Monday, May 25, 2009

Making the sale

Harold Scharlatt, 

IN THE best of times, it can be a fight to get ideas implemented at work. In today’s organisations, where resources are under siege and uncertainty abounds, advocating for your approach, idea or product is even tougher.

The time is right to take a more disciplined approach to pitching ideas. If you have a project you believe will improve the organisation, you have to find the best approach for getting it implemented. You cannot afford a false start. If you lack a strategy for selling your idea, you put yourself, your group and potentially your organisation at risk.

To get other people to consider and adopt your ideas, you need to consider two important things: The environment and your tactics.


Getting a solid understanding of your organisation and where your work fits will lay the groundwork for success. Before you start talking up a new process, programme or change, ask yourself these questions:

How does my idea fit with the explicit and implicit goals of the organisation? People have to see the benefits of your idea. One way to do that is to align it with what they want to achieve. If your idea goes against the organisation’s written and unwritten goals, objectives, values and practices, it will be more difficult to sell it. You need to plan accordingly.

Where am I positioned in the formal and informal hierarchy? Be aware of the unwritten pecking order — the informal power structure, which is often very different from the organisational chart.

What kind of support do I need from key people and groups? Know who you need and why. List the groups you need to work with to get your idea sold, the key people in those groups and the level of support you need from them.

What resources do I need? Clarify what you need, including funds, staff, equipment, expertise, administrative support and other non-monetary resources. This is especially important now, when many organisational needs are competing for people’s time as well as money.

How committed are my own people? Before you try to sell a new idea to other parts of your organisation, make sure people in your own group support it.

Who are my best advocates? If you can get even a small amount of buy-in from people whose opinions carry a lot of weight, you can use it as leverage to influence others.

Who might oppose or be threatened by the idea? Who might misinterpret my idea? Be realistic about territorial conflict or scepticism. You should anticipate objections and refine your idea to answer those objections.


Once you have done the background work, you can begin to sell your idea. You will want to use a variety of tactics, tailored to the people and the needs you determined previously. Among the approaches to try:

• Draw attention to the need or opportunity. If you make clear the problem you want to solve or the opportunity for improvement, people will be more open to your idea as the solution or plan.

• Create a favourable perception of your idea. Give honest and optimistic presentations, highlighting why your idea is valuable and why it will work. But do not overdo the positive spin. Acknowledge flaws and be open to suggestions. Consider possible adjustments and where you are able to compromise.

• Start with your most likely allies. Start with the “easy sell” — the people you believe will be the most enthusiastic about your idea.

• Time it right. Figure out how and when people are most willing to listen to new ideas.

The more tactics you have to draw on, the more precise and effective action you can take in different situations. Build multiple options into your strategy, so that when one tactic does not work or does not apply, you can draw on another and keep moving forward.


For any idea, you need to determine what level of support you need from which people. From some groups or leaders, you will only need an okay or a mutual understanding. From others, you may need willingness to help or full engagement or advocacy. There are eight levels of support: "I’ll do it!"; "I’ll work with you"; "I’ll supply resources"; "I’ll actively support it". ; "I’ll give you advice"; "It’s okay"; "I’m neutral"; and "I won’t sabotage it".

As you work out how best to pitch your idea or plan, you will want to clarify to what degree each person or group can be helpful and what kind of help they can provide.

This article is adapted from Selling Your Ideas to Your Organization by Harold Scharlatt, a senior enterprise associate for the Center for Creative Leadership, a global provider of leadership education.

From, Succeed – Monday, 25-May-2009; see the source article here.

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