If you are a sales person, especially a media sales person, you’ll be used to the idea that you aren’t creative. Creativity comes from those people in your organisation that are paid to be creative. Designers, writers, or in the case of the radio industry, programmers and producers, commercial producers, sponsorship people etc. In fact pretty much everyone in media is more creative than the sales person. It’s the way we organise our business and even title the people who work for us. “You do the selling, leave the creativity to us” the organisation seems to say.

Well, if creativity is an idea with value, and innovation is making things happen, then I would argue that media sales people are amongst the most creative people in what’s arguably one of the most creative industrys. And I’d go so far to say that sales people across the spectrum in all sorts of industrys will be the same. Allow me to demonstrate.

If you are working in the programming department, or the commercial production department, or the ad department, or the editorial department, or the copy department, or the production department, or the social media department in media today, you are adept, expert even, in producing content that is engaging and entertaining, maybe even educational in some way. Brilliant content for sure, content that locks listeners and readers and viewers in to our brands, across many platforms and using all sorts of media and different approaches. Pictures, video, speech, music, writing to name but a few. If that’s not creative, I don’t know what is! In fact we even call it the creative industry right?

Well, and this might sound a bit controversial, but aren’t these (extremely talented) people, simply doing what they are good at, and well practiced at every day? That’s no bad thing of course. But stay with me here. Not only doing stuff they are practicing every day, but relying on a network of like-minded people that they can bounce off, get reassurance from and acceptance of what their creativity is telling them. (I understand creatives call it ‘brain storming’)

And here’s the kicker, they are doing all of this work within brand guidelines. That’s right, in order to make their ideas fit, and be sellable, and be entertaining to the various audiences they target, they are all working to extremely tight guidelines. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this at all. In fact, it demonstrates their creativity is in more than one direction as they are able to work within these constraints and still come up with new stuff.

But I’m talking about the most creative people in your business. And I don’t mean to denigrate the others, rather support sales people. Creativity and Innovation go hand in hand ok? So lets consider the sellers amongst us for a moment, consider sellers as innovators..

Sales people are the very definition of people who make things happen. In my experience, there will always be a couple of people on the team that you can turn to in order to sell that specific product you really need to move. Or get you those last few steps towards team target, or turn something around so last-minute it’s almost embarrassing.

They lean on contacts, leverage relationships, spot angles, move mountains in some cases. And all off their ‘own back’, with little or no input from others. Especially those of us that have worked in field sales. We crave that warm glow that comes from being recognised as the ‘go to guy’, the person our boss or our organisation asks to make something happen.

And the harder the task, the more extreme the request, the more bizarre the circumstance, the greater the recognition of a job well done, the better we like it. Is that not innovation on a grand scale?

And creativity itself? Ideas with value? Well lets consider what your sales people are REALLY doing. They are changing things. They are changing beliefs, altering opinions, adjusting perceptions. These are big ideas in themselves, and sales people are dealing in this currency daily. And how do they do it? They tell stories.

They tell stories that are practiced and refined to the point that all excess detail is removed. Perfectly crafted mini stories designed to create maximum impact in as short amount of time as possible. Ever heard of an elevator speech? Sales people have got dozens of them. One for every occasion they face. They tell stories that take clients on intellectual journeys that are designed to convince. And I mean really convince. Convince to the point that people, sensible, hard-bitten, experienced business people, part with cash for the product or service they are being sold.

Sales people tell stories that are funny, relevant, pointed, short, long, scientific or artful, and always in response to ‘live’ feedback. This is talking to your audience in a way that broadcasters or writers can never understand. This is face to face (or phone to phone) with the person that they depend on for their livelihood. This is communication and story telling at the edge.

See what I mean? want more? Well what about the stories they tell that aren’t practiced? The ones that are ‘created’ on the spot in response to the feedback they are faced with. Every ‘No’ to a request for an appointment, every ‘not yet’ to the close of a deal needs to be met with yet more information. Or one more respectful argument. Or just a bit more good old-fashioned charm. All designed to help them get their own way, in order to achieve the organisations objectives.

I’m not saying that everyone else that works in your organisation isn’t creative. I’m saying that sales people are amongst the most creative, if not the most creative people in your business. Maybe its about time we recognised that fact and did more to support them and their creativity. More to brainstorm rather than demand, support rather than expect and nurture rather than just wringing every last deal out of them.

My next article will be about how we use the modern understanding of motivation and the power of creativity to help manage sales teams, but until then, let me know what you think?



  1. Paul
    Paul says:

    Wholeheartedly agree. As a writer, my relationship with the sales person frequently generates the bigger selling ideas. Team effort!

  2. christopherowait
    christopherowait says:

    Nice post Damian! With regards to creativity, I’ve always said that everyone is creative in their own way. Whether you quilt, garden, write or sell. As a Creative Director, I frequently visited the sales department to bounce ideas off them and collaborate on campaigns and they’d visit me before client calls to get my views on how we can best advise clients on how to advertise their brand and how our station would suit their needs. Seeing things from a different angle can do wonders for creativity.

    I like how you brought constraints into the conversation as I believe that the true test of creativity is the ability to work within structured constraints. Every business has rules and guidelines you have to follow and the ability to creatively maneuver within them can be a talent, but it can also be a skill that can be learned and honed.

    Necessity isn’t the mother of invention, it’s the mother of creativity!

    • damiandowling
      damiandowling says:

      Thanks! Im impressed a writer and a creative director have shared their thoughts! its really interesting to hear you both espouse the benefits of bringing ‘sales’ into the creative process.
      thanks again for taking the time to comment

  3. alida
    alida says:

    Thank you so much for this post. As a sales people, we have some troubles in internal perception of what we do and why we are different than producers and PDs. And you put it together so well and so simple.

    • damiandowling
      damiandowling says:

      And thanks for the comment. I’ve had a lot of feedback to this end from all over. It seems ‘functional fixedness’ as in seeing things only in terms of their most obvious function, is as likely to be exhibited by the official ‘creatives’ as much as anyone else! You’d think that wouldn’t be the case, given they are supposed to be the creative ones.