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How to Sell Your Idea

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 For a variety of reasons, many people can't sell their ideas. Some fear rejection. Others are reluctant to invest the time and effort it takes to prepare an effective presentation. Still others fail to realize that ideas must be sold.

Putting an idea into salable shape requires effort. In fact, it may require more work than originating the idea itself. In addition, a lot of imagination, initiative and staying power are required.

If you are convinced that your idea has merit, demonstrate that you have thought it through. Before actually presenting it, give a short history of the problem it addresses, what led you to investigate the area, and how you proceeded to solve the problem and create the new idea. This ensures that your idea will be taken seriously.

Describe your idea clearly, for nothing will turn others against it more quickly than a muddled description that they can't understand. New material should be delivered no faster than it can be understood. If visual aids will help clarify your story, use them. Take special care to avoid trade jargon unless your audience is at home with such language.

When selling an idea to management, make a strong dollars-and-cents case. Your presentation should contain plenty of "business benefits to us"—not just "how it works."

Don't overestimate the benefits of your idea. It may create unnecessary doubts and reservations in the minds of others.

Be careful to avoid an air of superiority or pride when presenting the idea. This may make your listener feel inferior and build resistance.

It will certainly help if you know as much as possible about the people to whom you must present your idea—their temperaments, aptitudes, idiosyncrasies and preferences.

By putting yourself in your audience's shoes all the way through, by trying to imagine how you would react, were positions reversed, you will be able to do a much better job of anticipating—and answering—objections.

Any idea that can be subjected to a road test should certainly get one. When ideas are debated instead of tested, a poor idea, supported by a good debater, makes a better showing than a good idea supported by a poor debater. But when ideas are tested, the good ones invariably stand out.

At the end of your presentation, sum up the salient points, the anticipated advantages of the idea, the need that exists or can be created for the idea, and why you think the idea should be adopted.

Finally, leave copies of a clear, well written report with your audience. It will give them a chance to study it later and—perhaps—arrive at the same conclusions as you.

What Did You Say?
People don't always speak the same language. Some talk too much, some too little. And—let's face it—a few have no idea what they're talking about. A great many more use vague, ambiguous words that really say nothing.

Yet, most people consider themselves effective communicators. Misunderstandings, they believe, are the other person's fault. This is the sort of attitude that causes problems.

How can you make sure that you are understood? First, realize that every-thing you do or don't say affects your operation and the way people work.

Then remember these suggestions:

  1. Know your audience. You'll never get anywhere if people aren't tuned to the same wave length as you. You must key your words and examples to the people you're talking to. You must consider their age, position, technical knowledge, education, interests, pet peeves—even their mood of the moment.

    For example, don't try to sell an order clerk on the benefits of a new system with the same words you used to sell it to management. You'll never convince him with phrases about inventory turnover, gross profits and cost reduction. He's more interested in exactly what he's supposed to do and how it will help him do a better job.

  2. Know what you're talking about. If you don't understand a concept, you'll never be able to explain it to someone else. Don't try to guess or fake your way through to save face. Your best bet: get the details down pat. Next best: get some expert help.
  3. Avoid ambiguity. Many words have relatively vague meanings: area, several, data, business, and the like. One of the worst offenders: they. "They want it done this way." "They won't like that." In particular, avoid such all purpose phrases as "take appropriate action."
  4. Say what you mean. It pays to be explicit. If you want your secretary to have a report typed in one hour, say so. Don't drop it on her desk with a casual, "Type this as soon as you can." She may think that means as soon as she finishes the two dozen letters you gave her last night.
  5. Take time to explain. The average person assumes everyone else knows as much about a subject as he or she does. But that's not always true. If you have a problem, outline the facts, then some possible solutions. The number of facts you give depends on your audience, of course.
  6. Don't talk, talk, talk. It's just as bad to say too much as too little. Experience indicates that the effectiveness of verbal communications varies inversely with its length. This may be an oversimplification, but there is much truth in it.
  7. Establish rapport. People communicate best when they are at ease with each other. This isn't a one-shot job. It's a continuing process that you must cultivate. No need to be a backslapping extrovert. Just be honest, helpful, and friendly.
  8. Beware of double meanings. Some spoken words sound alike even though they have different meanings: stationary and stationery; led and lead; base and bass; and so on. Other words, spelled the same, have different meanings, depending on whether you are using them as nouns or verbs. Most words have three, four or more acceptable meanings. Make sure you're both on the same wave length when communicating with someone.
  9. Measure the response. You won't always guess correctly when you try to fit your words to a listener. If what you say isn't registering, or has the wrong effect, change your tack and your tone. Watch for telltale signs on the other person's face. Is he miles away or suddenly frowning?
  10. Avoid extremes. Very few acts are all good or all bad, so don't paint them that way. People resent—and usually ignore—exaggerations such as, "That's the worst mistake ever made in this department."

"When in Doubt—Gallop!"
Back in the days when the cavalry consisted of soldiers on horseback, there was a popular saying among French cavalrymen: "When in doubt—gallop!"

To this day, a lot of people subscribe to that sentiment. Having lost sight of their objective, they redouble their efforts, as if activity were the same as accomplishment.

It isn't, of course. In fact, activity can be the antithesis of achievement. For example, if we form the habit of remaining in the office an additional two or three hours each day, we encourage ourselves to take it easy during the regular work day because we can always catch up in the evening.

By extending our work hours, however, we dispel the natural tension of the eight-hour workday that helps us get things done. We tell ourselves: No need to concentrate on the job during regular hours; we'll catch up later, when everyone else is gone. But that approach produces tedium and neglect of family which, in turn, can eventually lower job performance.

Hard work is sometimes necessary. There are unexpected developments and deadlines and unanticipated needs. But a steady rhythm of accomplishment during regular hours is far preferable to habitual late hours and self-inflicted crises. A little planning can go a long way toward preserving your health and sanity.

Common Denominators of Success
While no one is born a good leader, one study has pinpointed these traits as common among effective managers:

  • They can work efficiently despite frustrations.
  • They examine themselves to try to understand their errors without becoming upset over them.
  • They accept competition without feeling threatened.
  • They can let others know their annoyance without running wild.
  • They can take victory or defeat with equanimity.
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