Not long ago, I had the chance to watch a role-play workshop. The consultant from The Center for Sales strategy was playing “the client,” and an account manager was playing “the salesperson.”
A few minutes into this hypothetical needs analysis, a light bulb turned on in the account manager’s head. It was as if the clouds parted, and a ray of inspired genius shone down on the salesperson from high heaven. (Or at least, that’s how the salesperson felt, based on the look on his face and the way he started fidgeting.)
Unable to contain his enthusiasm, he interrupted the client with, “Hey! I have an idea. You know what we could do…?” And of course, he dove into a thorough explanation of his epiphany. The idea was okay but not great. The client was patient and polite, but her reaction was subdued; not nearly as positive as the account manager had clearly anticipated. So the seller re-approached: “Yes, but you don’t understand. The reason this is a great idea is…” And he repeated his idea three times, in three different ways. Each time, the client was becoming less patient, less interested, and understandably less polite.
It was like watching from the iceberg as the Titanic passed by too close. The salesperson was smart enough to start floating an idea, but not empathetic enough to realize that the idea was sinking.
Creativity and enthusiasm can be your best friends, or your worst enemies. “Idea people” tend to really love the concepts they come up with, and want others to appreciate their savvy and creativity. But an outside provider can rarely understand the needs, priorities, and corporate character of a company better than the client herself does. So no matter how creative you are, remember that your job is not to sell your idea (no matter how much you love it), but to solve the challenge you and your client or prospect have agreed to tackle.
Remember also that nothing is more dangerous than an idea… when it’s the only one you have. Use the client’s input to inspire a variety of ideas, and then encourage the client to choose one that you will develop together into a full-fledged plan.
If you want simply to be creative and clever, buy a coloring book or tell a joke. If you want to make more money, focus more on the client’s challenge than on an idea that just won’t sail.