An Interview with Ashley Welch: How Design Thinking Helps Create More Effective Sales Processes

By: Teresa Weirich

June 26, 2019

Ashley Welch, Co-founder of Somersault Innovation

Many of us feel as though we’ve ‘grown up in sales’, but Ashley Welch has lived it. As a sales leader for a learning development company for over 20 years, she perfected the ins and outs of sales strategy and process. It was during this stage of her life that she was introduced to the concept of design thinking. Along with her partner Justin Jones, Ashley founded Somersault Innovation in 2015 to bring the tools of design to sales.

“I just fell in love with the power of design thinking,” Ashley said. “And we realized there was an intersection between design thinking and the resources sales professionals need to be successful. Somersault and our book, Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue, is all about sharing these tools and resources so people can be successful.”

Translating design thinking into sales

Design thinking is a popular methodology used in product and service development. It is a set of mindsets, tools, and stages, to move from a place of unknown to a place of creation and innovation. What sets design thinking apart from other methodologies is that the customer – aka the end user – is always at the center of the creative process. 

“What connects design thinking to the world of sales is the notion of keeping the customer at the center of all your decisions,” Ashley explained. “The underlying values and motivations of a customer should influence and inspire every part of the sales process.”

This approach is complementary to other sales methodologies. For example, many modern sales people leverage solution selling as a foundational methodology when working with customers. Solution selling is an approach where a salesperson partners with a customer to create a solution that solves a specific customer problem or set of problems. 

Using the tools of design thinking enhances a sales rep’s ability to truly focus on the customer and how the solution will help the customer in the long-term, rather than just being prescriptive. 

Introducing Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue

Ashley understands the provocative title of her new book and says that the title is supposed to being engaging and bring to mind images of shedding.

“The word naked is intentional,” Ashley said. “It’s about shedding preconceived notions about your clients and letting go of your tight grip on what you are selling and how you think the process should go. It’s about getting back to basics and stripping out the unnecessary so it’s just you and your customer.”

When salespeople can get rid of the baggage holding them back, they can approach sales conversations with an open and curious mindset, along with a set of tools that will help them stay authentically connected and uncover greater opportunity.

“Our mission is to humanize sales and create equity in the profession,” Ashley said. “And this means getting naked – getting back to the basics of sales so we can connect in a human way. And the good news is that, time and time again, we see this leading to much greater results. 

Additionally, the modern sales process lacks an element of co-creation. This is key as it gets customers and sales reps on the same side of the table to co-create a solution. The more a customer can be involved in co-creating the solution, the more they will own it and want to buy it.

“I always tell people to get feedback from customers early and fast. Don’t wait. Feedback on a draft idea is better than a “no” on a fully baked idea. Offer drafts and ask for revisions. It’s a two-way conversation with you and your customers.”

For Ashley, creating this sense of trust and empathy starts during the discovery phase. Naked Sales breaks down the sales process into three stages: Discovery, Insight, and Acceleration. Discovery is the one that can make or break a deal. “When Discovery is done well, everything gets better.”

“Bringing design thinking into the discovery process means learning what your customer cares about. What does their ecosystem look like? Who are their customers, and their customer’s customers? What do they care about?This is how sales reps can become trusted advisors instead of just sales people. 

Ashley has been working with clients long enough to see incredible success from the reps that have brought design thinking into sales. Here’s one example she shared with us:

We had one rep working with a security client whose customers were banks. She went to a bank to get a better understanding how they thought about security and realized that armored cars were a hot topic as it related to security. She then talked to one of the drivers of the armored cars, and learned that the highest security risk came when drivers were texting on their personal cell phones. By bringing this information back to her security client, the rep was able to highlight a high-risk area that had been under represented and work with the client to create a solution that directly addressed this security gap. The deal just got bigger!

Succeeding in a changing industry

One of the biggest changes that’s impacting sales reps is the degree of information available to consumers. Customers are coming into conversations with much more knowledge than their predecessors had. In fact, customers can be nearly 40-60% into their buying cycle before they even reach out to vendors. 

“This information overload has created increased pressure for sales people because now they think they need to be experts on everything,” Ashley explained. “Customers have access to all this information, and sales people think they need to be prepared for any questions that may come up. This isn’t necessarily true.”

We are wired as human beings to first assess whether we can trust the other person and then determine whether the other person has expertise. Sales people shouldn’t be obsessed about keeping up with new information and research in their space (expertise) – there is no way to catch up with all the data. Instead, focus on building trust through curiosity with your customers. Build this bridge first instead of peddling your expertise. “Remember – curiosity trumps expertise in sales. This is confirmed again and again by our clients who tell us that their most successful reps are those that are most curious, not those that know the most about their services or their customers’ businesses.”

Advice and resources for sales managers trying to introduce design thinking into their methodology

Ashley’s biggest piece of advice? Read the book!

“We wrote Naked Sales to be a practical guide for sellers. Readers can pull out tools and tips to start using right away.”

Another tip for Managers is to start asking your reps about anecdotes and stories from their customers. Many times, Managers just want to know where the deal is in the pipeline. Start by asking your reps first about their customers, and what they care about, and secondarily about the numbers. 

Here are a few resources Ashley recommends:

“Sales is a human to human process, so the more empathy we can bring to the table, the more we can connect with others,” Ashley said. “I like to think of it as common sense but not common practice. Sometimes we can miss the human aspect, – sales is about trying to find this connection wherever possible.”

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    Teresa Weirich

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