Design Thinking is not Only for Products but Also for Sales.

Carlos Lastres
5 min readJun 27, 2022

Over the past few years, design thinking has quickly gained momentum in the business world, and some of the world's leading brands have embraced design thinking to optimize product innovation. At its core, design thinking is a methodology for creative problem-solving. In stark contrast to analytical thinking, which involves breaking down ideas, design thinking consists in building up concepts.

While design thinking has firmly implanted itself across product development teams, it has not yet secured a stronghold across sales teams. Characterized by routinized activities, traditional sales methodologies tend to be at odds with the iterative methods underpinning design thinking.

Times are changing. The sales cycle is becoming increasingly complex, and customers demand a more personalized experience. If you're a sales rep, you know you need to up your game and become more innovative. Sales teams recognize the value of incorporating a design thinking approach into their daily activities. Salesforce's sales team, for example, has embraced design thinking in its sales discovery process and has realized a 100% increase in revenue growth as a result. It's time sales teams more broadly recognize the value of design thinking.

1. Empathize

Empathy is at the core of design thinking. Empathy involves a cognitive dimension — an ability to look at a situation from another person's perspective — and an affective dimension — an ability to relate to a person and develop an emotional bond with them.

The importance of empathy in sales cannot be overstated. Empathy is a crucial predictor of sales success. A groundbreaking study published in The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice found a robust positive relationship between empathy and a buyer's level of trust and satisfaction. In our current sales landscape, where a mere 3% of buyers trust reps — the only professions with less credibility include car sales, politics, and lobbying — seller trust is in short supply and high demand.

Empathy is especially valuable in the sales process because it encourages information sharing. Research has found that, according to buyers, the number one way for salespeople to create a positive sales experience is to listen to their needs. When we're armed with so much information and data and a slew of AI and machine learning solutions, it's easy to assume we know everything about the buyer. It's important to first step inside your customers' shoes and listen to what matters to them and what is top of mind.

2. Define

The defining stage's objective is to craft a problem statement or, in design thinking, speak a point of view. So often, salespeople define the problem before developing an empathetic understanding of a buyer's needs. The result is solution selling, and solution selling has long past its expiration date. At least 50% of sales reps' prospects are not good fits for their offering. By defining the buyer's problem, salespeople can determine whether there is a lucrative fit.

The defined stage involves asking a lot of questions. Contrary to popular belief, this focus on questioning does not impair sales conversation but enhances it. According to one analysis of 519,000 discovery calls, there's a clear relationship between the number of questions a sales rep asks a buyer and their likelihood of success.

3. Ideate

The ideate stage unlocks the true potential of design thinking, especially in the context of sales. This is when the focus shifts from problem identification to solution generation. And it's all about quantity — about generating a wide range of possible solutions, not necessarily the final solution. It involves thinking beyond the obvious and necessarily entails significant creativity. How can I craft an offering that is uniquely suited to my buyer?

While often pushed under the carpet in sales, creativity is essential to deals and a key predictor of success. Research from the Aston Business School, a highly-regarded business school in Europe, revealed that sales professionals who were more creative generated higher sales than their less creative counterparts. Another study by Adobe found that companies that foster creativity are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers in revenue growth.

Sales reps must dig deep for their creative juices when crafting solutions to customers' problems. How can you craft a sales pitch that strikes a strong emotional chord with the customer? Which decision-makers, in and beyond the C-Suite, should you involve? If the customer sells a free or inexpensive product or service, take it for a test run. Read through customer community forums and reviews. Don't let up in terms of stepping inside your customer's shoes. Only by embracing these types of activities can ideation be optimized.

4. Prototype

The fourth stage of the design thinking process is prototyping — developing more fleshed-out and scaled solutions. Prototyping shouldn't be done in a black box — otherwise, you are sure to lose momentum. Prototyping is an opportunity to have a more directed conversation with your customer after the discovery calls. The most effective sales reps will involve champions and other customer organization affiliates in prototyping and vetting ideas. Involving tangential stakeholders in the solution process goes a long way in making them feel valued and invested in the final solution.

5. Test

The design thinking process's final stage is testing the final offering. This necessarily involves unveiling the fully fleshed-out pitch to all key stakeholders. During the test phase, salespeople must be strategic and see themselves on the same team as the customer. They should use collaborative words and phrases like "we" and "together." The "you versus us" mentality is dangerous.

Forrester predicts that one million US B2B sales reps will be out of a job by 2020. Salespeople can no longer afford to rely on so-called tried and true approaches. Nearly six in ten salespeople say they don't change it when figuring out what works for them. This mindset is problematic in a world where each customer yearns for personalized selling wants. Design thinking — exceptionally well suited for solving ambiguously defined problems — is key to establishing a genuine connection with customers and engaging them throughout the sales process. It's key to sales success.



Carlos Lastres

MBA | Senior UX/UI Designer | Software Engineer | TEDx Speaker | Expat living in China.