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Selling your ideas is the key to professional advancement

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 16, 2019

Have you ever thought about the most effective way to sell your ideas to others? The “art of selling” is usually associated with the selling of a product or service to a customer or client. This view is much too narrow, since we also sell our ideas to others within our organization. This is an update of an article I wrote on this subject in March 2016.

The ability to get others to buy into our ideas and initiatives and rally them to the cause is a primary skill of all leaders. No matter your profession, no matter your level within your organization, you are always selling your ideas.

The late Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation, said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” How true.

Leaders cannot just announce a new initiative and expect it to be adopted without convincing those within their organization that there is merit to their idea. Depending on the initiative, they may need the support of their boss, peers and direct reports. Leaders need to help create a sense of ownership in employees for the initiative, so that they are committed to its success.

So, how do you sell your ideas? How do you influence others to pursue your initiatives?

Be effective in presenting your ideas

Decide on the best way to present your idea and supporting data. When making a PowerPoint presentation, ensure that the audience can read your slides. I have attended many conferences at which experts in their fields made presentations where the fonts on their slides were too small to be read, or so much information was packed on each slide that rendered it undecipherable. This hurt the credibility of the presenter.

Always place yourself in the position of the audience to which you are presenting, either via PowerPoint or verbally, and ask yourself, “Is this an effective presentation?”

Focus on the benefits of the idea

Your idea is more likely to have better reception if you focus on how it benefits customers or clients, improves an internal business process, fulfills a need or solves a problem of the individual to whom you are selling the idea. What is in it for the company or them – a strategic imperative, financial gain, societal benefit or fulfilling their desire to leave a legacy to future generations? Find out and position your idea to garner interest and commitment.

Have you fully evaluated the idea you are selling, and can you articulate responses to probing questions? Some questions one should consider are:

  • What are the benefits of the idea and its return on investment?
  • What are the risks, and are they acceptable?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What is the cost to implement the idea, and is the cost within the ability of the organization to absorb?
  • What are the alternatives, including the alternative of doing nothing?
  • What are the risks of doing nothing, and are those costs too high to bear?
  • What happens if the idea fails?

Are you fully convinced of the merits of your idea?

If you are not convinced of the idea’s merits, you will never have sufficient conviction to convince others. If the idea fails, you will be held accountable because your name is on it. Therefore, you need to be convinced that the idea will be successful. If the idea is a good one but there are some issues, talk through the issues to minimize risk.

How to approach the individual to whom you want to sell an idea

Don’t raise the subject unless you feel that you can have the person’s full attention. Watch for eye contact. Not maintaining eye contact is an indication they are not interested and not absorbing what you are saying. If you sense that the message is not impactful to the individual you are speaking with, change the messaging. Be aware of how you and your idea are being received.

If you need to sell an initiative, first speak to group members individually

By explaining the initiative in one-on-one conversations, you have a chance to gauge reactions and address any concerns. You might also get good advice on modifying the initiative to increase its attractiveness or probability of success. If you first introduce the initiative to the group without laying any groundwork with the group’s members, the group may respond with a negative reaction without thoughtful consideration.

Do you have credibility?

When you are selling ideas, you are selling yourself. Within any organization, those with the highest credibility and trust will have an easier time having their ideas considered and accepted. How do you build credibility? Develop a reputation and a track record of success with previous initiatives. How do you earn trust? Be transparent, admit failures, don’t blame others for your mistakes and always meet your commitments to others.

There are people who don’t want to engage in the process of selling ideas, or don’t have ideas to sell. Some people simply don’t like change, and don’t realize that change is a constant in life. This is unfortunate. These individuals are missing out on an opportunity to influence their organization. When they are searching for their next job, they will not have in their background what is most valued by a new employer. They will not have a track record of contributions that drove their former organization forward.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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