Bringing Design Thinking To Your Sales Cycle

What problem does your business solve?  Unless you have a good handle on the problem you are solving, your marketing and sales efforts will be misdirected.  Too often business jumps to conclusions regarding the problem to be solved far too quickly and often without reference to the end customer at all.

Tim Brown, (CEO IDEO) defines design thinking as“a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.  The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.”

How can it inform the sales cycle?


Lost from the front end of many businesses sales process is a deep understanding of the human we are seeking to partner with and the challenges that they face.  We jump too quickly to conclusions regarding the ‘problem’ they are facing and come up with a solution they do not feel they need.

A ‘design thinking’ approach opens up the funnel of ideas, requires us to step back and challenge some of the established ways we think, to challenge the ‘frames’ we have adopted and take a fresh look at the variety of problems an organisation may be facing.  Genuine recognition of the problem faced will open the door to a conversation around potential solutions.

In recognizing the range of potential problems your organisations solves, you can then use this data to better identify the customer group where these problems are most prolific and refine the segment of the market you are going to sell to.  A wider definition of the problems your business solves may also open up customer segments never considered.


With a problem recognised we can start to imagine the different solutions that can be put in place.  Roger Martin in his book ‘The Design of Business’ points out that organisations must balance predictable or “reliable” production with “validity,” experimentation that leads to new ideas and commercial success.’

Predicable production will see sales people meeting the clients need with the product your company has in the shape it currently is and always has been.  However, using your sales people as genuine partners in the R&D process and your clients as collaborators in your quest to genuinely meet their needs will give birth to innovation.

The ideas created will need to be narrowed, however, great organisations will have a way of capturing the odd wacky one, the idea that provides the next iteration of your current product and the one that is fresh and achievable in the not too distant future.   In this way the illusive concept (for many organisations) of innovation can start to become an ingrained part of culture.


At implementation we make the solution a reality for the customer.   The sale was not complete in the customer’s eyes when the contract was signed.  The right resources must be committed to ensuring that all that was identified at the inspiration stage as the pain and the solution ultimately agreed on at the ideation stage to solve that pain are carried through to completion.

Get it right and that client will continue to be a source of innovative new products for your business and an advocate for what you do.

Design Thinking provides us with an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we sell.  It may redefine your whole sales process or simply tweak one area.  At the least it challenges us to consider more carefully the humans involved in what we do and how we can better meet their needs.