One of the biggest complaints I hear from employees is that no one is listening to their ideas. In a large part this is not because the ideas are bad, but becuse most employees don’t sell their ideas to their company properly.
Selling an idea to an organization requires that you understand how the decision makers operate, then you cater your idea to the arcane decision-making process. So stop complaining about office politics and start leveraging them to sell your ideas.
A good example of how to sell an idea to an organization is this ad campaign run by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Whether or not you agree with the politics of the Center for Constitutional Rights, their approach is interesting:
“America’s leading group of constitutional attorneys present the case for impeachment of George W. Bush exactly as it could be presented by the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate. Clearly and concisely, they delineate the four strongest charges against the president, citing precedence and evidence that you don’t have to be an attorney to comprehend.”
What is notable here is that the organization is trying to sell its idea by doing the work of the decision makers — in this case, the House of Representatives. This is the kind of campaigning you should do in your own organization. When you have an idea, sell from the perspective of the people who can make or break your outcome. Think about what obstacles would stand in the way for the decision maker, and then you do the work of making a plan to overcome them.
It is not easy to learn how to sell to an organization. Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House, an online training company, told me that one of their most popular types of training is how to navigate the corporate process. “People need to learn to take an innovative idea and build a business plan around it.”
Snipes talked about skills to master in order to get your ideas implemented, and, no surprise, it’s all about emotional intelligence:
1. Solve a problem
The person who needs to give you approval has issues of her own. Everyone does. Getting someone to pay attention to your ideas is a sales issue. You are selling your idea. And the only way to sell something to someone is to solve a problem for them. You need to really understand the needs of the person you are trying to get approval from. And if you cannot figure out how you are helping that person, then you can’t really sell your idea to her.
2. Package your idea
You’ll get higher level people involved if your idea is aligned with the strategic ideas of the organization. In order to get people to buy in to your idea, you have to know what ideas they are focusing on themselves. You need to show them that you are presenting a plan to further their strategic goals.
3. Understand funding processes
Each organization has a different system for funding projects. But it’s safe to say that every system is arcane in its own way. You need to ask a lot of people in a lot of departments to find out the best way to get funding for your idea. If you rely on someone else to get funding, then you run the risk of not getting approval, because someone doesn’t want to deal with the financial implications of your idea. Taking care of a lot of this legwork and office politics yourself can go a long way toward getting approval.
While every company is different, the big-picture strategy for selling an idea is the same for most companies; A lot of rules hold true wherever you go. And even if you don’t end up getting someone to implement your idea, the experience of trying to sell an idea through a large organization is good experience in and of itself.
Sales is hard, and selling ideas is harder. But, like most things in life, you get good at it by trying and learning from failures. So try it.