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Ashley starts us out with describing her business and tells us what design thinking means as it relates to effective sales teams.
Somersault Innovation is a sales enablement firm who has pioneered bringing the tools, techniques, and mindsets from the world of design thinking into the sales environment, to help sellers at all levels in the sales organization, and really stay customer centric, stay co-creative with their customers and then accelerate the deal cycle.
Even though many people haven’t heard of it, most people have been a beneficiary of it. Design thinking is an innovation process.
I ask Ashley if there are particular organizations better suited for this approach. Also, are there some were she sees particular red flags or warning signs or signals that this approach would be particularly useful?
I think the more complex a sale is the more useful this approach is. Let’s say you’re selling something very simple, like water filters and you don’t have a whole lot of options here, and it’s not that complex in terms of the need, then you don’t need to go into this, co-creative mode. You don’t need to do deep discovery. Whereas if you’re selling a complex, say software system, you really do need to be on the same side of the table as your customer to figure it out together. There’s so much unknown. There’s so much ambiguity. And that’s where I think some of these tools become particularly useful.
We talk a little bit about the discovery process in this approach and how it sometimes differs from the typical list of discovery or qualification questions that a seller might use.
This and a LOT MORE! Listen in now and/or read the transcript below:
Matt: Thank you for joining us. On another episode of sales pipeline radio, we are here live every Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. If you’re listening to us live on the funnel media radio network, thank you for making this part of your Workday. Of course, if you’re listening to the podcast subscription, thank you very much for subscribing and downloading our numbers continue to accelerate during this pandemic. I think as people are looking for interesting, useful, thoughtful things to listen to. So thank you so much for making us part of your podcast family and every episode of sales pipeline, radio past present future always available at salespipelineradio.com each week, we’re featuring some of the best and brightest minds we can find to talk about B2B sales and marketing. Today’s absolutely no different, very, very excited to have with us today. She is the co-founder of Somersault Innovation, Ashley Welch.
Ashley, thanks so much for being with us today.
Ashley: Yeah, thank you. I wish I was out there in California. I’m in Boston where it’s not hip and cool, but we’re,
Matt: I mean the beauty of modern radio production, you are in Boston. Paul is in California, I’m in the Duggan basement up here at Heinz homeschool, world headquarters outside of Seattle. This is our window. Like sometimes Paul and I, we’ll talk a little bit about, you know, weather and he about he complains about the beach drizzle that he has to suffer through in Southern California. We are in this small window of Seattle summer where it’s actually sunny. It’s actually warm. It hasn’t rained in days, which is weird around here, but I know up in your neck of the woods Ashley, there’s plenty of people still digging out and trying to get their power back. How are you doing?
Ashley: Oh yeah. Oh, we’re fine. I didn’t lose power. So everything’s good here.
Matt: That’s good. Well, I was excited to have you on for a lot of reasons, but I think your approach and what you’re doing with Somersault Innovation, I think is really, really interesting to our listeners specifically because this isn’t just sort of sales consulting. You’re specifically bringing a mindset of design thinking to sales organizations. I had to learn what that meant. Maybe have you start off by just describing your business and what does design thinking mean as it relates to effective sales teams?
Ashley: Yeah, thanks for the question. So we are a sales enablement firm, Somersault Innovation, and what we have pioneered is bringing the tools, techniques, and mindsets from the world of design, thinking into the sales environment, to help sellers at all levels in the sales organization, and really stay customer centric, stay co-creative with their customers and then accelerate the deal cycle.
So a lot of people will say, that sounds interesting, but what is design thinking? This, as you’ve mentioned, and even though many people haven’t heard of it, most people have been a beneficiary of it. Design thinking is an innovation process. That’s used by many of the major organizations that we engage with, like Airbnb, Uber, any Apple product has come out of a design thinking process with a Quip toothbrush. If you’ve seen that around now, come out of that. And what’s different about a design thinking process from a regular problem solving process is it always starts with the end user.
So the customer and really paying attention to what does the customer care about and sort of being a detective with curiosity to get down to underlying interests and motivations, and then using that as your inspiration for what you create and in our case for what you sell versus, or how you sell versus moving forward with your best idea, or just knowing that a customer must need your solution. So it’s all about customer centricity and there’s some really tactical tools and tricks from the world of design that can help us as sellers be more effective.
Matt: Are there particular organizations that are better suited for this approach? Are there some that were you sort of see particular red flags or warning signs or signals that this approach would be particularly useful?
Ashley: Yeah, I think the more complex a sale is the more useful this approach is because if you’re, you know, let’s say you’re selling something very simple, like water filters and you don’t have a whole lot of options here, and it’s not that complex in terms of the need, then you don’t need to go into this, co-creative move. You don’t need to do deep discovery. Whereas if you’re selling a complex, say software system, you really do need to be on the same side of the table as your customer to figure it out together. There’s so much unknown. There’s so much ambiguity. And that’s where I think some of these tools become particularly useful.
