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Have you ever thought how creative salespeople need to be? Creativity is the process for coming up with new ideas. Why do salespeople need new ideas? Solving customer problems, finding applications for products, meeting customer needs, addressing competition, prospecting for new customers, and on and on. Knowing that you need to be creative and being creative are two different things. Once you understand the creative process, tapping into your potential will be easier and more fruitful.

The Brain. Back in prehistoric times, our brain needed to perceive danger and allow us to make decisions quickly to ensure survival. The quickest decision making process is to see an overall pattern rather than examine each individual piece of information to make decisions. If we saw one tiger or another tiger, it didn't matter. Even though both were different, both meant run. Patterns serve us well for survival, but they limit us for generating new ideas. Creativity gives us a process to break with our thinking in patterns and develop new ideas.

It's all there. Our senses are overloaded with information from people, places and things. Our conscious memory stores only a small amount of the information we process. Our unconscious memory stores the remainder. Our brains are like our attics. There's a lot of stuff there, but most of us have forgotten what is there. Our attic material is only useful if we can retrieve it. Creativity allows us to retrieve and use our treasure of stored information.

How it works. One source of generating new ideas is tapping into the brain's ability to associate. The word Thanksgiving might trigger associations to other words like food, family and holiday. If our problem is how to sell to more customers, the question to ask is, “How can I associate food with selling to more customers?” One answer is sending food gifts to attract new customers. Likewise, an association with family may lead to getting referrals for new business from one's family. Holiday may trigger the idea of celebration and how one may specially acknowledge new customers. Creativity leads us to new ideas that would have been quite difficult to develop without association. There are lists of trigger words for technical and non-technical problems. Once you define your challenge, let the creative process and association guide you to many possible solutions.

Caution. There are many barriers to creativity. Believing there is only one right answer will diminish your ability to be creative. You will prematurely judge and reduce the number of ideas you generate. It's been said that nothing is more dangerous than an idea if it's the only one you have. Challenge yourself to develop many answers, perhaps a second and a third right answer. Do this by rephrasing your problem and ask for many answers. These latter solutions will hopefully be even better than the first one you generated. If you believe you are creative, this will enhance your ability to be creative. Learning other creative techniques will reinforce your confidence in your abilities.

Esther Dyson in her book Release 2.0 says that in the future, “Employees will be valued for what they can produce, not for what they have produced. Most successful will be those who can design innovations to help the company get or stay ahead. Employees will increasingly need to be good at thinking.” What she speaks of its being creative. Salespeople who possess the skill of creativity, or generating new ideas for their companies and their customers, will be the most successful in the future. Why wait for the future? You can be creative today.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Selling. Copyright Maura Schreier-Fleming.

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