Today's Professional

Today's Professional

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Selling your ideas to your organization: The internal salesperson

How to sell your idea to your organization

How often has this happened to you: You have found a way to improve a product, an internal process, or you have discovered a tool that will increase your efficiency? You know this to be true and in your excitement you go to your supervisor and ask for the item in question only to get a response like “Sorry, Jan. It is just not in the budget,” or “I think we will keep the process as is, it works now, why change it?”

All the work you put into that idea. You know it will improve your position, because let’s face it, you know what you do in your position best, right?

I failed miserably at internal selling early in my professional career. In my tenure as a business analyst for a consulting firm, I was responsible for analyzing market data, financial data, and historical participation rates for a particular activity. In addition to this information, I was to look into the commercial real estate for potential sites to locate the type of business I was completing the research for. From this research our team would develop a scorecard in order to determine the feasibility of opening the business in a specific market.

Makes sense right? It did at first, but after completing my first study and when it was time to score the business, I was shocked behind the scoring process. One or two of the executive team would sit with the research team and determine the scores based on thin air and gut feelings. What this meant to me was the work I had complete (about 80 hours) was just meant to back fake numbers, or two hundred pages of fluff, depending on how you look at it.

I was not happy with the ethical principles of this practice, I was determined to introduce a statistical, and research based scorecard. I spent a lot of time developing a weighted scorecard using the original factors as a guide with a colleague. Each of the five factors had ten or so sub-factors that determined an aggregate score. From there, the five factors were given a weighted score based on market conditions. These weighted scores allowed for things like cost of real estate to be balanced based on location. For example, it would not be possible to directly compare the cost of real estate in the New York City area against real estate in Denton, Texas from one study to the next.

With a presentation in hand, outlining a new approach and how to alter our scoring and my determination to provide clients with accurate information, I presented my idea to the chief operating officer. After a ten-minute presentation, his first question was, “where did you get this scorecard from?” My response, “It was created using our current scorecard, some suggested measuring methods from a strategic management textbook from my MBA program, and my mind.” His response was, “Oh, ok. It is just this means we have to change how we do things. I will let you know what I think.”

That was it. Meeting adjourned. I never heard anything else about the scorecard. A few weeks later I met with the CEO to have a talk about how things were going. I told him about this scorecard meeting and my feeling on the current practice. He told me this was the first time was hearing about this idea. His response was then what I least expected. He said, “I guess you will have to learn to sell your ideas better.”

Again, I was taken aback. I thought for sure the CEO of the company would understand what I was trying to do; provide the clients with accurate data before they made huge investments. Nope. He saw this as an opportunity for me to work on my ability to sell internally.

From that day on, I was determined to sell my ideas internally. I ended up altering the feasibility studies in such a way that they took ¼ of the time to complete saved the clients 50% of the cost, and were based on statistical data and financial information. How did I do this? I sold my idea internally first.

Here are some tips to consider when presenting ideas internally.

Tip 1: Identify the pain or needs of the organization and how your idea addresses them.
You need to show your understanding of your organization by identifying the pains of the organization, and how this solution’s benefits will remove the pain. You do not want to focus only on the features of the solution. For example, if the solution were project management software, you would not want to say, “We need this solution because it has email capabilities.” That is a feature of the software. You would want to say, “We need this software because its email capabilities will save us time and money on all of our projects.” Here you mentioned the feature, but stated the benefit to the organization as well.

Tip 2: Provide facts, background information, testimonials, and credibility to your idea.
Know the cost of the solution in question; make sure it is compatible with your current technology, workflow, or processes. This will ensure the implementation is seamless and will make your idea more logical. Gathering references from similar organizations that have used the solution is also helpful. Finally, state why you are a credible source for the idea you are presenting. For example, “I feel this solution will help, because I tested a demo version of it and it only took me an hour to do my project. With our current solution, I generally spend three hours on the process, and I am the company’s expert at this.”

Tip 3: Make your idea their idea.
This is not always the best approach as it may limit the credit you get for your contributions. However, it may prove successful with difficult manager. Simply begin planting the seed that a new solution is needed, suggest a few options, and in your suggestion, soft sell your idea. Once you have presented the ideas, ask your difficult manger their thoughts, guiding them through the discussion to the obvious choice. In this case, it is important to have done your homework and addressed the two tips above.

Tip 4: Go to the final decision maker.
Who is the person that is going to sign off on your idea? This is whom you should sell your idea to. Speak to this person in terms that effect their position and highlight how it will assist you in your position. If it is the CEO of your organization, you should speak to the benefits to the organization in overall terms and how it will improve the bottom line (either by lowering cost or increasing profits). The more specific the person’s role the more specific the benefits will need to be.

Tip 5: Follow-up.
This is one of my biggest flaws in the story above. I failed to follow-up after the initial shooting down of my idea. Your manager is busy and sometimes they forget, or the idea doesn’t seem important to them at the time. The noisy wheel gets the oil, so follow up!

These five tips should prove helpful for selling your next idea internally. Remember, the work you put in up front will pay off. Prepare for presenting your idea with the benefits to the organization in mind.

Feel free to share additional tips or contact me with any questions you may have in regards to selling your ideas to your organization.

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