You've got a great idea that will change your business for the better -- now all you need are some high-level executives to give you the backing you need. So, how you do sell your great idea to the rest of the organization? Five business leaders give us their best-practice tips.
Lily Haake, head of technology and digital executive search at recruiter Harvey Nash, speaks regularly with some of the brightest and best professionals in the business -- and that's when she hears some creative ways to sell ideas.
"When I'm doing competency interviews, it's the sort of thing that I'll be asking -- describe a time where you've won investment for some sort of initiative," she says. "And I really like the answers where people describe guerrilla tactics."
Haake explains what these tactics look like and how influencers bring people onto their side.
"Without being manipulative, they're very thoughtful and considerate in who they are speaking to," she says.
"They'll kick off a small proof of concept with one business leader to demonstrate some value, and then they'll get that business leader to influence another business leader, and that stealth-like approach will provide influence at lots of different levels."
Before you know it, says Haake, you've got a critical mass of people who are invested in the idea.
"And it goes to the board and the business case is signed off," she says. "It's very clever and relies on phenomenal people and influencing skills, without ever going into manipulation. It's clever influencing."
2. Look after your stakeholders
Cathrine Levandowski, global head of operations at lifestyle management company Quintessentially, says selling a great idea to the business is all about stakeholder management.
"And that's not just about getting the backing of one stakeholder," she says. "I think it's really important that you also have champions across the business on board with you who feel like they are a part of the effort."
Levandowski gives an example from her own business. Quintessentially implemented Salesforce Marketing Cloud in March 2022 to help get a tight grip on its customer data.
While Levandowski oversees the project, she says the technology wouldn't have been implemented successfully without the support of the marketing department and the customer services team.
Her team spent time talking with professionals across the organization and educating them about the benefits of new technologies.
"They all felt like we were choosing a solution that could help solve their issues," she says.
"Now, we're in a really good place where we have incredible champions across every department who really understand the purpose of having the Salesforce platform as a single source of truth for the business."
Levandowski says people across Quintessentially have access to reports and dashboards that enhance their work and help them provide timely services to the company's customers.
"Those are the things that matter most -- not just understanding the concept of the technology, and what that means for the whole business, but how the creativity benefits them as well."
3. Build a partnership
Jarrod Phipps, CIO at automotive specialist Holman, says the key to success is getting other people to see that there's an issue -- and to make that connection on their terms.
"I think you have to start with the other person recognizing that there's a problem," he says. "Then, rather than having to sell them something, you're coming up with a solution. And if that's the case, why wouldn't the other person want to buy it?"
Phipps says that when you get your pitch right, you don't have to sell your idea because the need for a workable solution has already been identified and agreed upon.
"When I look back at the times where I've made a significant impact in the past, the problem was always identified before I started working with the person in question to deliver a solution," he says.
"So, start with a problem -- either illuminate that a problem exists or take the momentum behind someone else identifying that a problem exists and partner in a solution. Then, it's not really a sale, it's about working together."
4. Make a strategic connection
Véronique van Houwelingen, solution manager for conversational technology at Air France-KLM, says you're much more likely to get the backing for a fresh idea if you link it to the people who buy your company's products and services.
"From a customer point of view, just look at data -- what do you have? And then try to make the business case on that side," she says.
Another way you're likely to be successful, says van Houwelingen, is if you link your idea to one of the strategic aims of the business.
"It makes sense to create business cases that are connected to one of your company's key pillars because otherwise, it's unlikely to get attention," she says.
"So, focus on the right topics. If it fits, then go ahead and try to make the right points."
5. Demonstrate your idea
Rolf Vanden Eynde, manager of the center of excellence for infrastructure engineering at retailer Ahold Delhaize, says selling a great idea relies on your ability to convey expert knowledge.
"For example, you can't just expect a marketing professional to know that certain functionality is available within your IT infrastructure," he says. "So, it's up to an IT guy like me to just explain what's there and say, 'Look, there is this functionality available. Let's investigate it.'"
Vanden Eynde gives an example from his own working life. He recently worked with Cisco to deploy OpenRoaming Wi-Fi technology, which helps ensure customers can access the internet in-store without having to rely on flaky 4G connections.
"I saw the functionality and I saw the potential," he says. "And after that, it's lobbying. It's trying to see who's interested and who might be interested. But the moment that you really convince people is when you're able to show them something."
Vanden Eynde says that's when he called on Cisco and ran a proof-of-concept trial that showed how the OpenRoaming technology could not only provide internet access but also help the retailer to develop new, data-led services.
"To test OpenRoaming, Cisco has a special app, which is separate from anything. You don't need to integrate with anything. There is just this little app you can download," he says.
"And then people can see what it would be like if you integrated the technology with your loyalty app and how everything reacts. And that kind of demonstration, of course, helps to convince people."