A Critical Executive Skill
Chances are you are required, on a regular basis, to sell ideas. Time and again in my work as an innovation coach, I see that the ability to build the buy-in for our ideas is a key determinant of success, both internally and externally.
How can you improve your skills in this vital arena? Here are six suggestions:
1. Realize that selling ideas is job one.
Far from being a mere after-thought, or something that, once the idea is ready for launch, can be thrown over the wall to the marketing and sales team to handle, successful innovators know that selling is a constant need and never-ending requirement.
2. Focus on benefits, not features.
Will your new product or service save the customer time, improve his/her social standing, solve a problem better than existing solutions? Every effective sales professional knows to concentrate on such benefits. Prospective buyers don’t care a whit how your gizmo works, how many toggle switches it has, etc. or anything else about its features, until they buy the benefits.
3. Emphasize the role of persuasion.
Constantly emphasize the need to win friends and influence people internally and externally. Work on communication skills and energizing, creative, briefings, descriptions, boardroom reports, etc. Focus on crafting messages so that people pay attention. Make everyone on the team an idea evangelist.
4. Try out ideas on skeptical thinkers first.
Your friends are likely to give you the positive feedback you want to hear. But before you really decide to commit all out to an idea, try it out on your toughest critic. Humbly invite them to tear it apart, find the weaknesses. Then, see how you feel. If you’re still convinced you’ve got something, go for it. If not, you probably don’t have the fire in the belly to see it through to fruition.
5. Speak the language of the people you are selling to.
Effective idea evangelists find out as much as they can about the thinking styles of those they are pitching. Are they analytical, quantitative? Then provide numbers. Emotionally-driven? Come with anecdotes that convey your message. If “big picture” oriented, don’t bore them with details.
6. Help others visualize your idea.
A picture is worth a thousand words. And the more others can feel, taste touch and most of all see your idea represented, the greater your chances of getting a green light. People don’t like to admit that they don’t understand, or that you’ve confused them. But as every champion knows, people don’t buy what they don’t understand.
Robert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.