Strategic

The Art of Selling Buy-in

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • At some point you are going to need the buy-in of others to help you move your idea forward.
  • This means that you’re going to have to get better at selling.
  • Selling is the ability to share a set of words that brings another person closer to what you believe.

Regardless of whether you’re a VP with a new idea for improving your organization or a CEO with a new vision of how to take your company to the next level, at some point you are going to need the buy-in of others to help you move your idea forward.

And this means that you’re going to have to get better at selling.

Now before you cringe or sigh at the thought of the slick-talking salesman on the used car lot, let's figure out what selling really is. It's the ability to share a set of words that brings another person closer to what you believe. I think we would be better served by thinking of selling as "perfectionist motivation".

While most people wouldn’t believe it, great selling is more about understanding and exploring than talking or convincing. And this means one of the biggest challenges in gaining buy-in is building enough credibility based on your knowledge of something, that you are allowed to begin talking about how you want to change it.

Michael Beirut writes in a recent Design Observer post how at one point multiple design and creative agencies couldn’t get buy-in from UPS senior executives on a new logo and creative direction. Years later when UPS eventually did get a new logo by Futurebrand, Beirut astutely points out that while credit could be partially given for the design, which he didn’t particularly like, full credit and respect had to be given to the company for getting buy-in on moving forward at all when previous agencies just couldn't get it done. Regardless of whether people in general liked Futurebrand's final outcome, UPS the company obviously trusted them enough to make the change.

The point here is that the first piece of getting buy-in is putting all the work together that helps you position yourself as someone that needs to be listened to. This is not because you talk faster or louder, but because you have a command of the facts that is difficult to ignore and establishes you as someone with insight into how a specific world operates. These facts could be about your business specifically or about your industry and could be compiled from both internal and external resources. How you interpret the world you live in is really up to you. Your goal here is translate hard information into a compelling narrative that establishes a baseline that everyone agrees with.

Once you’ve got the facts as you see then, it’s time to draw direct lines from those facts to existing inconsistencies or future challenges. These challenges are usually best framed in the form of questions that allow others to engage in the mental gymnastics themselves. The goal with these questions is to use them as motivators that get people thinking about impending challenges. We’re generally wired to deal with the closest fires first, so the more urgent the question the more likely people are going to want to get on board to address it.

Now that you've established your credibility and drawn some direct lines to questions that are valid concerns, it’s time to present your take on the future. This is where your inner perfectionist is critical.

Perfectionism in its most positive light is about making things as perfect as possible given what we know. Yes, there are probably a number of negative posts that could be written about perfectionism in its extreme form, but we really want to concentrate on the positive side and that means focusing simply on how to make things better. This part of the process is the probably the most creative because it's the part concerned with something that does not exist yet (ie: your project), but doesn't mean it should be carefully crafted to build upon the facts and problems you already established.

The art in all of this is how you end up putting it together and presenting it. While some might be more comfortable than others at this phase, you can't really go wrong if you take time to go through all of the steps. One extreme will get you support on the project you want. Another extreme will be you giving buy-in to someone else who had a modified, and slightly better, version of your idea. And everything else in between will be discussion around real possibilities rather than just talk.

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