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Hiring a Sales Manager? Give TRIZ a Try!
Blog / Sales Management / May 28, 2015 / Posted by Andrew Wilcock / 5603

Hiring a Sales Manager? Give TRIZ a Try!

What is TRIZ, you ask?

TRIZ is a tool developed by a Soviet inventor and science fiction writer, Genrich Altshuller, in 1946. The English translation of the Russian term is “theory of inventive problem-solving.” Altshuller and his colleagues studied thousands of inventions in many fields and detected patterns in the way inventive solutions happen, and in the way, obstacles are overcome.

A primary outcome of their research was an algorithmic approach to analyzing new (and existing) systems by interrogating not the problem itself but the contradictions within a system. TRIZ grew into a collection of over 200 tools and is now widely used in engineering and innovation to overcome difficult problems.

Can recruiting and selecting Sales Managers to be improved by applying TRIZ methodology?

I’ve always believed that if you put a group of curious people in a room with a steady supply of delicious, fragrant coffee, they will eventually be successful in solving any problem. In fact, recently I was in just such a meeting with academics discussing the concepts of effectiveness (doing the right thing) and efficiency (doing the thing right).

These two concepts are frequently in conflict,  for instance, you may target field sales on the number of closes, but if the client feels he is being rushed to make a decision then the sale may fall.  TRIZ can help in interrogating these contradictions. As one of the main challenges in sales management is finding and keeping the right salespeople, I pondered on its use in recruiting and hiring.

Disciplines and Specialization

Throughout centuries of scientific discovery, polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, Galileo, and Richard Feynman stand out. They were able to take their knowledge from one discipline and bring it into  others. The need to understand a plethora of topics has been replaced with specialization — in academia, medicine, and law, to name a few.

Institutions increase funding by concentrating research and teaching in specialized areas; leading more and more to follow suit. Today’s college graduates have often emerged from an educational journey focused on one specific area.

Sales shares some of the same kinds of contradictions. When I speak to organizations about their recruitment, the perfect description of a candidate for Sales Manager doesn’t show a lot of imagination or awareness. Hiring managers often describe someone just like their previous manager, or someone who looks a lot like the person with the role at their main competitor.  They cite experience. “He must have XX years of experience in our segment, be well connected, and able to step right into the role.” Academic achievement rarely comes up.

Ask these same people what they’d like to see in a new Marketing Manager, and academic background comes up immediately. “We want them to have an MBA or MSc in Marketing Management.”

With either approach, the gene pool remains pretty much the same — in size and specialization. This may very well reduce the effectiveness of the sales process. The result? Your new hire Sales Manager takes months to get up to speed while revenues stagnate. And in 18 months, the cycle begins again when things fall apart.

Using TRIZ methods can help. View each new hiring process as an opportunity to improve the entire system, rather than an end in itself.

Components of TRIZ

Ideal Final Result

Conduct blue sky thinking and brainstorming about the perfect candidate. Leonardo said, “Think of the end before the beginning.” Know what you would like if you could have it all. The philosophy of TRIZ is to deliver new solutions with a minimum of cost and disruption. The concept of the Ideal Final Result is free thinking without boundaries. Everything might be achieved; everything is possible. Unlike most brainstorming (which can be extremely wasteful),  TRIZ brainstorming is done through a “Prism” which reduces the number of wasteful ideas without reducing the creativity.

Everyone’s Ideal Result

Look at the problem from all sides — not only your viewpoint but every stakeholder. What would you want if you were in customer service, marketing, accounting, or operations? What would be the effect on your systems if the job is not filled? What is the main purpose of filling this position? Reflection is often fruitful!

Functionality, Harms, and Benefits

Analyze everything about the position. List all “must haves” and “nice to have.” Now, what do you not want to see in a candidate? If you list skillsets, defend them — why are they important? Now, what does the role look like? Is it really a position that needs a direct skill-for-skill match to the previous job holder? Or have you moved into more exciting (and even experimental) possibilities that might bear fruit?

Try TRIZ in Recruiting

A headhunter or human resources advisor will be helpful to the extent of the brief you give them. Take time to delve into what is really important. You need more than a pile of resumes to choose from. You need a consultant who will take the time to understand and participate in your organization as you add to your team. This relationship can pay for itself many times over.

If you revisit your sales process before you replace your sales manager, you will probably find that you can recruit from a wider and more diverse group, enabling you to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales force.

About Author

Andrew Wilcock helps companies define, measure, analyze, improve, and control their sales processes. Helps clients segment their entire sales process into four phases (Find, Win, Deliver, and Keep) and apply techniques from Lean, Six-Sigma, Theory of Constraints and TRIZ (sales process engineering).

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