Use Your Head

Choosing An Idea

The next step is to choose the one idea you feel most confident presenting. It should open a clear and direct path to the prospect's goal. Judge the idea by its ability to achieve that goal.

There is one final check to make before preparing the presentation of your idea: See if you can clearly express your idea in a sentence or two. Try to say it aloud without taking a breath. If you can't, re-examine the idea to see if it's too complicated. Overwhelming a prospect with a proposal that you can't explain in simple terms is a sure way to lose a follow-up call

Now that you've come up with the ideas, pick one and pitch it. That's right, pick one-any one. It doesn't matter which idea you choose as long as you know your company can deliver it. You can't choose one based on your knowledge of the customer's likes and dislikes because you haven't met the prospect-so just pick one and go with it.

That's when you'll learn the secret to creative selling: Your real goal on the first call is not necessarily to sell that first idea-it's to gather as much information about the prospect as you can so subsequent ideas hit the mark.

As you gather information, you're accomplishing several other things. You make a strong first impression by showing a willingness to invest your time in a study of the prospect's needs. You establish yourself as an idea resource. If you bring prospects something of value, they are likely to see you again. Above all, your idea will provoke a discussion about the prospect's needs. It's through such discussions that you learn what they will buy from you.

Brainstorming 101

You don't remember brainstorming basics from B-school? Here's a quick refresher:

1. There's no such thing as a bad idea. Write it down even if it's impossible. Make sure to write it down if anyone in the room says, "We've never done that before." Reserve judgment until later.

2. See how outrageous you can be. Associate freely and write it down. The wilder the idea, the better. Crazy ideas spark more ideas-mundane ones are dead ends.

3. Fill the page-then start another one. Quantity is your goal because the more ideas you list, the better the odds of finding a good one.

4. Don't stop when you come to the "right" idea. There could well be a better one waiting to come out.

Engineering A Sale

My friend Matt is both a salesperson and an engineer-a very unusual combination. Matt had a prospect who was responsible for the public structures owned by a county government, everything from playground equipment to bridges.

Matt specializes in the structural analysis of communications towers. This prospect sent out a request for proposals (RFP) for inspection of the county's communications towers, which are used for two-way radios and other communications systems.

Matt looked beyond the RFP at the entire assortment of structures his prospect managed. Instead of just submitting a proposal for the towers, Matt also pointed out that the county bridges were subject to the same stresses (weather, materials deterioration) as the towers. These stresses were potentially dangerous, so Matt proposed an inspection of the bridges using the same rigorous professional methods his firm applied to the towers.

This wasn't covered in the RFP, but Matt made the sale by creating an opportunity to study a potential problem that hadn't existed in the prospect's mind. He then created a solution to the need by designing a service that his firm didn't normally provide (bridge engineering). My friend's mind was open to the possibilities and he used creative selling techniques to create an opportunity.

This excerpt was reprinted from Dave Donelson's Creative Selling: The Foolproof System To Unleash Your Sales Potential(Entrepreneur Press). To obtain a copy, visit your local or online bookstore, or

Dave Donelson, president of Sales Development Associates, has a long career in entrepreneurship. His most recent endeavor is the Enterprise Learning Center, a Web site devoted to sales and management training.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Use Your Head.

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