Selling new ideas: Avoid common mistakes, overcome obstacles and use this “people skills” process that works!
By Cathryn Bond Doyle.
We’ve all experienced that burst of energy that comes when we get a great idea. First, we can feel our excitement build as we imagine how wonderful it will be when our idea becomes real. We smile as we think about how much time or money our idea will save (or make) and feel relieved at the problem our idea will solve. Next, we shift right into creating a mental “to do” list, thinking about what we need to do and to whom we need to talk. It’s a terrific feeling!
Unfortunately many of us have also experienced that “thud” that comes whenever we share our idea with friends, family or co-workers and our great idea goes over like a lead balloon or worse…evokes a negative or hostile reaction. That’s a terrible feeling!
New ideas create the possibility of change. Change generates anxiety. People react to anxiety in many different ways. Some people believe that change results in something bad. Many times the reason our ideas are ignored, resisted or rejected has nothing to do with the content of the idea and has EVERYTHING to do with how, when and where we present our idea. The purpose of this article is to review some of the common selling mistakes, offer a response to typical obstacles to change and then to explain a proven communications approach that works. We’re going to look at the mistakes first so we can understand WHY things aren’t effective and what we need to do differently in the future. Understanding the “whys” eliminates the need to memorize or manipulate and creates the opportunity to integrate these new techniques into our personal style. That’s a powerful feeling!
Common Selling Mistakes
1. We “blurt it out” without thinking things through.
2. If we get an idea at a conference, meeting or from a book, we relay the information in a reporting style as if to justify our activity or prove we were paying attention.
3. We present to a “cold mind” without preparing our listener.
4. We’re excited and assume others will be as excited as we are. Enthusiasm is contagious but it can also be annoying.
5. We dump our idea on another and then step back expecting others to take action.
6. We present our idea to others without first knowing their goals or fears.
Selling an idea is a process. Implementing change is process as well. Both processes require preparation and awareness. When people consider a new idea that requires or results in a change, we should expect them to bring up some objections and obstacles. By preparing our responses to the typical obstacles, we’ll be ready for them, unaffected by any resistance and able to keep our enthusiasm alive. As you get good and comfortable with this approach, it’s actually fun!
Insights into common (expected) obstacles to change
1. That idea costs too much! This is always a good, reactionary excuse and it’s sad how many people will just walk away from an idea upon hearing this objection. It usually means the person feels the idea is too risky and/or it doesn’t appear to have enough value or return. An effective response is to review the benefits or return on investment and to show them how you are going to minimize the risk. Remember R-I-S-K is a four-letter word to some.
2. We tried that once and it bombed so never again. They’ll dismiss the idea if it sounds at all familiar in attempt to avoid a repeat failure. It’s a clue about our listener’s attention to risk and failure. Creating the belief that this idea can be different and explaining the reasons why will allow for some progress.
3. What would Mr./Ms. X think about that? (The person who developed the existing situation our idea would effect.) Whenever we’re proposing something that will eliminate or change an existing process, activity or tradition that someone else started, there can be a fear of offending that person in some way. It can be scary if that person is the boss or president. This can be a real concern or an excuse. Here are a few explanations that help people understand that a new idea is not an indicator of anything being wrong, a. Separating past decisions from future ones, b. offering comments like “that was then and this is now”, c. “things don’t have to be bad to be changed. ” This kind of logic will offer a way around this obstacle.
4. I’m not sure if this is a good idea…let’s study the situation for 6 months. This excuse is usually an attempt to appease the one with the new idea while also looking like something is being done. It’s a major indicator of risk avoidance. To move forward we’ll need to improve the listener’s awareness of the benefits and help them be more confident about the chances of success.
5. I don’t consider this a problem. This excuse requires the most work and preparation. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has deep roots. Our response to this requires a well thought out approach. It’s doable but the vagueness of the obstacle may take a bit more effort.
OK so now what can we do? When we accept the fact that selling people on new ideas and change is a process, we can put our energies and attention on making things happen. Let’s review this process.
