Sell the Problem…And, They Just Might Adopt Your Idea

“I guess we just didn’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve.”

I remember being deflated by those exact words, uttered by my CEO, after my first experience pitching an idea to an executive committee.

The words, though spoken kindly and with the intent of coaching, still sting 20 years later. And, I’m forever thankful for the invaluable lesson I learned that day.

When you suggest innovation, you’re suggesting change.

Organizations, and the people in them, are almost hard-wired to initially resist change. Change can be uncomfortable. Change can be disruptive. Change can be risky.

So, if you want your idea to have a fighting chance of being adopted, first you have to sell the decision makers and key stakeholders on the problem (or opportunity) your idea addresses.

And, you must do it in a way that links to the top of mind issues they care about.

When you’re preparing to share an innovative idea, here are three important things to remember:

  1. The value of your idea is proportional to the magnitude of the problem.
    Create a problem→resolution anchor message that makes it easy for decision makers and key stakeholders to care about and see compelling value in what you’re suggesting.

    This should be something you can deliver in about two minutes. It requires serious thought and analysis, especially around the framing of the problem. Your odds of idea adoption go way up when you selectively include both quantitative and qualitative information — but avoid the temptation to do a data dump.

    Mandel Communications’ SCI-PAB® framework has proven to be a very effective way to think through and deliver this kind of message.

  2. If you don’t sound like you believe in your idea, why should anyone else?
    Decision makers want to see and feel the conviction you have for your idea. Nonverbal self-sabotage (fidgety body language, fleeting eye contact, and repetitive “uhms”) will suppress your efforts to project confidence.

    Just as bad is what I call “well-intended, but numbing professionalism.” Unintentionally hiding your personality behind an unemotional business-like façade is not going to help your cause.

    Everyone has to practice somewhere. Because most people are uncomfortable practicing out loud, their first real practice is in front of the decision makers and they struggle to get their words out.

    Successful innovators know the power of practicing their content out loud multiple times, so they can share their ideas with credibly contagious conviction.

  3. If your idea isn’t attacked, it could mean no one is interested.
    Why do serial innovators love getting tough questions and objections? Because they know it means the decision makers care.

    They’ve learned how to skillfully defend their ideas without getting defensive, eventually turning entrenched resistors into ardent advocates. Anticipating tough questions is an integral part of their preparation and practice process.

    A serial innovator’s biggest fear? An apathetic reaction. When that happens, it’s usually the result of doing a poor job of selling decision makers on the problem you’re trying to solve.

The world needs innovators. Your company needs innovators.

I believe that everyone at every level in an organization has a stroke of innovative genius somewhere inside them.

The key to unleashing that stockpile of untapped innovation is to build the communication capability that provides people with the courage needed to speak up skillfully and get their ideas heard.

Want to learn more about how to create an innovation-friendly culture within your company?
Download Brad Holst’s recent Training Industry Magazine article: Don’t Let Everyday Innovation Get Lost In Presentation.

Brad Holst

Brad Holst

Brad is the Principal & Executive Director, Communication Strategy and Innovation, at Mandel. He has designed and implemented successful communication, training, and coaching solutions for a diverse cross-section of Mandel’s global clients, from start-ups to top names in the Fortune 50. He is the prime creator of the proprietary models and processes in Mandel’s winning suite of communication content-planning tools, including the Mandel Blueprint®. Brad is a consultant who gets results, an insightful coach, and a dynamic, engaging speaker. He offers a rare level of business acumen based on his prior leadership roles with three market-leading companies: The Walt Disney Company, The Clorox Company, and Armor All Products.
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