Design Thinking in Sales

My sales method for the high-value, high-touch-sell.


Ian H Smith

Design Thinking in Sales is our method, delivered as a combination of technology coaching and results - all designed to meet the challenges of new business development. It is a way to defend value over price in the high-value, high-touch sell. I have applied this recently in healthcare and tech startups, but it can work for any industry, and for any organisation, large, medium or small.

Design Thinking in Sales means transforming the buyer-seller engagement: from an arm's length cold procurement process to an open Mutual Value Discovery. It can become a truly compelling way to break the 'Hermetic Seal' that surrounds the key buyside decision-makers and influencers.

Even in highly-regulated industries and formal procurements, Design Thinking in Sales can better serve the self-interests of buyers, since it allows for a better definition of a particular problem, which in turn, leads to the delivery of a more appropriate - and often, a lower risk, cost-effective solution. This becomes value created for the buyer - with or without the seller monetising a deal.

Although the seller may have to initially engage in Design Thinking in Sales with buyers via a non-chargeable, presales activity, once buyers see the value it creates, a monetised engagement can often rapidly follow - even if a competitive procurement must be included at a later stage.

This is especially helpful in a number of ways:

  • Enabling early stage product or service concepts to be explored well ahead of completeness.
  • Reducing risks associated with a high-value, high-touch sell to inherently risk-averse buyers.
  • Accelerating the buying and selling cycle by enabling the buyer to understand cost of delay.
broken image


Design Thinking means, as the name implies: thinking (and acting) like a designer. It is all about solving problems in a people-oriented way. The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and Stanford University (the enabled Design Thinking as a 6-step method for innovation: Empathize; Define; Ideate; Prototype; Test and, Implement.

This is a foundation for Design Thinking in Sales.

The subtle, but important cultural values of the Stanford embraces the best behaviours of the Silicon Valley: act now, fail fast; and, most important of all - Empathize. 

In the public sector buyside, say the UK NHS for example, a risk averse culture may be countered by achieving trust with the buyer - instead (or at least, well in advance) of formal, arm's length procurements. Trust leads to truth - and thereby, a more meaningful Innovation outcome.

Trust is generated earlier, when the seller makes an initial (often free) offer to the buyer, which creates a progression of receptivity leading to rapport.

broken image

Design Principles

First and foremost, successful new business development requires the seller to Empathize with the buyer. The ultimate Value Proposition for a particular product or service can take it's direction from three Design Principles, originally conceived for digital products or services, but applies to any high-value product or service - business or consumer:

Meaningful Journey. To start small, with the lowest risk, faster - but understanding, more generally, where the ultimate destination might be - without being overly prescriptive.

Fierce Reduction. To simplify and eliminate waste from every step of the Meaningful Journey, every aspect of the Value Proposition.

Progressive Disclosure. To avoid 'cognitive overload' on the buyer - applying the simplification of Fierce Reduction and clarity of Meaningful Journey - one step at a time.

With the Value Proposition created through applying the three Design Principles, the buyer can now safely and clearly engage with the seller through the five steps of Design Thinking in Sales, starting with step one: Empathize.

broken image

Six Steps ...

Even if the breakthrough is simply a 30-minute online meeting with the buyer, this is where Design Thinking in Sales works well. The most important step of six is the first one: Empathize.


broken image

Step 01. Empathize

Empathy Mapping workshops are a great way to engage many buyside decision-makers and influencers as Stakeholders in the process. Online, these workshops are often more representative of all Stakeholders, if conducted as more short sessions of say, half to one full hour. 

Given the problem of lack of available meeting time in calendars, many 30-minute online meetings will maintain momentum - rather than waiting for larger blocks of time in Stakerholders' schedules. 

Of course, when engaged in Empathy Mapping, a problem will best inform the second step in Design Thinking in Sales - Define - if what's discovered comes from a meaningful openness achieved with the broadest set of Stakeholders. This is accomplished through building receptivity and rapport between buyside and sellside, benefiting from the high levels of trust that follows.

