Selling Your Idea to Leadership

My career has been focused on selling ideas to leadership teams. The organizations I have worked with have ranged from mid-sized companies up to Fortune 10 corporations. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter who you are speaking too. The messaging comes down to the following:

  • Be concise
  • Have a clear value
  • Apply your voice
  • Explain how the work will get done
  • Support your work with examples

The goal is to present all of this content quickly and clearly. In other words, there is no room for fluff.

Concise

You hear it all the time, but the reality holds: executives are very busy. Also, executives are astute. When presenting to them be in mind the following:

  • State the problem 
  • Explain the lost value due to the problem
  • Define your solution to reclaim the missing value
  • Declare how long it will take to put in place your solution

If you have a clear understanding of the problem, then you can complete the four above bullets in four sentences. One paragraph at most. The goal is to be able to explain the problem, value, and solution in two to three minutes. Recognize the person to whom you are speaking is both short on time and smart. 

Often these types of conversations happen as you walk down the corridor from the elevator to the meeting room or if you’re squeezed into the agenda for another meeting. It is good to practice your pitch. Only provide detail if you are asked. However, you should make sure you have a full background for each element you are presenting. You need to be prepared for the executive to deep-dive into any specific item, but be specific. Even with a deep dive, there is no room for waffling.

Clear Value

The one area of your presentation you must spend time getting right is the “value” you are selling. There are many ways to sell value, but the most effective model to use is the SMART approach: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive. Here are some examples of SMART value statements for selling eCommerce, mobile apps, and new licensing I have used:

  • eCommerce: Add the top 10 products company ABC sells through Amazon in the next 90 days and then measure the sales of the products over the following 90 days to justify if all 100% products should be added in the 3rd quarter and capture the holiday sales in 4th quarter of the year.
  • Mobile: Web site traffic shows that 90% of visitors use mobile devices. Implementing a mobile-optimized website in the next 30 days will deliver a solution best viewed for mobile customers with the expectation of sales increasing by X% in the next six months.
  • Licensing: Moving to the cloud version of the software licensing will increase individual user licenses by 10%. The almost immediate payback is that every employee will have full access to the full range of products instead of the restricted license. Besides, IT will not need to hire ten full-time new employees (calculated at $725,000+benefits) as the cloud license will keep all employees up to date on software releases, new features, training, and backups. The net result is $500,000 in savings within the first year. The recommendation is to migrate to cloud services by June with a 30-day migration project to move 100% of employees to the new facilities.

SMART goals are a tool you can use to outline the value your proposal is looking to achieve clearly.

Voice

You have a voice, and you should use it. Your voice is powerful and will add weight to the pitch you are giving. Critical elements for presentation are:

  • Be confident in your proposal and supporting data
  • Speak clearly and slowly
  • Practice

Many great videos on YouTube show how to present. I have often used Apple’s three-step process, which can be distilled into the following:

  1. The Opportunity: Identify missed value and the wrong ways competitors are trying to capture new markets
  2. The Solution: Demonstrate how your solution will achieve the lost value in the opportunity with specific examples such as prototypes
  3. The Cost: Nothing is free, and you want to be upfront about the costs and timeline for delivery

As you practice your presentation, you will want to consider the audience. Examples include:

  • One on one meeting with an executive in the hallway or elevator where you have two to three minutes to sell your concept.
  • A last-minute addition to an existing scheduled leadership meeting where you have 10 minutes to present.
  • A formal presentation to leadership teams. With this final approach, you will want to schedule 15 minutes for your pitch and then leave 15 minutes for questions. For this last meeting, ensure you have your delivery team with you to support your message.

In many ways, your voice and how you present can make or break whether your proposal is approved.

How Will the Work Get Done?

The final element of the proposal you are giving is to outline how the job will get done. You will want to provide the following:

  • Core Team: Who will form the foundation for your team
  • Timeline: A very high-level timeline with specific milestones
  • Supporting groups: Will you need outside support for people, tools, and services?

The work you will accomplish must align with your SMART goals.

Examples

A bonus to be added to any presentation are examples of what you are presenting is already making a difference. Few companies want to be the first to have done something new, but many companies want to be “fast followers.” Use examples to support your argument.

The goal when you reach the end of your pitch is to gain support for your work. Once you hear the magic words “yes, I agree, we need to do this work,” then you will want to pause and wait for the person or group you are presenting to ask questions or approve the work. This leads to the final caution: do not oversell your work.

About the Author

Matthew DavidMatthew David

Matt is a Digital Leader at Accenture. His passion is a combination of solving today's problems to run more efficiently, adjusting focus to take advantage of digital tools to improve tomorrow and move organizations to new ways of working that impact the future.

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