How to sell innovation without promising pie in the sky

05 June 2015 / jgelfand

It might be true that every man and his dog has a brilliant idea, but ideas are worth nothing until you can develop them into something tangible. So how do you distinguish yourself in the ideas business? Success is not always determined by the idea itself but by its execution and the context of its development. Here are six considerations you need to make when selling innovation.

1. Who’s selling?

If the product doesn’t exist yet you can’t give it to a salesperson, you need the subject matter expert to push it. Firstly, their passion for the idea is contagious. Secondly, they understand it differently. At this stage they’re often the most confident person backing this idea in your organisation and that confidence is key to getting your foot in the door.

2. Who’s buying?

Once in the door, consider the best person to speak to on the customer side. It’s easier to sell things to people who are looking for ideas, so pick the right person to pitch to, the entrepreneur in that organisation. This person will not only develop this idea into a product with you, he or she will also be responsible for selling your idea internally.

3. What do you really have?

Consolidate your idea as quickly as possible. You need to have enough research to ensure the viability of the innovation. Is someone else already doing it? If so, what else do you have? Know what’s out there.

Once you know you’re in the right space (at the right time), make sure the idea is aligned with the customer’s business vision. It’s no good selling a telco a new whizz-bang widget when its goal for the next year is to reduce customer complaints. Will the innovation you’re selling help them reach their goal? Find out what their strategy is and pitch accordingly. The key questions to ask are ‘what makes you different from your competitors?’ and ‘what does success mean to you?’

4. Collaborate where possible

Start with the premise that the customer knows more about their business and their needs than you do. Get them comfortable with the concept that there’s no silly idea, no curly question you won’t explore. Once they have a sense of ownership, they become more engaged in the product. You want them to help you create it because then it’s more likely to be something they’ll actually buy and use.

Additionally, you must also have some skin in the game, because this shows your confidence in the solution. Where possible, allow your client to try before they buy; this needn’t be an absolutely free trial but make it attractive enough for them to consider a pilot project.

5. Get comfortable with failure

I work very closely with the CEO of one of my clients who is a real leader and innovator. I went to him with four ideas. He outright told me two of them – what I thought were my best ones – were crap because they couldn’t be commercialised and they wouldn’t help his organisation. He was right. I had to accept the rejection, and work on the other two ideas. There will always be an innovation you’re absolutely sure will be a winner that goes nowhere and others that hit the jackpot. No idea is infallible. Fail fast so you can move onto the one brilliant idea.

6. Enemies to innovation

Be aware that you’re not the only person to ever pitch an idea, and as a result there may be some obstacles with regard to accepting innovation. This may come from competitors who have taught the client the wrong lesson, resulting in a closed mindset, or it may be internal resistance to change. There’s not a lot you can do to change a resistant culture from the outside, so the key is to get inside: find the person most open to your approach and then work to demonstrate your capabilities.

We have a retail client who has one key influencer in the company. He was willing to try new technology that involved changing the way his colleagues sold product. Unsurprisingly, there was resistance to the new solution, but he managed to secure a pilot scheme at two stores. This involved a small cost but provided valuable data that showed the effectiveness of the technology. This then informed the company’s decision to proceed with implementation.

The lesson here is to find your champion and put your ideas into practice as soon as possible; only then can you test and prove them to find those that will work in the market.

Tristan Sternson is the managing director and founder of InfoReady, a leading Australian data and analytics service and solution provider.

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