Case study

How to use design thinking as a sales tool?


Shared by 
Daniel Hunter & Tracey Kelly
Microsoft Catalyst Director and Envisioning Lead at Microsoft

Tracey Kelly, Microsoft’s Envisioning Lead, and Daniel Hunter, Microsoft Catalyst Director, explain how to use design thinking in your personal and professional life. Find out how a new mindset can help us to better master personal and organizational challenges.

The challenge: adopt an empathy mindset in sales

Since the pandemic began, the world of work has had to adapt at pace and people have been trying a lot of new things. It may not be easy, but it is the perfect time to reimagine how we work, and a lot of teams have been using design thinking to really elevate their performance. But what about design thinking as a sales tool? And how does design thinking benefit salespeople?

Tracey Kelly and Dan Hunter both work with customers at Microsoft, with Tracey in particular helping customers to reimagine the future and reinvent themselves – often working with executives who want to start afresh.

So why does Microsoft care about design thinking? Well, in the first instance it’s worth pointing out that in the US, nearly 13% of all jobs are full time sales positions (1 in 8), and yet only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs. Historically, design thinking hasn’t been a part of sales, and instead of having customer needs front and center, sales traditionally involve a lot of pressure and in some cases even coercion.

But, say Kelly and Hunter, times are changing, and customer engagement at Microsoft has become contingent on design thinking. While this could be attributed in part to the changes at Microsoft that Satya Nadella was pivotal in making, it’s also likely to be simply a cultural shift – a sign of the times and the next step on from reactive and responsive sales.

The value of design thinking is straightforward – it puts the customer and the problems we want to solve for them front and center. This is relevant not least because we also know that after a presentation, 67% of attendees will remember the stories that were told, but only 5% will remember the statistics that were shared, so there is a clear mandate for switching up the way that sales is approached.

The solution: the Workshop Platform as a catalyst

This new mindset all about empathy and growth is embodied by the Catalyst sales team at Microsoft. They’ve embraced design thinking as part of the sales process and really get to know their customers, focusing on what they need, rather than simply pushing for a sale regardless of whether or not they have found the best solution.

In practice, Kelly and Hunter both agree that this means exploring the problem the customer wants to fix, testing potential solutions, then refining the final solution before delivering it.  They suggest focusing on the things that’s really going to “move the needle” for customers.  It’s a process of helping customers to sort out their problems and identify the wood from the trees.

What makes this different from other approaches is velocity – after all, you can solve almost anything if you have all the time in the world, but customers want not just the right problem solved, but they want it to happen fast. So, to deliver a solution that really adds value, it’s important to understand the context and to be able to solve it in an efficient and effective way.

The team at Microsoft uses Klaxoon to help them facilitate workshop sessions and meetings with customers because it allows them to shape a holistic conversation in a way that is engaging as well as providing useful metrics that can help to finetune the process. This has been incredibly important during the pandemic, since travel has been stymied and organisations have had to completely rethink the mechanics of how they interact with clients.

Kelly and Hunter are clear that Klaxoon has enabled them to effectively launch themselves into the living rooms of their customers without even skipping a beat. In fact they describe it “a catalyst to where we wanted to be” and with its suite of customisable tools and templates ready to go, there was no need for them to redo their business models, they could simply use it as a powerful toolbelt to carry out their design thinking process.

The result: more effective communication in sales

Kelly and Hunter know fist hand how important it is to keep engagement with customers alive, and the last couple of years have been challenging in this respect to say the least. But armed with the immersive features of Klaxoon’s whiteboard and templates that can help not just beginners, but experience design thinkers as well, they’ve been able to continue carrying out workshops that help them to validate the perspective of their customers. 

A desktop open on a table outside, with a remote meeting going on on a Design Thinking Board. | Klaxoon
Ready-to-use design thinking tools and methods can be a way to improve teamwork efficiency thanks to visual management.

They use these engaging tools to process the outcomes of interviews, see where people focus their time and identify themes, people processes and cultural changes. And while it’s likely that some of their work would always have been remote even without the impact of Covid given the global nature of their customer base, they note that the quality of their output is higher now that they are using Klaxoon. Why? Because it’s designed specifically with remote working in mind.

It keeps everyone on the same page, reducing the need for so many 1:1 meetings and with everyone more aligned it’s much easier for teams to stay engaged and become part of the solution – owning and advocating for it.

Using a Klaxoon Board, sales teams can create a scalable and repeatable process – a kind of notepad that can be shared with the rest of the world. It helps with planning ahead, it’s simple to get to grips with and users agree that they are less prone to distraction when putting their Board together. What’s more, it makes you think about how you are working with other people and how best you can support them. 

Tracey Kelly: "We're able to collaborate better. I think it's easier to do it on the Board virtually that it is to do it in person, because you can get really distracted." | Klaxoon

Ultimately, it’s a digital process that encourages users to learn, share with others and most important of all – show up.

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