The Art Of Selling An Idea

Selling is more than just closing contracts and pushing product. In fact, there is something we mass-market more than anything else -- ideas.

While intangible, ideas are “sold” with nearly every interaction we have. We persuade people of the merits of our opinions in conversation. We gather buy-in and approvals for projects. An idea is just as marketable as any product or service and, if executed properly, can be just as valuable. 

Those who are skilled in selling or pitching ideas often earn one of the most coveted resources in business -- buy-in. Buy-in provides support in all forms, from public backing, to increased funding, to access to new connections. It is the social currency that makes many entrepreneurs rich with influence and is the one of the most powerful forces in bringing ideas to life.

However, if you’re looking for buy-in from your internal stakeholders, you need to know how to sell. 

Here are a couple sales techniques to help make sure your ideas see the light of day:

Do Your Research & Sell Value

A good salesperson knows the product or service they are selling inside and out. They hone their pitch and mind the details. While it’s important to be well versed in the specifics (features, pricing, etc) of whatever you’re selling, understanding what solves a customer’s pain points is what drives home a sale.

The same can be said for pitching an idea. By catering the conversation to your audience, you establish a stronger bond between what you are selling and what they need. Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them and how your idea is going to deliver value.

Selling is often perceived as a pushy practice, but the best salespeople do the opposite -- they pull. Through conversation, active listening and solid research, salespeople pull valuable information from their audience and use it to steer the conversation. Understanding what others value creates a connection and allows us to craft the perfect pitch. Selling an idea abides by the same principles. Nearly anyone can be a potential advocate for your idea as long as you listen and learn their needs.

For your next idea pitch be sure to do your fair share of “pulling.” Build upon your pitch with questions instead of a smattering of answers. The best way to understand what someone needs is by letting them tell you themselves. For example, if someone often finds themselves strapped for time, highlight how your big idea might help them save an hour or two in their day. If you find out that someone is concerned about their department’s budget, show them how your idea might help them trim costs. By responding to their problems you demonstrate how your idea could be the solution.

Identify Your Cheerleaders & Gatekeepers

Although we’d like to believe that the idea we’re pitching is great for everyone, the truth is, every idea has a target audience. However, we are often unable to handpick that audience. When faced with pitching to a predetermined audience, try breaking it down into two types of people: cheerleaders and gatekeepers.

Cheerleaders are those at the company who have already bought into your idea or could be easily convinced of its value. These people are critical to pushing things through because they carry with them a certain amount of enthusiasm and credibility, which can be great leverage against your more skeptical audience members.

Identifying cheerleaders also helps us to understand those who you don’t need to spend a lot of time selling to. They are already eager to bring your idea to life, so why spend valuable time convincing those who don’t need to be convinced? Instead, channel your selling towards your gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers are your company skeptics. These are the people you need to sell to. They are likely someone with an alternative point of view (i.e, selling a different idea), so it’s important to understand how your ideas compare. But it’s most important to determine where your points of view or values are similar.

For example, you may find yourself pitching an idea to someone who is extremely mindful of costs. While your idea may result in additional expenses, highlighting a positive return on investment could sway your gatekeeper. While it may not align with what they value most (cutting costs), it may align with something they can get on board with (generating profit).

Understanding how to cater our message empowers us to craft the most impactful sales pitch. By pulling the right information from the right people we can unleash our ideas in the right way, at the right time. So put a little salesmanship into your next pitch to your boss or coworker to make your next big idea count.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  La Citta Vita