Several people asked recently about questions to help identify innovative thinkers in sales. While we have done a bunch of strategic and creative thinking skills workshops for sales teams in the past several years, we have never put together a specific diagnostic on this topic.

When multiple people ask a question, though, it is time to do something about it!

10 Questions to Identify Innovative Thinking in Salespeople

Thinking about innovative sales people I have known, how we teach strategic and creative thinking skills to sales teams, and strategic thinking questions we use to spur new thinking, here are ten questions to identify innovative thinking in salespeople.


These questions address focusing and prioritizing what matters for customers and the organization.

1. Why do people buy from us?

To innovate, you have to understand underlying motivations and needs. An innovative sales person will answer this question in a way that opens up many possibilities to imagine new ways to reach and delight customers.

2. Whom don’t we sell to?

Innovative thinkers are able to focus and deliver on great opportunities. That means having a sense of where the best opportunities ARE and ARE NOT going to be.

Working from an Innovative Thinking Platform

An innovative thinker needs a foundation and perspective from which to innovate.

3. How do you generalize what we do for customers in order to find innovative ways to address customer needs?

This one comes via my buddy, Joe Batista, the chief creatologist. Joe taught me the value of analyzing a potential customer relationship via generalized activities and value streams. If a salesperson employs a comparable approach to think about value, it is a great sign he or she is creating innovative solutions.

4. What customer benefits does your brand offer?

This is similar to the previous question in that it signals the ability to generalize in order to provide a launching pad for innovation. If you are selling based on benefits, it is easier to innovate and find new ways to deliver those benefits. (For more on this innovation strategy, download our Outside-In Innovation eBook!)

Employing Innovative Processes

These questions zero in on whether a salesperson uses a dependable process for innovative thinking and development.

5. What’s your process for discovering the underlying needs, wants, challenges, and aspirations a current or potential customer may have?

When it is for business, you cannot afford random innovation success. Innovative thinking in sales implies having a process to repeat what leads to results in many types of situations.

6. What are the most innovative approaches you have employed to create a customer solution?

An innovative thinker, no matter what field, should have stories readily available about past innovation successes. If not, that person is just an innovation poser. This question focuses on an innovative processes; the next one addresses innovative solutions.

7. What is the biggest customer solution you ever imagined, and did it come to fruition?

A quick and big answer to this one signals innovative thinking and a familiarity with extreme creativity. If the big idea came to fruition, it signals someone that can go from idea to implementation!

An Innovation Posse

While there are innovators that go it alone, an innovative salesperson needs to depend on others to imagine and create solutions.

8. Who inside your company thinks you are a pain for trying too many new or wild things to create ecstatic customers?

Innovative thinkers (and doers) in sales are going to rub people in the organization the wrong way because they are always pushing for new and better. Continual innovative thinking in sales will wear out people in the organization. An innovative salesperson understands that.

9.Who makes up your innovation team?

In my book, an innovative thinker in sales appreciates the importance of others helping bring innovative ideas to life. They know who those folks are, even if there is no formal reporting relationship, because they are going back to them frequently to make innovative things happen.


You want salespeople focused on winning and success. You also want them open to what's new.

10. Why do you enjoy selling?

If doing new things all the time doesn’t surface as part of the answer, you probably aren’t talking to a truly innovative thinker in sales.


This list is definitely from the Brainzooming R&D lab. We haven’t tested this diagnostic at all, but it’s a solid starting place. If you wind up testing it before we do, let us know what you find! – Mike Brown

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