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Monday, December 06, 2004

How To Sell Your Ideas

When the great American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Build a better mouse­trap and the world will beat a path to your door," he left something out. Ideas, no matter how strong or compelling, are often snubbed or spurned. And crowds usually don't march out of the blue to see a man about a mousetrap Instead, to make things happen in your career and life, you've got to do what brilliant advertis­ing campaigns do: Get the right message to the right people at the right time.

Simply put, you've got to sell your ideas. Look around you. The people traveling to the top are the ones toting sales and negotiation skills. The ones who can rally their listeners not only to accept a concept, but to feel enthusiastic about it. Since ideas can be traded for power and value, somebody with a good one up his sleeve can earn the winning hand. Simply having a bright idea, however, is not good enough. You've got to sell it. And if you don't chances are, somebody else will, stealing credit for the concept's birth in the process.

Take Joe Humble, for example. Last week he orchestrated a better way to con­duct a distribution process but didn't have the chutzpah to toot his own horn. So Rick Cool latched onto the idea, sang its praises to the boss and collected the royalties. Experts say that unless you can get your ideas to swim, your career is, at best, treading water.

Life of a Salesman

Everyone's sales training starts at an early age - the first time we convince a parent to see things our way. As we move into adulthood, we sell children on the value of vegetables, a new acquaintance on the benefits of liking us, a friend on the consequences of changing his mind. We're all better salespeople than we real­ize.

Why, then, do so many of us file away our natural selling skills when we get to the office? "Because our self-esteem is not high enough to risk rejection, or because we're unwilling to go beyond the familiar bor­ders of our daily routine," explains Victor Risling, vice president of the Institute for Executive Development. But sell we must if we want to come out ahead. Actually, it's not all that com­plicated.

Simply put, selling is a process of uncovering and satisfying customer needs. "Satisfiers" don't dwell on how extraordinary their idea is. Instead, they compare what they have to offer with what the customer truly desires. Then, they focus on the best reason why that individual should buy from them. Take a tip from a man who teaches shortcuts to success: Jeff Salzman, boy wonder and co-owner of Career/Track a hot $25 million-a-year business seminar and tape company based in Boulder, Colorado. "If you want people to get behind you," says Salzman, "you've got to show them how great the world is going to be (for them) if they follow your lead. That involves using the oldest selling rule in the book: Always phrase your idea in terms of the buyer's interest." And direct it toward their feelings.

Carl Stevens claims that it's emotion, not rational argument that sells. "People should study the heart," he says, "because 90% of our decisions are made on an emotional basis." The art of selling becomes paint­ing pictures with your words to show how good a person will feel if he or she embraces your idea.

What's in it for me? Salzman recommends doing your homework before important selling situ­ations. Put pencil to paper and answer the question, "What's in it for them" with a list of specific benefits. To excel with the sell, do what a good conversationalist always does: Practice empathy and effective listening - or what the popular Learning International sales course calls "The four rapport acknowl­edgements," namely:

1. Give the person 100 percent attention. Hang onto his every word. Be interested rather than interesting.

2. Prove you hear what the other says by giving a genuine response, even if it's an "umm" or "got it."

3. Restate key points of the other per­son's message, not to prove you are lis­tening, but to prove you understand.

4. Show respect for the other person's views, even if you disagree. Never con­tradict, find common ground.

Remember, too, that objections are a vital part of decision-making. They let you dig out "submerged feelings and misunderstandings, and clear the path to a sale. Satisfiers bend, sway, but always bounce back, answering objections with benefits. For instance, let's suppose you want your department to buy a new machine and your boss says, "Every machine in here is going haywire, and you want me to buy another one?" Counter with something like, "Things are tough. What I suggest won't add a problem - indeed, it should make things easier to handle. Here's how...”

One clever way to sell an idea, Salzman says, is to use a trial balloon. Phrase your idea in the form of ques­tions, as if the idea were just occurring to you. Questions such as "I wonder what would happen if..." invite others to add their expertise - and backing - to an idea.

Wear a positive halo. Selling comes easier if you devel­op what insurance sales expert Russell Granger calls "a positive halo" - looking, acting and thinking like a winner. "If you walk around with the look of carelessness, with hole-ridden shoes and stained neckties, then your work and ideas are perceived in the same manner," says Granger. "Dress and act to fit in or impress the people you deal with, because people like you if they think you're like them."

Besides pitching your ideas to higher ups, Granger also suggests selling them equally hard to peers and subordinates. "Otherwise associates often give a lip-service 'yes,' but fail to follow through."

It's realy not that hard to do. If you just follow these guidelines, you too can "Sell Your Ideas"