How to sell your Big Idea to decision makers
When you have a big, creative idea that you want to implement internally or externally, the idea can be hard to sell to decision makers.
This applies to big ideas for major external communication campaigns, for operational projects, and for internal programs dealing with significant issues like change management, safety, and employee health.
“People just aren’t naturally oriented towards innovation or change,” says Loran Nordgren, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. They are generally more comfortable with familiar concepts (‘status quo bias’).
Fortunately, you can take action to convince people your idea is worth pursuing.
Six tips to sell your innovative ideas
1. Show how your Big Idea will help achieve business objective/s
The most important part of selling a big creative concept to decision makers is to show how the idea supports the business goals and objectives of your organization or client. To accomplish this, refer to as much evidence and data as you can (refer to tip 6 below for suggestions about data) that will logically support your case. Summarize concisely and precisely, with detail in a separate document if that helps to keep you summary tight and to the point.
2. Loss aversion – people think they could miss out on something good
Tell decision makers what they would be missing by not agreeing to the proposal, rather than what they would stand to gain. We all suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – ‘loss aversion.’ Research shows we feel a loss twice as strongly as we feel an equivalent gain.
“If you tell people that by not acting on the idea, they miss out on an opportunity to appear really forward-looking, the idea is more likely to succeed,” Nordgren says.
3. Develop 3 cost options
If you offer three cost options in your business case, the decision makers will often go for the middle one – the one you favor. (But make sure the cheap one is unappealing due to lack of depth in the option.)
4. Get others to join with you
As I noted in my article, “How you can simply become more creative,” business creativity can be defined as two different thoughts brought together to produce a new idea that is fresh and different from original sources.
You can join forces with others to use two conventional ideas from other departments or area/s, which have been brought together to produce a different, combined result. By gaining the support of other people in this way, your business case becomes much stronger. The contribution of the other party or parties may not be very strong, but you have their support, which can be the key influence factor with decision makers.
5. Consult with stakeholders
Often people affected by an issue, campaign, project, or product are often just as close to the subject as you are, especially with difficult public policy matters like safety, education and access to health care. So consult them! By developing a respectful and positive relationship with the people affected by the issue or product, you can gain valuable input from those stakeholders – and their vital support – when putting your case to decision makers.
6. Use data to support your case
Decision makers want to see the data supporting proposals for business initiatives or Big Ideas. You should collect data as part of your formative research, which should be an important part of planning. It largely involves measuring pre-campaign levels of awareness, attitudes, perceptions and audience needs. This is important: you need evidence to show where you are at, and you need to obtain figures to report progress to senior management or clients.
Many sources of formative data are free:
- your organizational financial, admin, and operational records
- results of your organization’s previous campaigns, projects, programs and events
- monitoring reports of news media and social media coverage
- relevant publicly available survey results via Google
- industry trend reports via Google and industry groups
- government policy announcements, etc.
If the Big Idea is big enough, you should allocate 10% of the campaign budget to paid research. This research can comprise:
- Surveys – usually comprising any of the following elements: samples, questionnaires, email and online surveys, online employee surveys, telephone surveys of employees, interviews, and focus groups.
- Communication audits – to analyze communication policies, procedures and activities to test their effectiveness.
- Desktop analysis – fact finding via free sources, as above.
Case study on conducting a survey to gather data
A few years ago I was doing some work for a big national engineering firm that had completed more than a billion dollars worth of construction projects in my State. Not once had the firm conducted any sort of research on client attitudes after completion of projects – the firm had little idea what clients really thought of them! As most projects were won by tender, the firm seemed to think success was all about the fee. They didn’t understand that the first step by potential clients to shortlist contractors is to consider the firm’s reputation based on its client relationships as well as on its previous performances in delivering quality work on time and on budget.
I persuaded senior State management to approve a survey of clients for whom the firm had completed ‘big ticket’ projects in the previous 10 years. As projects were worth up to hundreds of millions of dollars each, the firm had worked for only about 70 clients in that time. It was easy and cost-effective for me to arrange interviews with the larger clients to gain important feedback.
National head office had to grant permission for me to conduct the client survey. When I reported on the results, which were very positive, and which contained vital feedback, national office thought the survey was such a good idea they decided to do it as well in all States in which the firm operated. The feedback would be used as formative research in preparing future tenders. Also, positive comments could be quoted in future tender documents as a valuable form of third-party endorsement.
Try these tips next time
When you next present a proposal for decision makers to approve your Big Idea, try using some of these tips. They should increase your chances of success.