Selling Your Ideas at Work

By Anita Bruzzese, freelance writer on topics related to workplace/career issues

Did you get shot down the last time you proposed an idea at work?  If so, it wasn’t necessarily because you had a bad idea, but because you could have been better at selling that idea to your manager.

If you want to sell a great idea internally, you typically must sell it first to your manager, and elicit their support in championing the idea.  See below for recommendations to help you achieve this goal:

  • Ensure that your idea is consistent with the organization’s mission and values. Don’t suggest something that takes an organization in a different direction.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t be too ambitious with an idea since most managers and departments have limited time and resources.
  • Illustrate how your idea will have a positive impact on the bottom line.  Does it cut costs, generate revenue or show direct benefit to the organization? You can bet that your manager must continuously justify how money is spent, and how it will pay off for the organization. Therefore, managers will typically not be receptive to ideas that are difficult to justify, so be sure to prepare supportive data.
  • Lead in slowly and build enthusiasm. Begin with a strong statement with which your manager will undoubtedly agree.  Saying something like “we need to be more efficient as a team” will likely have your manager nodding in agreement. Then, communicate your idea. The key is to get your manager excited about the potential and begin thinking about how to fund it.
  • Make your pitch in person. Face-to-face presentations are more powerful than email or phone calls. Even a webcam can work if you can’t get in the same room with the manager. After presenting the initial idea, always put it in an email for your manager and others to consider later. (This also helps protect your idea from being later stolen by unscrupulous colleagues.)
  • Prepare for contradiction and opposing views. Before pitching to your manager, come up with every reason NOT to do it, and then craft your answers to point to the upside. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you come up with negatives so that you can prepare for every objection.
  • Time it right. Don’t try to talk to the manager during a crunch period or when they are racing out the door. Try to schedule it for a time when they may be more receptive, such as after meeting a big project deadline.
  • Leave room for suggestions and feedback. When you’re too sold on your own idea, you’re not open to compromise or suggestions. That does not come across well to any manager, and may increase the likelihood that your idea gets rejected. Accept feedback to adjust and modify your idea or possibly consider partners who can help you better sell the idea.

Even if you’re not immediately successful in a getting management to buy into an idea, don’t immediately give up. Don’t get upset or panic that your career is going nowhere. Remember that ideas from even successful people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were shot down from time to time. Managers are always going to be impressed by those unwilling to give up in their quest to help the organization succeed.


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