Matt: Talk a little bit about the discovery process in this approach and sort of how it sometimes differs from the typical list of sort of discovery or qualification questions that a seller might use.
Ashley: Yeah, it’s interesting. I was just talking to John Barrows yesterday. Who’s also in sales enablement and has a great firm. And we were talking about just this idea of qualification. Like if we go in with the mindset of like, I have to qualify you, then I’m pretty narrow in my focus of questioning, right? I’m just looking for, do you fit? Do you have a problem that my solution can solve? So it’s not to say that we don’t all have to qualify because we can’t waste our time, but what the discovery space that we talk about or the mindset of discovery that we also talk about is sort of go into a conversation with your customer or do your research in a way that you’re looking to learn new things that have been undiscovered by you about your customer and even their customers and what they care about.
Because if you can come in with this sort of, beginner’s mind, not just looking for the problem that your solution solves, you actually are open to more opportunities and more things show up. There’s something called motivational bias, which we suffer. We all suffer from, which means we look for things that confirm our assumptions and we literally miss dis confirming evidence. We sort of push it aside cause it’s dis confirming. So if you can sort of acknowledge that and then stay open in your discovery so much more shows up. And it’s also the space of where you become a trusted advisor because you learn things that maybe your customer didn’t even know, and you can share that with them and start to provide a different level of value.
Matt: I feel like we could spend a whole show, just talking about the role and danger of bias in the sales process bias in marketing. And I think sometimes, you know, well-meaning bias can be presented as a persona. Like we can be, we can say, listen, there’s a general have a certain perspective, but if you assume that every buyer has that perspective, you might be missing signals. Talk a little bit about, I mean, there’s value in that sort of personal development, but how dangerous is it to sort of come in with a bias and what are some of the, what are some of the things that might happen negatively if we do that too much?
Ashley: Yeah, I think about actually the same thing as if you come in with your sales play, like it’s an insurance firm, so you have your play. I talked to too many sellers who already have their play quote unquote, and they haven’t even done any discovery. So, you know, I think fire personas are important. We’re actually doing a whole project on that right now for a client. So it’s important because you start to learn things about that type of person, that type of position. And hopefully you’re doing really great discovery and building that persona by understanding really sort of motivations and interests under me, a typical buyer or typical persona. But I think it’s always, like, we always will say sort of hold loosely to your persona or hold loosely to your solution or play because it’s just a starting point for you to say, even to that person, like, Hey, these are some of the things that I’ve learned about people in your position, how close or far am I from getting that right? And then learn more from there.
Matt: Lots of what I’ve read from you. And sort of the things you talked about is sort of speaks to the sale organization. I’m curious how often you get to talk to the marketing team as well, whether it’s just the work that marketing is doing directly to support sales or even sales enablement programs, what should marketers take away from this design thinking approach?
Ashley: Well, I think we’re actually doing a big project right now with Microsoft on the marketing side, supporting them building assets for the sellers. And, you know, I think in many times marketers are actually more adept at design thinking already like this notion of understanding who your end user are and doing deep research on your customer. And so they’re already doing some of those things. I think what I do see so often is sort of a disconnect between marketing and sales, however, and that marketing, maybe in this case with this client, I just referenced, you may be producing assets, but sellers aren’t getting trained on how to use those assets necessarily from sales enablement in the way they were imagined by marketing or there’s the marketing has sort of been marching orders around the, you know, different industry knowledge or things that they need to get their sellers up to speed in. But sellers are completely overwhelmed by all the things that are coming at them in terms of what they need to learn and therefore they’re picking and choosing and nothing becomes valuable.
So I think like at the end of the day, I see too much of a disconnect between marketing and sales and I think actually design can be a great bridge. I would, you know, I would love to have marketing and sales together in any of the work that we do versus working on either side.
Matt: All right, well, we’re going to have to take a quick break here, pay some bills. We ‘ll be back more with our guest today. Ashley Welch talking more about design thinking and sales in marketing. Do we think about it in terms of how we create products and build our product strategy as well? We’ll be back Sales Pipeline radio.
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Paul: All right. Let’s pick it back up with Matt and his guest. And before we go any further here, I think the name of her company is perfect for the times we live in. We don’t just have to pivot. We got to do somersaults these days. We got to be innovative.
Matt: When I was a kid, we did somersaults. We actually called it. It was tumbling. And I feel like that is for sure a good metaphor to 2020. It’s a great question, Paul. Ashley, where did Somersault Innovation come from? Or were you a gymnast or where? I’m just curious the origin story there.
