Chapter 6 Innovate Direct Sales

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.

—Theodore Levitt

We need more room in the cabin,” said one customer circling a large construction machine. “I agree. I’d also make the windshield bigger,” added another. Employees of the heavy-equipment company took notes. The visitors continued to walk around the prototype, making more suggestions and more notes.

Sounds like a typical focus group, right? Yes and no. Some of the company employees were from product development, but half were from sales. And the customers were not a randomly selected cross-section of consumers. These were major fleet buyers, invited to codevelop the products they would be buying. Before the design was finished, these customers would get a chance to operate prototypes and see some of their ideas come to life in the final product. Sales executives not only cemented relationships with some of their best customers—who developed a strong commitment to the new model—they helped bring forth a product that cost less to build, yet commanded a 4 percent price premium and helped grow market share.

This is part of the new face of direct selling. Mastering traditional direct-selling models—whether it’s in B2B or B2C—is no longer enough for the world’s leading sellers. As in the example above, top sellers constantly seek new and creative ways to boost sales and innovate. The approaches vary, but the common theme is an overinvestment in the right customers. ...

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