Years ago I was leading a group through our Increasing Performance through Strategic Thinking seminar and things were going great…until the end. The participants were all fired up about their new ideas. They were excited to make things happen for themselves and their organization with the innovative problem solving they’d engaged in and the strong solutions they’d developed, except for one little problem. “How will we convince all of ‘them’ to go along with our idea?” they asked. “How can we sell this to our team, or senior management?” they posed. “How can we really, actually, make this happen?”
So I quickly offered them brief pointers on influence and persuasion and suggested a few Harvard Business Review articles they should read. And then I redesigned the program to include information on “selling” – because how useful is a great, new idea if you can’t convince anyone else (and especially anyone with power and resources) to give it a try? Not very useful at all, which is why I’ve outlined a few tips on selling your breakthrough ideas below:
- Build relationships before you need them – The stronger your connection with others in your organization – your colleagues, superiors, and direct reports – the more likely they are to listen to your ideas; consider their worth; and put their time, resources, and influence behind you. It is important to have the relationships you need at work before you need them. Find ways to build rapport with others, identify things you have in common and ways you can connect with those around you, give freely of your time and attention when they ask for it, connect with them professionally and personally as much as possible. By doing all these things before you try and “sell” your great idea, you’re more likely to have a connection with people and therefore more likely to have them listen to you.
- Highlight WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me”) – People are naturally self-focused. In nearly all situations, they are noticing what’s going on around them, listening to others share, and wondering how things will affect them personally – “What’s In It For Me” to listen further and respond? By helping those around you easily identify an inherent “What’s In It For Me” in your idea or breakthrough approach, you help them want to support you and the idea. How will they, or their team, benefit? What are the final results you’re after and how will this affect your colleagues? What can others learn or gain from partnering with you? By clearly knowing and articulating the benefits of your idea to your colleagues, you can more easily win them over to your side.
- Find ways to excite others about your idea or project – Your colleagues, team, and manager will fight harder for your innovative idea if they are excited about it. Your job is to get them excited. Can you appeal to their sense of higher good for the organization, and show them what your idea will accomplish? Can you take advantage of their passion for a project, or a problem that needs to be solved, and show them how your idea will move their project further towards completion? How can you excite them so that they begin to feel as if your idea is practically theirs, so that they too sell it throughout the organization? If you think through these questions and determine the best ways to bring others in and engage them in your idea, they are much more likely to be persuaded to try things your way.
- Make sure you have all the hard data you need – While emotional appeals are important and connecting with others can help you make certain they will support your idea throughout your organization, it is equally important to have the data, facts, background information, and projections that support your idea and will help convince others to support it as well. Too often we can get so excited about our innovation that we forget that business is business, and that we need hard facts and proof to influence others to our point-of-view. By compiling the information and numbers that will help others see clearly the benefit of the idea you’re proposing you help them be willing, and eager, to support you and your idea.
What other ways have you successfully “sold” your new ideas? We’d love to hear.