One of the largest challenges that both marketers and developers face when they wish to try anything new is convincing the decision makers at the top of the organisation that they should take a risk on something unproven.
We work with people who are fascinated by subjects like Real-World Analytics or Emotions Analysis and have seen even the most passionate people fail at getting their companies to adopt innovations that would help the company achieve competitive advantages.
What can be done to help convince risk-averse managers to take a chance on your new ideas?
1. Understand Your Audience
It is important that you truly understand who you are presenting your innovation to. Your pitch to them needs to reflect their own nature, level of risk aversion, and their trust in you based on past relationships. Do they even know you? It is hard to convince people to risk funds if you are simply some anonymous face from deep within an organisation.
Make certain that you have invited every relevant stakeholder to your presentation. This includes anybody who you know will clearly argue against your innovation. If they make a drama, it is more likely to get your idea noticed, and you hopefully will be able to provide counter-arguments to their attacks.
If possible try and make your proposal in front of people, rather than using an anonymous method like email, where you can be easily ignored.
2. Put Together a Good Case for Your Innovation
Use all of your marketing and communications skills on your managers! Ensure that you make an interesting presentation and don’t get bogged down in detail. Keep your presentation relatively simple. People can only take in so much at one time, and the moment you bore them you have lost your cause. Also, remember that your high-level managers and executives are likely to be busy people and they will only have a limited amount of time available to listen to your pitch.
Stay focussed on your goal, and don’t get distracted by people who may be trying to knock it down.
No matter how good a speaker you are, make certain you write your idea down. This acts as a backup to your verbal pitch; something that the listener can take away and refer to as they think about what you are proposing. It also acts as evidence that it was your idea first, should somebody else try and take credit for it.
3. Try and Preempt any Challenges You may Face
If your idea is truly innovative and different for your firm, it is inevitable that you will get asked some tricky questions. Spend some time trying to come up with what objections are likely to be thrown at you. Think through potential answers to these probing questions. Come prepared to your presentation.
4. Get Your Timing Right
You could have the best idea in the world, but if your boss is too busy to hear it you have no chance of getting your solution implemented.
If your idea is as important as you believe it is, make the effort to schedule a time with the manager (or group of managers) you wish to convince. They will be far more conducive to an idea pitched at them in a formal scheduled meeting, then they will to something that is slipped into a conversation, particularly if they are just about to do something else that they see as being very important.
5. Consider Having a Strategic Champion to Help Pitch Your Idea For You
If you are pitching your idea to managers who are more than one level senior to you, it may well be beneficial if you can receive support from your immediate manager or supervisor - with you by their side, of course. This will give more clout at higher levels, as it shows immediately that someone with more seniority supports your idea. Imagine the difference of credibility for a suggested change if the Chief Marketing Officer of an organisation was making a pitch for this great new idea, compared with an entry-level marketing assistant
Another advantage of doing this is that it puts the actual idea at the center of attention, rather than the person who is making the proposal. You will come across as being a team member. Of course, you do have to take the risk that your supervisor might take the credit for any successes that result because of your proposal.
6. Tie Your Marketing or Product Development to Clear, Defined Success Metrics
Cynical managers will be far more interested in your idea, if you can tie it in to a particular company goal, for instance improving the company's ROI, awareness, leads, engagement, or retention. It is much easier to sell an idea to a manager if you can show them how it will help them solve a specific goal.
Try and balance known short-term ROI metrics with marketing or product development that is more innovative and experimental, but which has the potential to improve the long-term brand worth.
Look for KPIs that will ultimately lead to greater sales, for instance if your innovation relates to branding, emphasise how this will make the business known and visible, which will create additional customers in the future, spending more money, which will ultimately link back to improved ROI.
If it is relevant, you could focus on how your proposed innovation could help your company be the first to the market with something.
Therefore it is absolutely vital that you make sure that your idea makes bottom-line sense. You need to be able to determine that it will add value to the company. Explain how your suggestion could attract or retain customers, generate income, cut costs or some other specific benefit.
7. Start Your Interaction With Managers Early in the Innovation Process
This method will work when there is a clear connection between the innovation and a particular definable business problem which it is designed to help solve.
Near the beginning of the process try and get management support to solve the problem (if you already have your solution, don’t pitch it at this point). Work with management on possible ways to tackle the problem.
Make certain that you regularly update management with your progress - on solving the problem, not on your solution. Concentrate on how you are interpreting the challenge.
When you are ready to propose your solution to the problem, management will already feel positive, as they will feel that they have been part of the process of determining a solution.
8. Determine Where Your Company is in Relation to the Chasm in the Development Cycle
This relates to the theories of Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm.
There is a chasm between the early adopters of a product (the visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). Companies that try to cross this chasm are often start-ups headed by entrepreneurs. It will be much easier to pitch an innovative idea to this kind of business.
Firms that are on the other side of the chasm (be they early majority, late majority, or in particular, firms defined as laggards when it comes to following technological trends) will be less receptive to new, unproven ideas.
Innovative organisations tend to accept that some ideas will turn out to be failures. What is important is that there is a feedback loop which can determine quickly whether an innovation is successful or not - innovations must be built on fail-fast principles.
9. Determine Where Your Proposed Innovation Sits Within Gartner’s Hype Cycle
If your innovation involves I.T. then the technology behind your idea is likely to sit somewhere on what Gartner has described as the Hype Cycle. This will affect the likelihood of your idea being accepted, and whether it will take off.
There are five phases to the hype cycle:
Peak of inflated expectations
Trough of disillusionment
Scope of enlightenment
Plateau of productivity
In 2014, a group of strategists and planners determined where current technologies fit the model.
You are far more likely to get your innovative ideas accepted if your industry is in the Peak of Inflated Expectations stage (fairly easily) or Scope of Enlightenment / Plateau of Productivity stages (if you can prove a good enough case).
Sometimes a technology is seen as being “too soon” for an organization to adopt and sometimes it is already past the place where it is considered innovative. Your easiest sell will be when you match your organization to the technology. You need to push the organizational boundaries and comfort levels when you are outside the norms for your organization.
10. Pitch Your Idea as Something that Fulfills Customers’ Needs of “Jobs-to-be-Done”
Customers often don’t fit the textbook pattern of markets to be segmented. According to Prof Clayton Christensen, people often simply buy products because they meet a particular need for some job-to-be-done.
For example, he discovered that many people bought milkshakes from a fast food outlet, simply to stop themselves feeling hungry too early in the morning, combined with stopping themselves getting bored on their commute.
If you can pitch that your innovation will get more of your customers’ jobs done (and thus increase their demand for your company’s product) you might have a better chance of success.
When people successfully sell innovative ideas to the decision-makers within their company it helps that business to remain competitive, link to its marketplace, stimulate its employees, and be seen as a forward-thinking, imaginative, even inspirational, organisation. Businesses never go forward by standing still. If you have a great idea, that you know will of huge benefit to your business, never be afraid to talk about it. Just try out some of the strategies I have talked about in this article, to improve your odds of success.
So what innovative idea will you suggest implementing, that will improve the bottom line of your organization?