Design thinking
April 17, 2018

Transforming a Sales Approach with Design Thinking

For sales managers, there’s always pressure from upper management to deliver. That pressure flows downhill to salespeople through an emphasizing the importance of closings. However, by only looking at the level of closures, sales organizations shut the door on uncovering more significant potential opportunities that may add value for customers and, down the line, for sellers too.

To transform your thinking from an approach that only concentrates on pushing products or services to one that creates greater value for your customer, you need to adopt more of a design thinking approach to sales. Design thinking is a combination of creative and critical thinking.

It allows knowledge to be gained, ideas and information to be organized, well-thought-out decisions to be made, and situations to be improved. When it comes to sales, the three principles of design thinking that you and your sales team should adopt are: being empathetic, being curious, and being customer-centric.


Empathy means trying to place yourself in the mind’s eye of your customer so that you can relate to their world. A major component of design thinking emphasizes the value of empathy over statistics, so don’t just preach to your customers about the features and benefits of your product or service. Instead, get them talking to you and listen to what they’re saying.

Once you engage your customers and get them talking, you will uncover so much more about them and come to a much deeper understanding of their needs.


Be curious about observing the physical interactions with your customers. If you work for an online business, think about how they enter your website, where they go once they’ve entered it, what appears to be meaningful to them while they’re there (and what doesn’t), how long they stay and what causes them to exit.

Once the customer makes contact with you, be curious about them; don’t just immediately launch into your sales pitch. In other words, pitch less and probe more. You need to be a detective and collect as many clues as possible about your customer, their world, motivations, and unmet needs. When you keep discovering things about your customers, much larger opportunities for sales present themselves.


It’s important to continually remind yourself, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” You need to gain insights into what your customers care about and value, their current state and needs, and their future needs.

It’s important to understand that today’s buyers are not yesterday’s buyers. In his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink states that we’ve gone from a “buyer beware” sales culture to a “seller beware” sales culture. Today’s customers can avail themselves of so much product information by using the internet, that they are often well aware of their options before talking to a salesperson.

Educating the customer about your product is not as necessary as it used to be; instead, you need to educate yourself on how to add value to your customer.


Design thinking gives you a new set of tools with which to look for new prospects. Once you understand a prospect’s world and needs, you can use this knowledge to obtain excellent prospects. It doesn’t matter how good at closing a sales team is; without a constant flow of good prospects filling the sales pipeline, the pipeline will eventually run dry.

You Must Become a Trusted Advisor

If all you are interested in is the close, you will not be inclined to stay curious and empathetic. You may close some sales, but you won’t be great at sales. Buyers act upon their emotions as well as logic. When a customer purchases your product or service, they’re buying a feeling as much as a solution to their needs.

Make customers feel that they’ve made the right choice by establishing yourself as their trusted advisor. Design thinking helps evolve a relationship from a sales rep to trusted advisor. In sales, trust is currency.

Design Thinking as Part of Your Sales Strategy

It would seem that listening to customers and relating to the customers’ world should be a no-brainer for a salesperson. But, unfortunately, the fast-paced world of business puts sales personnel under so much pressure, that they often forget they are selling to another human being.

Geoff Colvin, in his excellent book “Humans Are Underrated,” says: “As technology advances, uniquely human skills (empathy, collaboration, leadership, innovation, creativity) will become even more valuable.”

The bottom line – to boost sales, when your customer needs real help, there is no substitute for a real human being practicing design thinking.

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