Monday, December 22, 2008

Selling ideas internally

Seth Godin wrote a great post recently about selling ideas to big companies from an external perspective. What about selling ideas to companies of any size from an internal perspective?

Selling ideas internally is more difficult because you are selling into your corporate culture. All of the politics, legends, norms and other factors that created the corporate culture at your company weigh on you when selling internally. 

Key to successfully selling your ideas internally is how you show that your idea will either make money or save time (which makes money through increased productivity). Showing how your ideas make money or save time is easier if your idea is a strategy that relates to a specific company objective instead of only a tactical action (issue a news release, sponsor a sports team in an operating community, submit reports in PDF only, etc.). 

For example, if your company sets an objective of increasing positive media coverage by 20% in the next 12 months compared to the previous 12 months, you will have greater success selling an idea that directly relates to that objective (like increasing support for local not-for-profits) than an idea that indirectly relates to that objective (like increasing internal recycling).

A caveat before you get the idea that directly linking your ideas to company objectives will mean easy sales. Remember that you won't be the only individual in your company coming up with ideas to meet your company's objectives. Your idea may be the best idea to meet a specific objective; however, unless you successfully sold the specific individual who has the power to choose your idea, you will fail to close your sale. 

Successfully selling your ideas internally comes down to understanding your company's objectives, choosing a specific objective, creating a strategic idea that directly relates to the success of your chosen objective, understanding which individual will chose ideas related to your chosen objective, listening to that individual's needs and demonstrating how your idea meets those needs and contributes to the success of your chosen objective.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Are you listening?

Think about hearing. Unless you're deaf you can't not hear. You can ignore, but you can't avoid hearing.

Now think about listening. You hear constantly, but how often do you actually absorb what is said and respond to the meaning of what was said instead reacting to what was heard.

Reacting to what you hear takes you down a path of failure as what is said may not be what is meant. In my previous post, I talked about selling your ideas to specific individuals instead of generic people. Individuals won't always reveal their true intentions in their words. instead tone, inflection and context are key to understanding exactly what your audience is feeding back to you.

If you are listening, a successful meeting should follow this pattern - question, listen, question, listen, provide specific information, listen for feedback, question, listen, question, listen, provide specific information, agree on a next step (hold a press conference, sign a contract, hire a new employee, etc.).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Peope" aren't buying

"People" is a mostly useless throw away word, like "they." 

We're not selling to homogeneous "people," we're selling to distinct "individuals" who each have different reasons for buying your ideas.

You will enjoy greater success in getting your ideas accepted (aka "closing a sale") if you speak to each individual's reasons for buying instead of blundering through a canned presentation.

A great example of speaking to an individual's reasons for buying is the "devil's advocate." You have worked with this individual in the past, the one who seeks to poke a hole in every idea no matter how solid the idea may be.

A friend told me recently about how he dealt with a devil's advocate on a team he led; he let the devil's advocate play their role. Every time his team came up with an idea, he asked the devil's advocate to poke a hole in it. Eventually, the devil's advocate couldn't poke any more holes in their team's idea so they bought in. 

Next time you're pitching, make it your goal to understand why each person would buy your idea, you'll be surprised at your success in getting your ideas accepted.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Running Wind Sprints

When I played basketball in high school, my least favourite part of practise was running wind sprints. Essentially, I ran the length of the basketball court as hard as I could as many times as I could before collapsing like a Jenga tower in a pool of sweat.

Wind sprints were great for getting into game shape; however, they had little to do with actually playing basketball.

Preparing for your next meeting is running wind sprints. Rembember, though running wind sprints during your meeting won't help you win and may actually hurt your cause.

In polite terms this is called "info dumping." Blowing through your prepared statement while your meeting participants sit stunned, waiting for you to take a breath and say something that they actually care about.

To win show up in the best shape, but don't spend your time running wind sprints, play your whole game. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We are all in sales

Repeat after me, "we are all in sales." 

No matter if you are public relations practitioner, geophysicist, or dentist, sales is part of your day, every day. Unless you have everyone you know do whatever you ask without question (and if you do, I'm jealous), you have to sell our thoughts to other people. 

Sales is pretty simple (not easy, simple). Just ask a lot of questions, listen and ask more questions. No one is truly satisfied with the status quo so you will eventually ask the question that will uncover a hole that you can fill.

"The" thing is

How many times a day do you use "the" in your communications? How often do you have to explain what "the" means afterward?

Unless there is shared knowledge between you and the person to whom you are speaking, "the" can casue confusion and conflict (e.g. "I got you 'the' book." "Yes, but not 'the' book" I wanted). 

Communicating your thoughts clearly will increase understanding, retention, and action on the part of your targets (e.g. increasing chances your traget will buy your product or idea).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hello Canada, and friends reading around the world

Welcome to Knox Talk. With apologies to Foster Hewitt, I plan to use this space to share my thoughts on language, marketing, and sales - encounters with retail sales people will appear regularly here.

Until I get rolling, I plan on posting about once per week. If I come up with something that I really, really want to share, maybe twice.

This space is only as good as the thoughts posted. Post your thoughts regularly and I will do my best to respond swiftly. As usual, anything I deem sexist, racist, homophobic, or generally intolerant will be deleted immediately.

I look forward to many wonderful conversations.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Can I help you?

"Can I help you?" is a default question. It's a wall we are trained to put up when we want to give the impression of helpfulness (e.g. retail sales people). Seth Godin wrote a great post on defaults, which you can read at

Think about the last time you asked or were asked "can I help you?" I bet the response was "no." That's a default response to a default question.

What if, in a retail setting, you were asked, "what are you looking for today?" Your response could be equally dismissive (e.g. "nothing, just killing time") or the sales person could uncover a hidden want (e.g. "I want to replace my pair of Rockport dress shoes").

Do you ask default questions or do you ask "discover" questions that uncover hidden needs  that make you more valuable as a colleague or supplier (e.g. your co-worker is clueless with Excel, your client has a big event coming up)? Who do you think has more value in the eyes of colleagues and clients?