How to sell your idea

In today’s workforce, the people who advance are typically the ones who are creating change and executing their ideas. They show their dedication to the company and their careers by actively taking steps to increase revenue and improve the workplace. However, before you can execute your ideas, you have to sell your ideas. Here are seven tips you can follow to get management to approve your plans and projects so you can start making a difference.

Identify key stakeholders

Look at your company’s organizational chart and identify key stakeholders who need to approve this idea. You might identify your boss as the first person who needs to approve the plan before your start reaching out to upper management, but other managers might need to buy-in as well. For example, if you need the operations, IT, or marketing departments to allocate resources for your idea, you need to gain the buy-in of the managers who will need to give up their resources to help your cause. No one wants to be told that their employees have to take on an extra project, so meeting with these managers and getting their approval before you approach the CEO or Vice President can prevent friction in the future.

Getting approval from key stakeholders on the lower levels of the corporate organizational chart will also help you get approval from upper management. One of their concerns might be the resources needed from other departments. If you can confidently show that you have the approval from everyone involved to proceed, then management doesn’t have to worry about your idea creating workplace conflict.

Tie your idea back to company goals

Dozens of people around the company are likely vying to get their ideas approved and awarded the budgets to execute them. Management is likely pitched new ideas every day and has to decide which ones are likely to become the most profitable. If an idea doesn’t have a direct effect on the bottom line or company objectives, it’s likely to get pushed aside in the short run. To prevent this, make sure your idea is directly tied to the company’s goals.

For example, if your CEO wants employees to cut wasted expense, create an estimate for how much waste your idea will identify and prevent. By tying your idea to company goals, you can provide a solution to management and not just ask them for more resources. The benefits to approving your option should outweigh the costs and risks of what you need to execute it.

Create an elevator pitch

The elevator pitch gets its name because it’s short enough to say during the course of an elevator ride. Within a few sentences (lasting fewer than 30 seconds), you should be able to clearly explain your idea, what resources you need, and how the person you’re talking to can help. If you think you have an elevator pitch that will make management say yes, test it out on a friend or co-worker. You can even pretend they’re walking down the hall or literally riding in the elevator when you’re giving it so you can focus on clearly conveying your message despite any distractions.

If your elevator pitch goes well, one of two things should occur: Your audience will either approve your request or ask you to keep explaining your idea in more detail. Your elevator pitch is essentially your thesis statement or opening paragraph to your full idea. Once your stakeholder agrees to hear more, you can dive into additional details, benefits, and opportunities for growth.

Ask your co-workers to pick apart your idea

While your co-workers are helping you craft your elevator pitch, ask them to play devil’s advocate with your idea. Give them the full presentation and encourage them to ask follow-up questions and point out flaws every step of the way. Which questions are management likely to ask? What problems or issues are they likely to have with the idea? How can you mitigate risk?

If your idea is going to be approved, it must be bulletproof. You need an answer for almost any possible situation. Going through these practice presentations, you can find weaknesses in your plan that have to be addressed. These practice runs will also teach you to answer questions on the fly so you can address any other concerns that management brings up.

Use emotional and logical appeals

While most people consider themselves logical beings, they’re typically swayed by emotions. However, many psychologists have found that emotions play a larger role in the human brain. While many people know the fact that cigarettes are bad for your health, for example, smokers often quit because of emotional reasons like the love of a newborn baby or the fear of death.

In the corporate world, emotional appeals tend to focus on the positive results that stem from new opportunities and the fear that comes from falling behind. You can use a mixture of these in your presentation and defend the emotional appeals with logic. For example:

  • Fear. Our company is set to lose X in revenue unless we…
  • Jealousy. Our competition already has this program and has seen an X increase in…
  • Happiness. This idea could reduce the turnover rate by X, saving money and leading to happier and more productive employees.

By tapping into these emotions, you can push your audience toward an answer and then use logic to defend your claims and send the message home.

Have the right information to answer follow-up questions

As you walk management through your plan, you might not share every detail of the execution or all of your research proving that it’s a wise investment. However, it’s important to keep this information close by. For example, if you’re proposing reaching out to a new target audience, your boss might ask about their income levels or age demographic. Knowing this information proves that you thoroughly researched your idea and are prepared to execute it in the best possible way. Failing to fully prepare for follow-up questions can lead to two results:

  • Management won’t approve the idea until their questions are answered (delaying your project).
  • Management won’t approve your idea because they don’t think you thought it through.

Neither of these results are ideal, and they might even send you back to the drawing board.

Meet with stakeholders in-person

The average office worker receives more than 120 emails per day, and only 30 percent of those emails are actually opened. This means you’re competing with 120 other messages to get someone’s attention. Even if key stakeholders actually open and read your email, they’re likely to get distracted or set it aside to address later.

If an idea is important to you, call an in-person meeting to pitch it. For middle-managers, you can typically call them into a conference room together and pitch them at once. However, you may want to set up one-on-one meetings to build support or meet with someone in the C-suite. These in-person meetings command attention and make sure the audience is focused on you, even for a brief 20-30 minutes. Plus, you’re likely to get an answer immediately instead of waiting several hours or days to get a response.

Refine your pitch

Selling an idea takes practice. Every company and stakeholder will respond differently to your pitch and will likely give you a different answer than you expected. However, the more ideas you form and the more experience you have pitching them, the more likely you are to find success.

After each meeting with stakeholders, managers, and co-workers, make notes about each response. What pain points affected each person the most? Did one talking point move one person more than others? Making notes on your audiences will help you better tailor your idea pitches in the future. These notes can also help when you move on from the employee making a pitch to the co-worker helping iron out someone else’s plan. When a co-worker asks you how to sell an idea, you can prepare them with your notes to create a high-quality pitch.

The next time you have an idea that can make a significant difference in the company, follow these tips to make it the best idea possible. If you know how to effectively how to sell your idea, then you can start to get noticed by management as a leader and creative thinker within the company.

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