How to Sell a “Big Idea” to Management 

You’re sitting on an idea that might save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars, bring in new clients or provide some other kind of gain.

How do you tell others about your great idea and how should you have that conversation with management?
Get the POV Right

To begin selling your idea, try to look at how the idea impacts management’s point of view. How does it meet their objectives? How will it enhance the business? What language can you use to specifically address their personal concerns? Be as specific as possible in understanding their POV. Think back on frustrations you have heard them express, research areas they champion in the office by reviewing emails, and have direct conversations about challenges they see without giving away too much detail … yet.

You may also need to consider the appropriate person to approach with your idea. If your boss shies away from change, he or she is probably not the person to help you get your idea implemented. While it is never a good idea to go above or around your boss, make a list of who in the office is concerned with matters about your idea, so when the time comes to go to your boss, you can suggest checking with these people for consensus.

Build Trust

If management has confidence in your work ethic, your ideas, and the fact that you are not trying to usurp their authority, they are more likely to be supportive.  As always, having integrity in the workplace will go a long way in establishing credibility and respect among colleagues and leaders. Selling any idea requires you to:

  • Be trustworthy. Manage expectations in terms of workload and project delivery, provide honest updates regarding your projects, don’t overpromise, and be a good team player. Do what you say you are going to do.

  • Develop relationships based on honesty and integrity. If you keep your nose down and get your work done, you can achieve more than you thought you could. However, if you also have the reputation of being a resource and have the respect of your colleagues, not only will you build good relationships, you will also build advocates for you and your ideas. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t have any support or respect, it doesn’t matter.

 Prepare a Cost/Benefit Analysis

You already know that accountants love numbers, especially when trying to prove a point. Remember, effective selling focuses on the buyer—not the seller. Once you’ve identified who the appropriate people are and their role in the organization, you need to change their perspective. That means, they need to understand:

  1. The problem and what that problem is currently costing. Translate it to an actual dollar amount. If the issue ties to client retention, what revenue are you losing each year due to turnover? If the issue ties to productivity, what time is being wasted and what is the value of that time? The more prepared you are with understanding the costs, the more likely you can pique the interest of your leaders.
  2. The solution and the benefits. What are the benefits of the solution and how do they translate to meeting the company’s goals, including strategic and revenue-based goals? Ensure you have thoroughly analyzed the benefits before presenting the idea. Make the point that not addressing the problem means it will continue to cost.
  3. The investment in the solution. What’s the bottom line? Does it cost more than the problem is costing? If so, how do the benefits make up for that gap?

Time it Right

Timing is everything when it comes to presenting an idea to management.  According to Roberto Verganti in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article, “executives give poor response to cold calls—especially when it comes to breakthrough concepts that require deep understanding.”

How do you know when the timing is right? For many it is a fine art, an intuition or a feeling. If you want to be a bit more strategic to ensure you time it right, Verganti recommends:

  • Getting permission first. Even if you have the idea, ask for permission to investigate a challenge you see in your organization. Plant the seed in their head that there is an issue before you bring them the solution you’ve developed. Ask, but also define the project—“I will get back with you on my research by the end of the month.”  This allows you to put a date on the calendar to meet with them again.
  • Get leadership’s help in developing the idea. If possible, share the process of developing the idea with your boss. To do this, bring your research and idea to a meeting and ask for feedback. Rather than presenting your idea and saying, “what do you think?”, share the issues and some of the research and let your leader weigh in. This will go a long way in helping your manager feel like they had a part in creating the idea, and helps create a champion who will invest time in getting the idea implemented.

Be Confident, but Be Prepared!

There is a fine line in many organizations between the innovator and the troublemaker. Ensuring your ideas are seen as advantageous and beneficial to the company requires a plan to sell them. Always put the buyer first and do your homework! This will have a much better chance at selling your plan to leadership when you have prepared from their point of view.


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