Sell your ideas

 

VIEWPOINTS CAREER PORTFOLIO

BY JOHN SULLIVAN

If “the only constant is change,” then why isn't management executing your new ideas? Conceiving and planning change is not enough—you have to sell it. Most project managers expect to sell only when proposing a new project, but every project has opportunities for improvement. The person who thinks of a better way to do something and sells it will usually lead the new effort and will become known as an energetic innovator worthy of promotions and salary increases.

With a little research and a basic approach, you can sell change and create new career opportunities.

Preparation

Selling requires research. Vincent Toscano, who has been selling industrial gases eight-plus years for Air Liquide America L.P. and has been in sales for 14 years, uses questions to research prospective buyers. “The questions I ask are determined by the reason I think the prospect will need my product. If a customer fits a certain profile that indicates a gas or service may be of benefit, I ask questions about their process.”

Ask your prospect (likely your boss) some questions in advance and look for independent support for your idea in surveys, white papers and case studies.

The Basic Sales Framework

Your first words must address the basic need for your change. This is called an “opening selling statement” and should tell your prospect that what you're proposing will solve an important problem. An example: “Many executive project managers use an intranet site to manage risks.” Whenever possible, cite a number when referring to that larger group. Saying “70 percent of executive project managers surveyed” is stronger than just saying “many,” and be prepared to prove it. Nothing can damage your career more than false statements, and that includes generalizations and questionable interpretations of facts.

Once you've opened, cover the features and benefits of your proposal. A feature is an inducement to the buyer, a characteristic that helps solve a problem. An online submission form is a feature of an intranet risk management Web site.

Good research and preparation make for a confident closing, but the most important part is your attitude.

Each feature has a benefit, sometimes several. An internal Web site for gathering risks, for instance, eliminates paper forms, facilitates timely collection of risks and allows anonymous submissions.

Quantify the benefits. Show savings in dollars, productivity gains in hours and quality improvements in metrics meaningful to your buyer.

Closing the Deal

The final step is asking for the decision, known as “the close.” Good research and preparation make for a confident closing, but the most important part is your attitude. “I know I won't always succeed, but I have to believe I will every time,” Mr. Toscano says.

When your presentation ends, look the decision-makers in the eye and say something like, “I propose starting this immediately. Do you agree?” If they answer, “No,” ask the reason and overcome their objections.

Most objections involve time and money: no budget, too long to finish, can't add to payroll. Know the costs and benefits for what you are proposing and how to make it happen.

Feelings are harder to address. If someone doesn't feel right about your proposal, try to elicit specific reasons so you can address them. If they continue to be vague, try using the company's own value statements to overcome the objection. Most firms have operating principles describing them as “innovators” and “forward-thinkers.” It's more difficult for a manager to disagree when you show how your idea helps drive those ideals.

Even idealistic benefits won't always result in a sale because change is uncomfortable—even for the bosses who demand it. But keep at it. Nothing changes until someone sells something, and sooner or later, management has to buy from somebody—it might as well be you. PM

John Sullivan is an IT project manager and career consultant in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

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PM NETWORK | OCTOBER 2004 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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