Entrepreneurs, for all their proven creativity, can be especially hard on someone else's ideas. Relying mostly on your own thoughts and instincts is a hard habit to break.

Whether you're an entrepreneur, a CMO, or a marketing executive, fear can be your greatest obstacle to generating, recognizing, or selling that big idea.

As stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review, "Fear can undermine cognitive potential, creativity, and problem solving, and cause people to get stuck and even disengage."

A marketer may be afraid of taking a risk, losing control, breaking the budget, being shown up by a colleague, or going against conventional wisdom or company orthodoxy.

So how do you clear the fear? How do you take your team from brainstorm to breakthrough?

Here are some tips for selling your idea internally:

1. What's their motivation? Understand the room

The longer we work in a particular field, the more the work becomes second nature. While this is a powerful advantage, it also makes us prone to take shortcuts. We become overconfident in our ability to understand where people are coming from.

This tendency to jump to conclusions based on past experience is known as a confirmation bias. This happens a lot with marketers or creative types. For instance, as soon as someone suggests a social media channel like Snapchat, a marketer may automatically assume people want to reach 18 - 24 year olds. Recent data from Statistica.com, shows there has been an uptick in Snapchat users who are 25 - 34 years old, making that marketer's bias wrong.

Of course, these assumptions may be rooted in truth, we run the risk of thinking on autopilot. Over time, really hearing people becomes more challenging. A technique that I have found useful is to ask meeting attendees the following question:

"What outcome would you 'value' most about the project we are undertaking?"

This sets you up to understand what everyone in the room hopes to achieve. It also allows you to engage with people individually and ultimately, get their buy-in.

2. Know the value of validation

All of us, from intern to CMO, want our ideas to be valued by our coworkers. That's why Garrison Wynn, author of What the Top 1% Do Differently, Why They Won't Tell You, and How You Can Do It Anyway, advises us to, "Reaffirm people's existing thinking process and start with similarities first and the differences second."

Before you agree or disagree, start by establishing common ground. Phrases like these make people more open to creative concepts:

  • "I understand why you value that idea."
  • "I understand your thought process."
  • "It makes sense that you came up with that idea."

Saying "I agree with your thought process," does not mean you agree with the person's conclusions. You are simply validating their thinking, which is something people don't want to be questioned.

Used by an entrepreneur, this tactic demonstrates mutual respect and empowers the team to speak their mind without fear. Used by a team member, the same tactic reduces their risk of turning listeners off before getting a chance to speak their piece.

3. Agree before you disagree

Even the greatest entrepreneurs have to market internally first, whether you're selling the team, the CEO, or the board. If your big idea is new and different, you may run into resistance and the desire to stick with the tried and true. Your challenge is to open people's minds to hearing a new idea.

Acknowledge that you appreciate your audience's existing knowledge and know-how. If someone brings a mediocre idea to the table, be diplomatic.

Wynn suggests saying something like "Your idea is very valuable and your experience means a lot, but there's a new idea that I'd like to present to you."

"Find a way to weave some of their thinking and research into your pitch to demonstrate how their existing knowledge fits in with your new idea," said Wynn.

4. Don't be the smartest person in the room

OK, so maybe you are the smartest person in the room. Let that be your little secret. Make people feel good about themselves.

Acknowledge their contributions and never shame them. There's a wrong way and a right way to be right. The wrong way could sabotage your pitch. The right way gets things done.

Published on: Feb 23, 2017