I recently met with someone (let’s call him Aaron) who has a huge new business idea. Aaron’s trying to get support for his idea from both inside his company from senior management and peers, and outside the company from an interested customer. It is a huge undertaking and, at times, very frustrating – as he meets with people, fine-tunes his presentation, tweaks the idea, and identifies others to meet with. However, his strategy is working and he is making great progress. In fact, this week he won over the founding executive of his company.
I asked Aaron what he is doing that is working to sell his idea, which is highly technical and data-driven. Many of the concepts and principles he shared with me are similar to how the IT guys operate overall, and they can be applied to selling any idea. Here are the IT principles that are working for Aaron:
1) Data is king – No matter who you are trying to sell an idea to, you need to have facts and data to demonstrate your credibility, knowledge and expertise. IT guys can give you reams of data and reports to show you why something will work or not. Obviously, you don’t want to overwhelm your audience with a ton of boring numbers and charts, but you do want to come prepared to show that you have thought through options, barriers, competition, projections, etc.
2) Gather requirements – Requirements gathering is a critical part of any IT project. IT guys sit down with their customers to first understand their environment and their needs before recommending and designing a technology solution. To sell a big idea, it’s important to know the current environment and what’s required by your potential customer. Good questions to ask are: What is the pain point? What is keeping this target group up at night? What is happening that is driving the need for the change that my idea is facilitating?
3) It’s all about the end user – No matter how great your idea is, you need to understand the value proposition to the ultimate customer – the people who will be buying and using your product or service. How will it help them? All the bells and whistles in the world won’t mean a thing if it doesn’t make the end user’s life or work easier, simpler, more efficient, less costly, better in some way. To sell a big idea, identify who truly is the end user and put yourself firmly in their shoes to know why they should care about your idea.
4) Test it out – IT guys employ a process known as Proof of Concept to help get the final go-ahead on a big project. It’s a relatively low-cost, low-risk way of setting up a demo of how the technology solution with work within the customer’s environment. This limited trial run lets the decision-maker put their toe in the water rather than having to dive into the whole pool immediately. To sell your big idea, think about how you can develop a Proof of Concept to help bring your idea, or a small piece of your idea, to life and show the folks you are trying to get on board that your idea is doable, viable, and a must-have.
5) Make it system-agnostic – It’s a lot harder to move forward on an IT project that requires large investment in new equipment, software, and tools. IT guys look to make their solutions system-agnostic. That is, the idea is not tied to a specific manufacturer’s piece of equipment or software. The solution is flexible enough to fit within a current environment or to adapt to a variety of hardware/software options. This gives the client more flexibility and more control. To sell your big idea, keep required and inflexible components to a minimum. Offer the person to whom you are selling your idea plenty of options and flexibility so they feel like they are in the driver’s seat and it’s easier for them to say yes to your big idea.