How to Sell Your Ideas

Trying to sell your ideas within a corporation isn’t always easy. You have to contend with politics, egos, bureaucracy, and other assorted barriers.

With that in mind, I put together the following information a couple of years ago for my team. Some of it is influenced by Seth Godin’s book Free Prize Inside, which lists lots of great idea promotion techniques.

Introduction

  • This is not about how to come up with great ideas
  • This is about how to promote your ideas
  • Your job is to come up with great, viable, & successful ideas

Ideas Are Easy

  • There are a million great ideas out there
  • There are a million bad ideas out there too
  • Lots of websites give you free ideas almost every day
  • People at your company may be bursting with ideas already (maybe)
  • Your company’s problem isn’t generating ideas, it’s choosing which ones to implement
  • Your problem isn’t how to sell your idea, it’s getting your idea through the clutter of other ideas

Be an Idea Champion

Understand People & Politics

  • Understand the other person’s point of view of life, frame of mind
    • Consider the person’s background, culture, social standing, economic status, religion, family, ethnicity, etc.
    • Consider personality typing tools (Jung, Myers-Briggs, Keirsey)
    • Be aware of non-verbal communication & cues
  • Understand the other person’s goals & motivations
    • Be aware of what the pesson wants from life, from you, or from this particular deal. What matters to this person? Money, fame, reputation, a promotion, etc?
  • Find out who the true influencers are; these aren’t always the top executives (though usually they are); sometimes, it can also be a project manager or a low-level product manager, or even an administrative assistant
    • E.g. The executives of a major company wanted innovation. Unfortunately, below them were some senior managers who were afraid of upsetting the status quo and hurting their stock options because they were already making a fortune on them. They wouldn’t let any new ideas through if they hurt the status quo. These senior managers were the true influencers, not the top executives. A way to approach them is to understand their motivations and show that, by not embracing this idea, the status quo would be broken because competitors would do it better.

Convince Others That Your Idea is Great

  • Not just good, but great
  • Do some research and gather statistics to back-up the potential success of your idea
  • Show them your vision, describe the future where your idea is a reality
  • Tell them the emotional impact of your idea, get them energized about it
  • The goal is not to prove beyond a doubt that your idea will work; that may be impossible to prove. The goal is to go through the necessary steps for your colleagues to believe that your idea will work
  • Understand what motivates people (which ties into politics)
    • Some want a cool challenge
    • Some like the geek factor of new technology
    • Some like being the first-to-market
    • Some want to push the stock price up
    • Some like making their own jobs more secure
    • Some want to make the world a better place
    • Some want public recognition

Convince Others That You Can Make This Happen

  • Build your reputation as a leader, an Idea Champion
  • Start small (plan a small event, like a team lunch)
  • Increase your responsibilities (take on increasingly more difficult tasks)
  • Take ownership of difficult, complex problems (own them from identification to resolution)
  • Be proactive about problem-solving (if you notice a problem happening frequently that no one else has identified yet, step up to find a solution)
  • Consider volunteering to champion someone else’s idea (to help prove yourself and gain a political ally)
  • Consider learning about project management, marketing, engineering lifecycles, etc; (give yourself the right skills to see your idea through)

Good luck, champ!

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

4 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Ideas”

  1. Great post! One of the reasons I started my “A Startup A Day” blog was to prove this exact point – ideas don’t matter, execution does. I’ve also heard the counterargument along the lines of “ideas don’t matter, only great ideas”. Not true – I’ve seen several of my ideas later implemented by others (they didn’t steal them from my site, just came up with a similar idea on their own) and are now making literally millions of dollars in profit as a result. Like you say, coming up with that idea was easy, their ability to sell and execute on that idea is what truly made it a million dollar idea.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Kevin!

    And I totally agree. I have a long list of business ideas, of which many have come from random chats with friends. It’s amazingly & relatively easy to come up with ideas – as compared to the much harder task of implementing them.

    Even dumb ideas have some merit. A friend once told me about an idea that I thought was dumb – a month later, three start-ups sprouted all based on that same idea. I don’t know if they’re making money yet, but they’re gaining traction and lots of press.

    Had my friend gone on to pursue his idea, he could have been one of those start-ups in the news now. Instead, he sat on the idea (hopefully not because I criticized his idea! oops!) while three other people went ahead and implemented it.

    (As a side note, I now will never tell anyone their idea is dumb; I’ll try to help them find ways to improve it, then encourage them to build it.)

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