How to Sell a Great Idea: 5 Steps
In a world driven by innovation, new ideas are powerful tools for building your career and your bank account. That said, ideas (even good ideas) are a dime a dozen. What really matters isn't whether you've got an idea, but whether you've can sell that idea–to investors, customers and colleagues.
Use this simple five-step plan to present and sell your idea:
1. Have Prior Credibility
When deciding whether an idea makes sense, investors are initially more concerned with the person who has the idea, rather than the idea itself. Unless you have some kind of track record, you're probably not going to get a hearing.
This does not mean that you must have already built a company, for instance, before you can ask somebody to invest in one. But your idea is more likely to fly if you've been a departmental manager than if you've only worked in the mailroom.
"Buyers ask themselves: 'Is this person competent, based upon past performance?' and 'Is this person speaking with candor or handing me some BS?'" says Neil Rackham, author of the bestseller Spin Selling.
2. Have the 'Next Big Thing'
Buying is always an emotional act, especially so when it's an idea being sold. People get excited when an idea makes make intuitive sense, when it appeals "to the gut." This is far less likely when an idea seems totally off the wall.
"When you're trying to sell somebody a new idea, you must persuade them that the idea confirms their own opinions, rather than proves them wrong," says Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing.
Ideally, the idea should also make people who feel that they're doing something positive and powerful if they decide to invest in your idea. There a reason that "we're going to change the world" is a business mantra.
3. Adapt Your Story to the Listener
Decision-makers inevitably see ideas from their own perspective, so your idea should be expressed in terms that address the practical business concerns of the potential buyer.
In your business plan, you'll cover all the bases, naturally–but when you're face to face or on the phone, tailor your remarks appropriately. If you're talking to a tech-head, talk technology. If you're talking to an accountant, focus on ROI. "This is important, because investment decisions usually involve a team of people, each with different expertise," according to Edward R. Weiss, who as general counsel at Group One Software oversaw the acquisition of 15 firms.
4. Make Buying Less Risky
Once somebody has decided to buy, their mind automatically starts looking for reasons not to do so. So don't wait for the inevitable defenses: Instead, anticipate problems and objections in advance and be ready with a convincing response.
For example, if the objection is "we did this before and it didn't work," be ready to articulate how your idea is substantially different. Note exactly which factors and circumstances make it more likely to succeed. "If it's a good idea, everyone will say it's crap, at least at first, so you go for a pilot project," says Ken Gidge, who among other things invented and sold the hanging plastic "strip doors" used in service-station garages.
5. Create Momentum
Ask for feedback frequently throughout the dialog. The best part about this is if you continue to check for agreement, the buyer will often preemptively close the sale by saying something like, "When do we start?"
If the buyer doesn't do this, however, you'll have to ask for the next step, according to Linda Richardson, author of the bestseller Perfect Selling. Summarize your idea and ask a few final questions to ensure that the idea-buyer agrees it's workable. For example, "Does this makes sense to you?"
If you get agreement, you have the green light you need to move forward. So the next question is: "When can we bring this to the other partners?"
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.