Ashley: I was not a gymnast, but I will say I was practicing aerial yoga last night, very badly. But, somersault came from when we were trying to think of the name. We started the company five years ago, we were trying to think of like, what’s something everybody can do. What gives you a different perspective? What’s fun. Like design thinking is a very creative, fun process. And so Justin, my business partner had remembered that my girls had done gymnastics when they were little. And so I don’t know he was inspired by the somersault idea. So that’s where it was born and it stuck. And we sort of like it.
Matt: I love that. And while we’re talking today, sales pack part, ready to go a few more minutes here with Ashley Welch, she brings design thinking to sales teams. And it seems to me that, you know, we’ve been talking about the sales function. We would talk a little about marketing and how marketing could lovers is. What about account management? What about customer success? I mean, clearly we’re not done communicating and doing design thinking and creating its value. Once we sign that customer up. Have you had success working with customer success teams with this as well?
Ashley: Yeah, I mean, they’re a great group. I always think of customer success. My God, they’re the closest to the customer once it’s been sold, right. They’re right in there with them. So I think, you know, this notion that discovery is, you know, I think if we often put it at the beginning of a sales process and really, I think discovery is an ongoing practice, right? You, so you always should be trying to learn more about your customers and their customers. And so I think that’s a great place for customer success to stay sort of in that discovery motion as they’re working with their customer. And so there are lots of tricks and tools from the world of design that can help them stay curious, stay asking. Just one trick, for example, is you seek stories when you speak to other people, cause in stories you would elicit a lot of conversation.
I mean a lot of good information and one way to get people to tell you really good information is to use last, first, best, worst, which means to say, Hey Matt, can you tell me the last time a problem like this came up for you? Or can you tell me the best experience you’ve had using this software? So if you use those prompts, it actually triggers something in our brain to give you to remember and then give you really good information. So that’s one thing that comes to mind, customer success, to stay in that discovery mode because they’ll start to uncover more opportunity.
Matt: I feel like I just keep peeling back the onion here. I think you guys will just keep thinking about this concept. So we’ve got sales, we’ve got marketing and customer success. What about product marketing? What about product roadmap? What about thinking about what your customer needs right at the foundation of a strong, sustainable business is building a great product, but then making sure as you continue to build it innovate on it, that you’re not doing that in an insular way. Is there a different discipline involved there, a different way of thinking about this?
Ashley: Yeah, no, I think that’s exactly right. You know, I think what’s primary to design is this notion of customer centricity is a thread throughout an entire process. So an entire innovation product process, an entire sales process and the entire product development process. So I think I had a big organization. I would instill just these basic sort of principles that whatever we do, we will always remember who our customer is, whether it’s an internal or external customer and we will continue to test our thinking with them throughout because so often we become removed, right? The further we get into a process. So the further we get into a sales cycle or the further we get into an implementation, we become further removed sometimes from our actual end user. And that’s where things start to fall apart.
Matt: Yeah, I totally agree with that. So you’ve been running Somersault Innovation for almost six years now. Something you’ve also been doing for quite a while is the work you do with the Design Museum of Boston. You’re on the board there. Talk, talk a little bit about what that organization is and why it’s so important to you.
Ashley: Ah, thanks for that question. Yeah. The design museum is an amazing organization co-founded by Sam Aquillano and he started this organization as a way to use design thinking actually to solve community problems. And it’s called the museum, even though it’s a nomadic museum, it doesn’t actually have any physical space, but they put up or we put up different like installations in different places. So for example, they did one on the design of prosthetics. Again, this notion of how do you design prosthetics from the user’s point of view and creating something that really works for people who, who are missing a limb. So they had a, an exhibit in the Prudential center in Boston of different models and stories from different people. So in an, as a way to inspire people, to look at the power of design in solving real problems and so many other places that design can be used to solve community problems.
Matt: I love that. I think, you know, what’s interesting is just to hearing those conversations throughout so far today and sort of this, I think, I think of myself as a creative person, but definitely not a design person. Like I can’t put me on a whiteboard and told me to sort of like actually sort of doc design, what something looks like. I don’t think of myself that way, but the way you’re talking about design thinking, isn’t about having those skills. So if someone’s looking at this and thinking, I don’t have the attributes for this, prove us wrong.
Ashley: Yeah. I think, I mean, I think that’s so true whenever we do our work, even with sales organizations, we’re saying like, you don’t have to be creative. You don’t have to be a great drawer or any of this sort of the assumptions that come with you, this notion of design and what we’re really talking about is this customer centric, curious, empathic approach to solving any problem, anywhere in the world and thinking it’s sort of like the designer’s lens, which is all about those things. It’s not necessarily about being a great drawer or constructor of objects.
