"What's the best way to sell innovation?" This was a question I was recently asked by a client.

He's an innovation leader in his company and he wanted to sell the concept of innovation internally, to sell specific ideas internally, to sell the solutions externally, and maybe even pitch to potential investors.

I thought about books he might read. For his last need, I recommended Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal​ by Oren Klaff. This is a book I've read twice and listened to on audio book. It's a brilliant approach for pitching to investors.

There were other books I considered. But in the end, when I looked at the bigger picture of his innovation challenge, I recommended some ancient wisdom: Aristotle's "Rhetorical Triangle." This was his approach to using language to persuade others.

The three corners of this triangle are "ethos, pathos, and logos." Ethos is credibility, pathos is empathy, and logos is logic. I find that selling your ideas using this construct, typically in that order, leads to more persuasive arguments and more effective sales pitches.

Ethos: Credibility

First, establish your credibility. You need people to listen to you before they can truly hear your ideas. They will only listen if the think you are worthy of their time. Why should they believe you? So, before trying to sell your ideas, make sure people believe you, trust you, and want to listen to you. You want to do this without it sounding like you are hyping yourself, because that can quickly turn off listeners. Therefore it is useful to get someone else to sing your praises. Testimonials and social proof can build credibility. A warm introduction from someone who has already established credibility with your target audience can go a long way. In my role as a professional speaker, this "warming up the audience" is critical. Therefore, before taking the stage, it is customary for an executive from the client to read an introduction that establishes my credibility. If you are selling internally, then maybe this step is not necessary, or can happen very quickly.

Once people are bought into "you," it's time to build an emotional connection.

Pathos: Empathy

Create an emotional bond with others. Speak their language. Address their needs. Tell them what they will get out of paying attention. Why should they care? What's the cost of not listening? This is all about context. Remember, people rarely listen to the emergency procedures when an airplane is taking off, but they are highly attentive when the plane is about to crash. You must get people to the point where they really want to hear what you have to say about the proposed solution. When done right, storytelling is incredibly powerful for creating this emotional connection. It can have people sitting on the edge of their seat. Your goal is to get them to "feel" that your solution is worth considering, before they even know what it is. 

Logos: The Solution

Finally, after addressing credibility and empathy, you get to the solution. Features and functions. How will the change be implemented? How will it affect them? What do they need to do differently? What actions do you want them to take?

I find that when most people sell, they start with logos - the logic, the features and functions. But this is not the way people buy. They want to know and like you first (why you). And they want to have an emotional connection to the problem (why your idea matters). Only then will they be interested in your solution.

In some situations, I find that it is actually better to start with the empathy - the emotional connection. In fact, when done right, this can create credibility in the mind of the audience. Each situation is a bit different. This is an art-form, not a science.

Want a successful change effort? If so, you must be able to sell your ideas. In order to sell your ideas, you need to understand how people make decisions. People rarely make decisions intellectually, they make them emotionally.