"Good design" is typically associated with hip, consumer products. The other end of the spectrum are B2B products sold to the enterprise, such as virtualization, storage, security, and large consulting engagements.
Most people don't think of these products, but it's big business: HP, Cisco, Symantec, VMware, Autodesk, Oracle, McKesson, Intel, Varian, Juniper Networks, Adobe, NetApp -- these are companies that may not have the sex-appeal of Apple, but they drive billions of dollars every years in sales to enterprises through a field sales force.
Ask most people involved in the process, particularly the sales people and the customers, and they'll tell you overall it's a broken, often painful, experience.
By applying design thinking and innovation to their sales process, companies can become more profitable, grow their top-line and gain distinct competitive advantages.
What is design thinking?
According to Tim Brown, CEO of consultancy IDEO, in a Harvard Business Review article on design thinking, "Innovation is powered by a thorough undrstanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported."
Note that it's just just about the actual product or their package: design (and I don't mean visual design) influences the marketing and sales aspect as well, and this is where many companies can experience dramatic increases in profitability.
To help illustrate, I'm going to look at consumer examples of innovations that resulted from design thinking to help make more tangible potential applications. These aren't so much recommendations, but a way to show that there remains much room to solve the problems of acquiring new enterprise customers by solving for the entire sales experience.
Spread the Word
The show "Lost" was "losing" potential viewers because of the complexity of the narrative. By releasing "minisodes," ABC enables its core audience to spread the concept more quickly and easily amongst non-consumers. It made the concept much easier to understand.
Salesforce.com and Dropbox are two companies growing throughout the enterprise because they have an easy way to "spread the word:" Salesforce.com has Chatter which is an easy-to-use collaboration tool that users can spread to others for free; and Dropbox makes it super-easy to share folders with others by simply inviting them to join.
In both cases, follow-on enterprise-deals experience less friction because they have data about usage and ease of propgation by customers themselves.
Could enterprise companies find a component that simplifies the way existing customers or potential customers can spread the word in a simple, engaging way? Videos and trial software are two formats, but there are plenty of other ways to engage prospects in "micro moments."
Increase the Exchange of Trust
Ebay injected more trust and transparency among buyers and sellers, and this created a robust economy of demand.
B2B buyers often have to ask for references as part of the buying process. What if the process were significantly more transparent and more effectively allowed prospects and customers to interact?
Right now, the old tried-and-true is through staid users groups and the occasional breakfast seminar. Or the customer asks for references and the sales rep chases them down.
Salesforce.com, instead, holds multiple, glitzy, open and valuable events throughout the country. Prospects and customers can openly mingle. Trust, knowledge, and pipeline gets built.
Could a company take the level of interaction and openness one step further and spark new sales opportunities? Could this be baked into the sales process earlier and more easily?
Sell to the real demand
A dog-food company was segmenting their products based on what they perceived to be the market: size of dog, and wet or dry.
It turns out that the real segments were much different and included categories like "loving indulgers," "caring companions," and "active nutritionists." Each had different behaviors, goals, and attitudes towards the product. This helped the company better align their products, marketing, and sales channels to optimize profitably.
Traditional enterprise companies sell by region (US West, EMEA), size of company ($1B+, 2000 employees or less), or industry (retail, manufacturing). Is it possible these companies actually should be segmented much differently and the products positioned differently? Is it possible the needs and decision-making of CIO's for storage varies along other vectors that could be require a different alignment of sales people skills and product portfolios?
I'm just using these as examples of small touch-points where consumer-like innovation can improve the buying experience in corporations.
The big take-away is that enterprise B2B sales is an experience, one fraught with friction and pain. This makes it ripe for innovation and design thinking. Here are some points of interaction and experience that are common across many B2B sales organizations:
- Distress, uncertainty, and helplessness with quotas and territories for sales reps
- Boredom and lack of focus during the buying process for the prospective customers
- Complicated portfolio of products and solutions to understand and present to customers by sales reps
- Disjointed and inefficient interface between marketing and sales
- Stressful quarterly quotas and stick-driven relationship between sales and management
- Difficult to manage partner eco-system (lots of partners with their own agendas and systems)
With so many moving parts, crushing speed and pressure, and high-stake incentives in the form of big commission or loss of job every three months, the experience is clearly broken.
The common current solutions? Either at the individual level in the form of "sales training" or top-town consulting around sales-specific process, such as territory definition, quotas, pricing, and lead-generation strategies. Neither address the sales system as just that -- as system that can be dramatically improved through design thinking.
Applying design thinking would help companies dramatically improve the sales process because it would incorporate observation of the entire process, both customer-facing and, just as importantly, internally.
The benefits for companies is tremendous. In the middle of this very messy, often dehumanizing, process depends billions of dollars. Improvements could result in significant increases in revenue and market share.
If a company like Apple can so thoroughly streamline their retail sales operations by understanding how people really buy and what makes for a great environment to sell and become the most profitable retail store, is it possible companies selling to the enterprise can also benefit from better design?