There is no shortage of thought leadership on the subject of innovation but it’s more difficult to learn about innovation as it applies to sales. Mark Donnolo, sales strategist and author of The
Innovative Sale, is helping organizations combine function and creativity in this vital area of their businesses. In this interview with Soundview, he describes the difference between artistic creativity and functional creativity, how to move beyond a standard solution, and how to push
past resistance to reach a breakthrough.
Soundview: What is the difference between artistic creativity and functional creativity?
Mark Donnolo: [Businesses] think about artistic creativity as creativity for expression. The difference between artistic creativity and functional creativity is that functional creativity is about two things. It's about an objective, meaning you have to get something done. You have
to hit a certain sales goal or you have to come up with a solution for a customer. You [also] have constraints. You have things that are holding you back. It could be cost; it could be competition; or it could be organizational resistance. When you take those two factors of the objective and the
constraints, it creates limitations and that forces people into functional creativity or problem solving.
Our old definition of innovation, meaning we're going to be innovative or we're going to feel innovative doesn't help us to think differently. Functional creativity helps us to become a better problem-solver.
Soundview: What can help sales professionals think beyond the standard solution?
Donnolo: In the Innovative Sale process, you look at your initial idea creation, which is the classic brainstorming, things you'll come up with off the top of your head or things that you've done before. Then you start to push into how do you come up with a variety of ideas, and
you do that through processes like combining or looking at parallel examples. Very simply, what that means is that you might look at examples of things that have been done in other places that may address part of the problem that you're trying to solve. By looking at parts of the problem that
you're trying to solve, and things that have been done in other places could be other businesses or other industries, then you can start to come up with pieces of ideas that you can combine together.
If you're not an intuitively creative thinker, you can use some of these methods to combine pieces and combine ideas together, and before you know it, you have a range of ideas that might be very conservative, that range out to pretty radical. In that, you start to find some of this idea abundance.
Soundview: In your book you write, "Resistance points may indicate an impending breakthrough." How does a leader communicate the need to push on to reach that breakthrough?
Donnolo: It's a combination of getting comfortable with feeling lost. The leader says, "Here are some of the characteristics of innovation." Instead of a leader saying, "We're going to be an innovative organization. We're going to be an innovative company," the leader says to the
team, whether it's a small team or a large team, "Here are some of the characteristics or principles around innovation, some of the things that you're going to experience. You're going to feel uncomfortable as you get into this because it's going to be something that you're not quite sure what
you're doing." Again, that lost period.
You talk about the resistance points. You're going to run into barriers, and you're going to have to learn how to break down those barriers. One key is understanding the different types of barriers that you're going to run into. There are three types. You've got operational barriers or constraints.
Those are the things that are critical to running the business. If it's an insurance company, for example, those might be underwriting guidelines. You violate those, and all of a sudden your actuarial tables are off and you end up tanking the business.
Procedural are barriers are very often open for change. Procedural barriers are processes that we use. It could be a sales process or a customer service process. They've been designed, but they're also re-designable or breakable, so we can break those.
Then the third barrier is accepted truths. These are the things that are the way that we've always done it. We've always worked with customers this way. Outbound call sequences have always been this way. There's not a solid reason why. It's been kind of tribal knowledge. It's been developed over
time. Those accepted truths are ripe for breaking. If you can understand what some of those constraints or sticking points or barriers are and classify them and then break them that can help you break through.
Then probably the last point is persistence. When you hit those resistance points, that's where you have to persist. If you think all is lost, go another 20 percent farther and see what you can find. Persistence is key to success and creativity.