New ideas, whether it's a way to improve upon a process or something that completely goes against the grain, are what keep the business engine going. Some lead to big breakthroughs while others fall dead in the sand. But every idea, good or bad, has one common link: It required buy-in by someone other than the originator.
The history of great ideas is littered with the remains of potentially great innovations, notions and plans that never saw the light of day simply because the pitch failed to ignite a fire or set a series of actions into play. Anyone who's experienced the frustration of others just "not getting it!" knows how critical team buy-in is for the success of an idea.
The next time you bring a novel idea to your company's table, consider adopting a few of these strategies for selling it through.
1. Link it to the company vision
We know total team alignment on values and mission is critical to the success and longevity of any business, and as such, an idea brought into the fold should aim to support those in some way. If you're proposing the team dedicate time and resources to executing on this idea, they'll naturally be expecting to know how flows with the culture current and aligns with the deeper purpose. Make your 'why' clear.
The importance of buy-in on vision can't be overstated. It's a failsafe against ideas that might splinter lesser organizations. When a leader pitches an idea down the chain that's tied to the organization's vision, it reinforces the direction the company is going and strengthens trust. Similarly, employees who go to management with their ideas can speak the language of leadership and demonstrate their commitment to the company.
2. Flip the WIIFM mentality
Approach pitching a new idea to a team member the same way you'd try to sell a product or service to an audience --by uncovering what's in it for them. The details of your idea itself are merely features, after all, and successful sales pitches rarely dwell on features.
Why should someone else dedicate their time and energy to making your idea come to life? What problems will it solve for them?
And this may not be a one-size-fits-all. Just as with a product launch, you may need to uncover what resonates most with several different personas. In much the same way you'd assess your audience before even putting a product demo in front of them, you should know what motivates the people in your own ranks.
Consider "prototyping" your idea by approaching team members individually in an informal setting to gauge what would make them most likely to get on board with what you're thinking. You'll gain valuable feedback that could help make the case for your idea even stronger.
On that note, testing and validating your idea much like you would a product will help you identify weak points or holes before you take it to the larger team. This will also help ensure the success of your idea once you start putting it in place.
3. Make it achievable
Any excitement your team may have over your fresh new idea will fall flat if executing that idea requires a tight timeline, longer hours or convoluted success metrics. Start small with even the biggest ideas. There's no sense in putting unmanageable pressure or expectations on the idea in the early going. Demonstrate what short-term success and victory milestones look like when you pitch your idea.
Breaking the idea up into small, achievable intervals (and celebrating those wins) won't make the end goal feel so esoteric or daunting.
Momentum is key to getting projects off the ground. Do the simple things early to instill faith that your idea has legs.
4. Do your homework
Are there data points that can help support your big, audacious idea? Better include those in your pitch.
Whether you're proposing purchasing a new piece of technology or creating a new internal innovation team, chances are time and money investments will be necessary. If that's the case, backing up your assumptions with facts and demonstrating the return on investment will go a long way.
When a new idea requires a new set of rules, it's crucial to test your idea against multiple possible outcomes. For example, if you're changing the way employees spend their time, what happens to the work that now must be neglected to focus on this new idea?
Who will be in charge of enforcing potential new policies and how might that change company dynamics? These are questions you'll be asked, so be prepared.
4. Know when to fold 'em
Your idea makes perfect sense in your head. If it were up to you, it would be in place effective immediately.
Unfortunately, there are always unforeseen cracks in your grand plan. By genuinely listening to others, you just might improve on your idea or at the very least bring in trusted new stakeholders who contributed to its birth. But also be prepared to hear the tough feedback and don't be afraid to admit when the idea falls short. Not every idea is a winner, so take feedback with grace and go back to the drawing board.
Taking a product launch approach to selling your idea, in which you build a hypothesis, validate assumptions, test, learn, and iterate, will help ensure you gain buy-in. And remember, failure is ok. The most important thing is to learn from it.