"Design Selling" or what you can learn from Amazon

by Ingo Kett, Thomas Menthe und Henning Russlies

For many years Amazon has been propagating the approach of customer obsession, total customer centricity. In order to put Customer Obsession into practice, Amazon uses the mechanism of "working backwards" for product development. Products and service offers are derived and evaluated backwards from the customer.

"working backwards"

First the customer's problem is identified. For example, the Amazon Kindle digital reader was created because of the customer's problem of wanting to take many books on holiday. The next step is to write a press release. This can be done by any employee at any time. It is a one-page document in which the novelty is presented as if it already exists. The third step is to create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document.


After the Amazon management has classified the press release as "potential", the initiator must answer typical questions. On the one hand, these are questions that customers would ask themselves, e.g. about product features, supply sources, costs, function, etc. In addition, questions that would interest Amazon management are answered, i.e. regarding budget, development time, required resources.


Finally, the operating manual is created. This process is clearly focused on the customer and is in contrast to the classical research & development approach with preceding primary and secondary market research.


Resist the tendency to start with solutions or even problems. Instead, identify who your customer is and delve deeply into the customer's needs.

Design Selling

The "working backwards" process is nothing more than a practical "design thinking" approach. Design Thinking is a systematic, often interdisciplinary approach to complex problems. In this approach, user wishes and needs and user-oriented invention are at the centre of the process. Design Thinkers look at the problem through the user's eyes and thus put themselves in the role of the customer. One of the questions that arise in key account management is how the findings of the customer-centric Amazon approach can be transferred from B2C to B2B business.


The core of the Design Thinking approach is early customer feedback. In contrast to Design Thinking, the classic development approach takes a waterfall approach. A product or offer is first developed on the basis of information from market research and tested against criteria that the company or developers consider relevant.


Only when the product or offer is finished is it confronted with the "real" customer needs for the first time. At this point, practically the entire development budget has been used up and development has taken a relatively long time. By then, the customer's needs may already have moved on.


The Design Thinking approach is quite different. As shown in the Amazon Kindle example above, Amazon has confronted customers with a description of the product even before the product is technically available. This enables the company to obtain feedback from potential customers at a time when Amazon has neither invested a large development budget nor has unnecessary development time passed.


Exactly this idea can also be applied to "Design Selling". In order not to spend unnecessary budgets on project ideas that are not relevant from the customer's point of view, it is extremely important to qualify opportunities with the respective customers at an early stage, namely before mature solutions are available. Ideally, offers can then be developed together with the customer and thus tailored precisely to their needs - a win-win situation.