Matt: He’s got a few more minutes here wrapping up with Ashley Welch, definitely encourage you to check out her business, Somersault Innovation. And I’m assuming Ashley that, you know, best laid plans beginning of the year, 2020, hasn’t exactly gone that way. We’ve been somersaulting and tumbling our way through it. What are some things that have been surprisingly and delightfully different for you and this year? I think it’s easy to talk about some of the adversity and challenges that we face, but I think we all sort of had enough time to sort of think about the silver linings that this year represents as well. What have been some things for you?
Ashley: Yeah. Thank you. That’s a great question as well. Well, I think personally it’s been great for me to spend more time with my girls who are 19 and 17 and have to hang around a little bit more. So I love that aspect of it. I think on the professional front, you know, it’s caused us to somersault more quickly than we might’ve into new spaces. And one of the things I’m really proud and excited about is a relationship we’ve developed with mural, which is a digital whiteboard. They’re awesome. They’re awesome for collaborating remotely. And so we have a partnership with them and we’re starting to teach sellers how to use different frameworks digitally with their customers in order to collaborate online.
So not only are you now collaborating on zoom, but how do you create a digital whiteboard where you can both add information and is one of them someone I was talking to at SAP and pre sales, he said, it’s amazing when you put up a digital whiteboard and you invite your customer into it, how much information that they will give you because you’ve created a blank space for them to add their thinking and you get so much more that way.
So that’s a partnership that came out of this COVID environment that wouldn’t have evolved otherwise.
Matt: I love that. I love just the, the story of being able to spend more time with your kids. I mean, I was telling someone earlier today that, I mean, in a typical year, you know, typical Wednesday, typical Thursday, I’d probably be on a plane in an airport somewhere and you know, it’s kind of life I knew and I was fine with it.
But you know, honestly this, this week is my kids start to ramp up going back to school, my daughter’s going into middle school and kind of nervous about it. So being able to be here and kind of walk her through it and take her to pick up her laptop yesterday. I mean little things like that. That means something I think to her, that definitely means something to me. It’s sort of, we all make this transition. It’s a, it’ll be interesting to see as the world opens up again, eventually maybe, you know, what, how many of those things we’ll go back to. And I think, you know, related to that, you know, a question for you about as things you’ve to evolve back into a new normal, what’s something that maybe you are really excited about getting back into, and what’s something that you’re not going to go back to because you realize it’s not something that’s a priority for you.
Ashley: Well, I have to say, you know, I’m in sales, I’ve built my whole career in sales and I do miss the face to face. I was just talking to someone this morning and I said, where is this person that you’re talking about? He said, he’s in Dallas, Texas. And usually I would have said like, great, I’ll get on a plane and let’s go meet and let’s talk. And I do miss that. And I hope that that will come back. But I think that I certainly will be more judicious in my time and more convinced that so much work can still be done online and that we don’t need to fly around, which is obviously sometimes detrimental to our families. But it’s no good for the environment either.
Matt: Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. Do you think, obviously in the sales world, you know, road warriors have been a big part of the culture for a long time. Are we going to get back to road warrior status? Do we think we are seeing the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning for sort of field sales or we’re going to be doing it more remotely now?
Ashley: I think we’re going to do it more remotely. I think there’s been a lot of benefits both personally and then certainly the cost savings to organizations, whether it’s borne out into, they save more than you’d make by putting me on the road all the time. I don’t know who really knows, but with the advent of so much A.I. And the cost savings and keeping people off the road, I think it’s definitely going to change in some way or other forevermore, how we sell.
Matt: Yeah. I agree with that. Paul, you had a question comment.
Paul: I just think that it’s too early yet to tell what’s going to change, but I know we’re going to keep doing somersaults for a time to be here.
Ashley: I hope so.
Matt: Yeah. We’re going to keep tumbling maybe for a little bit. Well, I want to thank our guests today. Very much. Ashley Welch, Ashley, where can people learn more about your business and just to how to read more about design thinking and sales?
Ashley: Well, you can check us out at somersaultinnovation.com and find me on LinkedIn, Ashley Welch. And we wrote a book, Naked Sales, how design thinking, reveals customer motives and drives revenue. That’s on Amazon. And there’s some great stories there and really practical tools that I think people, many people, many organizations just start reading that and using those right away. And it’ll explain more about design thinking as well.
Matt: Love it, love it. We’ll check those out. We’ll make sure we get links to those in the show notes and we’ll be back next week. We’ve got a great set of guests coming up here to round out the summer and get us back into, you know, what Paul, I know I always look forward to the fall. Fall is my favorite season. Oftentimes it’s related to the weather as the Christmas of the mornings. It has to do with college football. And we may not have as much as football if any, this year that has to do with baseball and the playoffs, which I think we might still have, but you know what? The world continues to spin and, you know, big things, little things that we have enjoyed that we do enjoy and we’ll enjoy. We’ll still be around, but we will still be around with sales pipeline radio as well. We’ll be back next week with some more great guests for today on behalf of my producer, Paul. This is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode sales pipeline radio.