Stop Resist the initial urge to share the idea until the plan is clear and complete.
Look Look around and see who will be affected by the idea. Who will be supportive? Who is likely to disagree? Resist? Make a list of the people who fit into any of these categories.
Get Curious and listen Have one-on-one conversations with each of these people. Arrange for informal “have you got a minute?” kind of conversations. Say, “I have an idea that might affect you” and find out how they feel about the subject or issue at hand. This doesn’t mean presenting the plan to people, it mean thinking about how they would be affected and asking them about their views and feelings to get a better idea of their objections and fears and their goals and wishes so we can plan for and accommodate them wherever possible. Ask “what if” questions to get as much information as possible BEFORE proposing any new idea to anyone.
Prepare Understand that selling a new idea is the process of getting other people to see a new perspective with mutually beneficial results and without manipulation. Whether we are talking to a boardroom of executives or a houseful of kids, a boss or a spouse, we are asking people to take a new point of view. When we recognize that people make decisions emotionally and rationalize them with logic, we can help them with the emotional aspects of change—a much better use of our time and energy. Kids are a great at this approach. They seem to do this naturally. They plan. They observe and assess moods. They butter us up and test the waters before dropping the bomb. They will not proceed unless all the circumstances are “Go.” It’s kind of funny but we all probably remember doing this at some point in our lives.
Step Two-Take Action
Are you ready? After all your ducks in a row, it’s time to go into presenting mode. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into the presentation. This can be as formal as a sales presentation or as informal as a conversation over dinner:
1. Open up your conversation a line that, if spoken sincerely, is very effective in lowering resistance. Say something like this, “I want to tell you about an idea I have and how I think it might be great for us. I want to tell you what I am thinking and see if it makes as much sense to you as it does to me.” This phrase will tell people that you’re going to respect their view and that you understand, right from the beginning, that they may see it differently. It’s very honoring and engages curiosity. By lowering resistance right from the beginning, you raise your chances of success.
2. Layout the idea AND include an initial implementation strategy so they will see how confident you are of an “OK” and how willing you were to invest the effort.
3. Demonstrate a personal commitment by showing this person all the things you are willing to do to make this new idea happen. This will reduce risk aversion for the listener.
4. Get people involved in decisions as you’re presenting the idea to them. Create opportunities where they can make some choices that contribute to the final plan. Remember; only offer choice when you can be happy with their decision. This is not about setting them up or about manipulation. It is about co-creating an idea. People are less likely to reject something they’ve helped create.
5. Move rocks, not mountains. Suggest ways to get started. Small steps require less trust in the unknown and less risk for the listener. Create an “If-then” plan. If this works, then we’ll move onto that. Suggest a test period or trial of some sort.
6. Ask for feedback along the way. “What’s so you think so far?” It’s a common trap to fear feedback and not ask for it until the end. The problem with this is that when you get to the end, you have nothing else to present and you risk sounding defensive. (We all know how unattractive and unpersuasive defensiveness is.) Getting feedback along the way, allows for some modification, a chance to alter our presentation or even to end the conversation and continue later.
7. If they completely reject the idea, stick around and talk to them about it. Always ask why. Ask them what would have to be different to make them more open to the idea. There’s valuable information in this conversation and many times you can come back with a new and improved version of our idea.
This approach takes time, practice and courage.
It requires some practice and flexibility, along with some creativity and patience. The best thing about it is…it works! Of course it’s also natural to be nervous the first couple of times you try anything new. So, try this approach out on small things. Build experience and confidence. This is a path of being willing to be wrong in the process of getting it right. It honors other people and it feels good to know you are NOT manipulating and controlling others. The next time a great idea knocks at your door, go make it happen, reap and share the benefits and have some fun along the way!
Copyright 2001 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved.
NOTE: This is an article written from a speech I used to give to sales/retail audiences. I kept getting requests for a transcript so I put it into this article. Understanding new ways to have a more effective impact on others, without resorting to manipulation is a wonderful thing. Hope you find many ways to apply these concepts to your life. CBD