Use the power of certainty to your advantage. When you’re selling your ideas, the people you’re talking to are thinking risk: personal risk, financial risk, reputational risk, etc. You have to alleviate their fear of risk. How? Remember this: Strategies based on uncertainty have high risk, while strategies based on certainty have low risk. Therefore, before talking with the other person, ask yourself, “What are the things I’m absolutely certain about regarding this solution? What are the current hard trends? Where is the industry, company, economy, etc. going, based on what we are certain about with this solution as well as without this solution?”
Identify the things you’re completely certain about. This is not a time for “if,” “maybe,” or “might”. Only address the things you know for sure. It’s about what will happen versus what might happen. In a world filled with uncertainty, what are you certain about?
Make your list of hard trends; the things you’re certain about. For example, smart phones and smart pads (such as the iPhone and iPad) are gaining more popularity every day. Is this a trend that you know will continue, or will people eventually trade in their new smart phones and go back to the traditional cell phones of yesterday? The answer is obvious. People won’t go back. So look at the current technologies available and how people are changing behaviors based on their use. Look at the sales trends. Look at your customers. Look at the economy. Look at everything around you and get clear on what’s a hard trend and what’s going to pass.
Additionally, look at the strategic imperatives of the company and the current plan. Determine if your proposed solution is an accelerator or a brake. Obviously, you want to show how your ideas, technology, or concept can accelerate the plan and the results of the plan. You want to show how your solution can help increase sales, increase innovation, increase product development, etc. Again, this can’t be a “maybe”. It has to be something you’re certain about.
Then, after talking about the pain and how you’ve solved it, and after overcoming the objections, go into your list of certainties. You could say, “Here are things I’m certain about in the marketplace and in our company … . Based on this certainty, here is why implementing this technology or solution is low-risk and a winner.”
You’ll find that this approach is a powerful sales tool.
What about cost?
Sometimes, cost really is an issue, especially these days with many companies streamlining both budgets and staff. So it’s quite possible that you can go through all the steps outlined here, only to have the decision maker say, “This sounds great. But we really don’t have the money to fund it.” At that, your reply should be, “What would it take to get the funding?” And then be quiet. Throw the objection back at them and then listen. After a short silence, they’ll tell you exactly what needs to happen.
Interestingly, people always manage to find money when they’re excited about an opportunity. You’ve probably seen this in your own life. Your teenager wants a car and asks you to buy it. You say “no” but that you’ll match whatever money they save to buy the car. A few months later, your teenager has saved a substantial amount of money (by teenager’s standards). With your matching money, he or she has enough to purchase a quality used car. Or maybe an unemployed friend learns of a business opportunity that requires an initial investment of several thousand dollars. Even though they are unemployed and have limited cash at their disposal, they often find the money to invest in the new business.
So when someone says, “We don’t have the money,” it doesn’t really mean that there’s no money. It simply means that what you’re offering isn’t a priority, doesn’t have urgency, and isn’t relevant to them. Therefore, ask yourself, “Have I made this idea, technology, or concept a priority? Have I made it urgent? Have I made it relevant?” If not, then you’ll likely hear the default answer of, “We don’t have the money.”
However, if you have made the idea, technology, or concept a high priority, urgent, and relevant, then all of a sudden the other party can, “Shift some things around.” As other things become less important and your idea becomes more important, the money is suddenly available. So you have to place your idea, technology, or concept at the top of the list of priorities and then show the CEO, CFO, board, or decision maker why it’s there.
An anticipatory approach
This approach to selling your ideas up is a switch for many in IT, because even after all these steps and all these discussion points, our passion for technology often over rules and we slip back to a discussion of the new tool’s features instead of what it will do for the listener. It’s important to remind yourself well before the meeting that if you haven’t done the groundwork to get the other party excited or on board, you’ll likely go nowhere. As you’re busy talking about features and benefits, the other person is thinking about costs, risks, ifs, and maybes. That’s why you need to solve all those things ahead of time. This is really just an anticipatory approach to selling – you’re anticipating the problems, the rejections, the objections, and the concerns so you can overcome them easily and turn them around.
Anyone who has worked with C-level executives knows that leaders get excited about many things, but they’re working with the weight of costs, controls, and constraints on them. Therefore, you need to challenge those costs, controls, and constraints. Instead, make what you offer about priority, relevancy, and strategic imperatives and you’ll get your ideas sold.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.