When bringing buyers and sellers together, the Design Thinking in Sales method enables all Stakeholders to respond with meaningful answers to open questions - topics categorised as 'Say', 'Think', 'Feel' or 'Do'. This also means capturing corresponding Insights from each Stakeholder.

broken image

Step 02. Define

Having established rapport, receptivity and trust in the first step of Empathize, you can now pay great attention to buyer and seller openly exploring and validating a clear Return On Investment (ROI) Model for a particular Value Proposition at the second step - Define.

A tailored ROI Model can help to defend value over price and counter deal slippage. This is where the ROI for a Value Proposition should have a quantitative calculation for comparing 'Current State (As-Is)' with 'Future State (To-Be)'. What matter most here is 'Time-Based Value': working-out the mutual interests in having a sense of urgency in moving through the Design Thinking process.

The ROI Model should include both a quantitative 'Economic Basis of Decision' and a qualitative 'Emotional Basis of Decision', where the balance between these two 'Scorecards' depends entirely upon the context of the solution being considered. See more on ROI Modelling below.

Underpinning all of this is the ROI Model defined is this Time-Based Value - calculated as the 'Cost of Delay' or the 'Cost of Doing Nothing'. In a high-value, high-touch sell, this provides a vital counter-argument to deal slippage and is the best way to defend value over price.

The ROI Model and Time-Based Value is captured in our Design Thinking Platform, where a 'Model' is generated for each 'Solution', and in turn, this is applied to each 'Project', as illustrated in the Design Thinking in Sales infographic below. This is visualised below. 

This Define step provides a solid foundation for what comes next: Ideation. 


broken image

Step 03. Ideate

The 5-step Design Thinking in Sales method allows prospects and customers to engage with challengers, often well ahead of completeness of solution, and enables both the validation and sometimes, part-funding of crucial stages in the evolution of product or service design. 

Ideation can be, as the name implies, a very effective way to facilitate idea generation - well ahead of completeness of solution.

At this step, and taking input from the Define outputs, it is key to look at the scope of Ideation by focusing on what's urgent - and what's important: applying the Urgent/Important Matrix created by Eisenhower

Without constraining creativity, it is key to prioritise around the 'Do' quadrant of this Matrix. And taking on-board Churchill in WWII - to have a sense of urgency with 'Action This Day'.

Although expressed as five linear steps, this Design Thinking in Sales method is inherently iterative, where the second step of Define overlaps with the third step of Ideate. In turn, it may be possible to combine Ideation with the fourth step of Prototype, as explained below. 

broken image

Step 04. Prototype

Prototyping obviously relates to the specifics of a particular product or service, but can be at any stage of its life or maturity. This means enabling buyer and seller to collaborate around a Prototype stage - building on what is captured and then iterated in the Ideate step.

Since this is Design Thinking in Sales, the Prototype must inform the buyer and seller of how the ROI Model will measure and validate the Proof-of-Concept in the next step: Test. This must relate to both a quantitative Economic Basis of Decision and a qualitative Emotional Basis of Decision. 

It must also quantify the Cost of Delay or Cost of Doing Nothing for the buyer, as described above.  

Prototyping should embrace a 'fail fast' mindset - again, regardless of product or is ensuring that whatever the product or service may be, it must be capable of undergoing rapid, iterative change - driven by the broadest range of would be buyers and users.

broken image

Step 05. Test

The Testing step - as with all other steps of Design Thinking in Sales - is part of a rapid, iterative approach to innovation. In buyer-seller engagements, this may start as a 'Proof-of-Concept': the applying a particular solution to what has been agreed is a truly urgent and compelling problem. 

Remember the three Design Principles: Meaningful Journey; Fierce Reduction; and, Progressive Disclosure - they are key to making Testing deliver on the promises captured in a 'Model'.

Testing requires the broadest Stakeholder engagement on both buyside and sellside. It could be a pragmatic User Acceptance Testing (UAT) of a particular product or service, building on the Model generated at the Prototype step, and enabling a measurable value outcome to be created. 

broken image

Step 06. Implement

Develop final solutions and plan to implement them. Get buy-in and support from critical stakeholders to execute the solutions. Measure the impact and make improvements.

At Being Guided we always engage on a Value Engineered basis for Implementation, where we are paid on tangible Deliverables mapped to Hours.


All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!