exchange ideas on what they did differently that day and what effect it had. Open the floor for suggestions on improving and expanding each idea.

2. Post a brainstorming board. Encourage your team to generate solutions to a specific problem. On a whiteboard, write a common sales theme or problem. To help solve your team’s actual selling problems, take suggestions and give them a chance to come up with the problem.

3. Hold an idea lottery. Each month, use a roll of numbered tickets to hold an idea lottery. Solicit original ideas from your team, and reward the contributor of each new idea with a ticket. At the end of the month, fill a bowl with pieces of paper with numbers corresponding to the ticket numbers. Share the contributed ideas with your team, then draw a number from the bowl. The salesperson whose ticket number matches the number drawn wins a prize. Good prizes include dinner for two at a nice restaurant, movie tickets (throw in money for popcorn and drinks) or a gift certificate.

4. Display personal creativity symbols. Each of your salespeople has a unique perspective. Encourage them to express their individuality by having them display items on their desks that represent their views of creativity in selling. A crystal ball, for example, might represent a view toward future sales, or a bottle of Heinz ketchup could symbolize a personal goal of generating 57 new selling ideas.

5. Brainstorm over burgers. Group brainstorming sessions allow your salespeople to bounce ideas off one another. Each week, have your salespeople meet for lunch in groups of four or five. Ask each person to read and share from an article, report, or book chapter on creativity and relate it to how it can help sales. When you can, invite an innovative businessperson to join you and provide an outside perspective.

6. Keep a bright ideas notebook. To make your team’s ideas pay off, you have to put them to use. Help ensure that those ideas don’t go to waste by encouraging your salespeople to record their ideas in a notebook. Each day, have your team write down three ideas for improving sales, and at the end of each month, collect the notebooks and categorize the ideas for further discussion.

7. Start a creative thinker’s hall of fame. If your team isn’t used to thinking creatively, you may need to provide an incentive to motivate a change in their thought patterns. Designate a wall in your department as a “Hall of Fame” for posting photos of salespeople whose ideas are implemented. Accompany each photo with a paragraph about the salesperson, the idea that was contributed and its impact on the company.

8. Consider how things can be done instead of how they can’t. Many of mankind’s greatest inventions were believed to be impossible until some innovator found a way to make them work. Ask your salespeople to think of three sales-related goals or tasks they think are impossible (such as getting an appointment with a tough prospect or setting a new sales record). Then have them think of three ways to accomplish each “impossible” task.

Progress doesn’t come from following the same old routines over and over – it’s a result of innovation and imagination. The sales team that wants to sell more effectively first needs to think more effectively, which means breaking out of rigid and traditional thought patterns. By taking proactive steps to manage the efforts of your sales team to think more creatively, you’re helping them take advantage of their highest potential.