Saam is an exceptional producer, brander, marketer, and media professional. He showed me 10 companies that he really liked for product, brand, and value reasons, and also where he saw gaps in their branding, marketing and social media. He would then pick up the phone and call. After various holds and transfers, he would eventually find the person he needed to talk with, explain that he was a fan and customer, and present a proposal. He landed several projects in a market that, for most people, was entirely frozen. I had spent the last few months engaged in traditional marketing, lamenting with other consultants and freelancers, and working on a novel (it's still in the works).
Things had to change. My first venture in creative solution selling was with a local non-profit I really appreciate and beleive in. They had some really detrimental challenges in leadership, organization structure, vision and mission, and branding - all of which was causing the organization massive pain. Not only were they confronted by these challenges, but with the crash of the market they had also lost a lot of funding.
Much like Saam, I wrote a proposal, connected, and shared my enthusiasm and appreciation for their work. I went throgh my proposal and they agreed: they were indeed challenged; however, they had absolutely nothing they could pay me. I needed to be more creative. I proposed that I fundraise for them and asked that they give me 75% of whatever I raised for project fees. They agreed. We went forward. It all worked out very well.
In this market, we not only have to offer a service or product of value, but we have to find where these fit, illustate their necessity, and sometimes create the capital.
In our post-modern iteration of the sells approach, we're taught to listen, create a relationship, and really find out what the customer needs. It's this process of discover that sells you and what you offer. I generally like this. This is the approach that I tend to use. However, without losing the significance of relationship, discovery, conversation, and ultimately care, we have to take a much more active approach. We have to engage creative solution selling.
With creative solution selling, you're both creating (or illustrating) a need and a solution.
Harvard Business Review's March issue had a great article called Provoke Your Customers. This article, much like this discussion of creative solution selling, urges businesses to become active in their sells process. Create both the problem and solution.
HBR offers a table of comparison:
In current relational based selling:
- Competes for vendor preference within an exisiting budget
- Aligns with prevailing point of view
- Addresses acknowledged pain points
- Targets tactical problems
- Begins with technical proof and then builds a business case
- Starts as a line-of-business dialogue
- Asks questions to identify needs
- Responds to issues described by the client
- Compels project investment outside an existing budget
- Challenges the prevailing point of view
- Addresses unacknowledged angst
- Targets strategic problems
- Begins with the business case and then provides technical proof
- Starts as an executive-level dialogue
- Uses an insightful hypothesis to provoke a response
- Is proactive and leading, forcing issues out