The other day I visited a bank to introduce our Visibility concepts. The IT executives I talked to were very supportive of the ideas, and willing to move forward. But, they said, “How are we going to get this funded?” They had had a very bad experience in the past so they wanted to make sure they would be able to “sell” the project internally.
The most important thing is to prove that you are adding real value (see here), but a bad “how” can spoil the best “what.” So I compiled some general tips that were useful to me in selling products and ideas to customers, colleagues, and even to my wife (and she is tougher than all the rest, I tell you). It’s a Top 15. It’s like a Top 10, but 50% better. Here they are:
- Remember WIIFM. Celebrated speaker and author Andrew Sherman once told me that the most important acronym when pitching to someone is WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). How can your project help the guy you are talking to? Try to get inside the other guy’s head. Adjust the project so your interest and his/hers are aligned.
- Get allies. You can fight alone, but it is boring, and you can be more successful if you find a sponsor somewhere. For instance, the CIO of a cosmetic company got the Logistics Manager on board for his monitoring project by expanding the scope to provide the Logistics Manager with the visibility he was looking for. Another voice speaking in your favor may prove decisive.
- Talk about the hole, not the drill. When pitching, remember that people want results, not tools. Tools are a medium to results.
- Point to status quo disadvantages. Picturing a utopian world can sound compelling, but it is much more convincing to point out the problems and risks that are going to be faced if nobody takes action. People usually act to avoid risk, more than to get a potential benefit. If your solution will both prevent losing customers and potentially help the company get into new markets, lead with the “avoid losing customers” thing.
- Focus on the story, not the PPT. Two of the best speakers I´ve ever had the honor to share the stage with used no slides at all. Nothing captures attention like a good story. And remember, big bosses have little patience. Don’t bother perfecting a PPT that will not pass from slide two. PowerPoint can even get in the way. This is especially valid when arguing with your wife, too.
- Learn how to influence. Ever heard of Robert Cialdini? His book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion sold over 2 million copies. I think that you should read it too, as it will help you enormously, and not just in your professional life. For instance, if you have two project alternatives, which should you propose first: the more expensive price or the cheapest?
- Show social proof. Cialdini says that people like to do what other people do. If all your competitors are deploying business-oriented monitoring projects, state it clearly. (By the way, when I told you that Cialdini sold millions of copies of his book, I was using Cialdini´s social proof technique).
- Negotiate like a Pro. Do you want a “yes”? There is a book for that. Get a copy of Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes: since you are going to use this insight all your life, it will easily be your best reading investment. Have a mother? Useful. Have a partner? Useful. Need to sell your monitoring project to your boss? Also useful.
- Use your Vendor expertise. We vendors sell this stuff all year around, and probably got experience and references in your industry. We will be delighted to participate in all the phases of your internal crusade. Call us. You may even discover that we are not such a pain.
- Look for Quick Wins. Few people like megaprojects. Business-oriented monitoring is great, but make sure you structure your project to show value in short time, instead of spending years and millions to start delivering. Start modeling a service that you know needs improving, and once you get credibility, expand the scope. (If your vendor insists on a megaproject, forget about point 9… and forget that vendor).
- Face to face, please. Hey, you don’t sell by e-mail. You have to be there, read your boss´ face and body language, answer the questions, anticipate objections. If she wants you to submit your project and wait for an answer, just say “no.” Get the face-to-face meeting no matter what. In the end it is more efficient for everybody. Just be sure you know the answers to all the probable questions.
- Align with the strategy. If your company is aggressively trying to get bigger, explain how your project will make your company more agile and competitive. If your company is cutting costs and focused on margins, explain how the visibility added by your project will help it happen.
- Mind your language. Business executives accuse IT people of speaking in a foreign language. In The Real Business of IT (great book, by the way), Hunter and Westerman warn: “if the head of sales wouldn’t say it in those terms neither should you.” And I can’t agree more.
- Express disadvantages loudly and clearly. Nothing gives you more credibility than to honestly present the cons of your proposal. Cialdini even calls the moment after you do so a “moment of power,” as you can then introduce your point with even more strength. Doing the opposite (hiding information that could be hurtful for your case) will destroy your credibility for good when the truth arises (and be sure it will).
- Find the moment. If your CFO has slept on the couch after a big marital discussion, maybe it would be a good idea to postpone the meeting.
But, in the end, remember that selling is just a transfer of enthusiasm. If you aren’t convinced, you are not going to convince. In the documentary film Man on Wire, Philippe, a tightrope walker, convinced several people to support him in a crazy adventure for no pay at all. And they broke the law in the process. But if you see the sparks in Philippe´s eyes and his passion when he speaks of his goal, you can easily understand why they followed him.
Passion moves. If you are enthusiastic about how good life will be with your project in place, people will notice. And if you are not, they will notice too.
Good luck. I have to go. I have some ideas to sell to my wife. Wish me well, I told you she is tough!