Whether we believe it or not, we are all in the sales business. Regardless of what we do for a living, in one way or another we are always selling ourselves, and our ideas, to other people. When it comes to problem solving, improving the workplace and enhancing customer service, this ability becomes crucial.
While employees at all levels have good ideas for how to drive the business to greater success, management often seems to be hard of hearing. Why? Because most employees don’t know how to: 1) articulate the problem well enough to identify its cause, and 2) get the resources and support they need to resolve it.
Essentially, most employees don’t know how to sell their ideas to the decision makers who have the power to buy. The good news is that learning how to sell your ideas can be an exciting six-step process that can boost your career and benefit your organization.
1. Lay the Foundation
When you send an e-mail, answer a call or attend a meeting, you are selling yourself. Every interaction makes an impression. If you want people to be attracted to your ideas, you’ve got to be perceived as positive, open-minded and trustworthy.
When day-to-day problems arise, offer to help where you can. If you show initiative, instead of complaining or criticizing, you’ll earn the reputation of being someone who can make a difference.
2. Define the Opportunity/Problem
You can’t sell your idea until you have clearly identified the opportunity at hand or the problem and its underlying cause. Determine what advantages the opportunity can generate or what it will cost if no action is taken. There are only three reasons a business will take action, and they are: It’s faster, better or cheaper. Ask others what they think about your idea. Use this occasion to build relationships with people who understand and support you, and can help you get to the decision makers.
3. Prepare Your Proposal
Once you’ve done your homework, you are ready to prepare your proposal.
Outline the project’s scope. Describe the parameters of your plan, how long it’s going to take and who will be involved with its implementation. People are more inclined to favor a plan that is easy to understand, offers a realistic timeline and outlines the resources and investment required.
Put some skin in. Decision makers are more willing to give you a chance when you are willing to “put some skin in the game.” Are you going to coordinate the project and follow up to make sure people are doing what they are supposed to do? Are you part of the team that will be doing the work? Remember, ideas are a dime a dozen-execution separates the few from the many.
Be savvy about the organization. The more complex the business, the more effort it takes to understand the goals of the organization and its structure. Learn how the business operates and who makes the decisions. The people in your network can help you get this information.
Review the audience. Everyone from the CEO to the line worker has an agenda. Know who the “players” are and what they need. You must take their world into consideration or you won’t be successful.
Rehearse the presentation. If you are going to present your idea to a group of managers, or in a one-on-one session with your boss, practice your delivery. If you are presenting with a team, decide who will present what and practice together so that each participant makes their best contribution. For example, if someone is nervous, let him make the introductions and sit down. Other aspects of the presentation include presenting the problem/opportunity, the relevant background information, an overview of your innovation or solution and the cost-benefit analysis.
If your proposal is to be submitted in written form, be prepared to clarify and defend your ideas should you be called upon to answer questions.
4. Sell Your Idea
Meet and greet. If you are making a formal presentation, arrive early so you can meet and greet everyone who is going to hear you speak. Shake hands and smile. Human touch is important when you want to connect with your audience, especially if you anticipate resistance. It brings your essence into the room, giving you an inside edge.
Present with passion. Your presentation must be objective-there is no room for “I’ in your proposal. You are stating what the business has to do. At the same time, if you don’t have confidence in yourself and passion for your idea, your audience won’t either. Confidence is convincing even if there is doubt. Passion persuades because people want to believe. They will vote yes because they want to see you do it.
Validate your position. Validating what you are saying is extremely important. You must validate yourself as the presenter and why you have the right to be there. Tell them about your job experience and how you can help the business. If you are going to reduce the amount of work, while increasing productivity and job satisfaction, validate those points. Emphasize to your audience that you are there to make things better for them and for the organization.
Provide evidence. Evidence demonstrates how your envisioned outcomes can actually occur. Build your business case by citing examples and case studies. Use body language, gestures and voice inflection to help your listeners get the picture. Walk people through the process you are proposing. Physically or virtually show what they are currently doing vs. what you want them to do to highlight the difference.
Overcome objections. Anticipate as many objections as possible before your presentation, but don’t be afraid of them. Most objections are an attempt to get more information. Objections help you answer questions that your audience may be wondering such as, “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me?”
Turn objections to your advantage by responding with answers that help your audience see things differently. Use questions to provoke thought and have your audience convince themselves that your idea is solid and will work. If someone says, “We tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work,” ask in return, “Has management, or the market, changed in the past 10 years? Why is now not the right time?” Then be quiet and listen carefully. The answers will reveal the concerns you need to resolve before you can finish your presentation.
5. Close the Deal
It’s up to you to make sure that a decision is made, so ask for it. If they say, “We’ll get back to you,” ask, “Is there any part of my proposal that you don’t agree with?” Then address any remaining issues.
If your audience needs time to think, or if you submitted your proposal in writing instead of making a presentation, ask when the decision will be made and let them know that you will follow up. Find out whom you should get in touch with and when.
If during the decision-making process they try to negotiate with you, remember that wants can be negotiated away, needs cannot. If you insist on what you believe is needed and give in on the other, you can win the negotiation.
6. Reap the Rewards
The key to selling your ideas is to remember that you are in the sales business. Everything you do and say makes an impression. You can make changes happen with enough time, courage and commitment. The process will not only enhance your self-esteem, it will reap positive rewards for you and the organization.