The Perfect Formula for Selling a New Idea to Your Boss

Logan Mayville
May 8, 2018
minutter å lese
How to Sell an Idea to Your Boss

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You have it—the idea that could change your organization for the better.

It might be simple, elegant, or expensive, but if implemented and managed correctly, it could change the way your company does business. How exciting!

So what’s your next move? 

Should you:

  1. Run into her office right now, interrupt her phone call, and stammer out half-baked ideas that are more exuberant than explanatory?
  2. Create an 85-page slide deck with exhaustively research data points, adding footnotes and slide transitions for months until you finally give up and shelve the idea?

Jokes aside, your pitch is probably going to land somewhere in the middle. You certainly want to research and plan your idea all the way through, but if it’s truly that powerful, you should try and act on it in a timely manner.

Perhaps your idea is really big, like pitching company wide digital transformation, or a new strategic IT framework. Or perhaps your idea is more modest, such as implementing a system for collecting and executing electronic signatures. ;)

Unless you’re the CEO, and sometimes even then, you’re going to have to convince at least one other person that your idea contains the solution to a problem or opportunity. Lucky for you, there’s no need to start from scratch.

That said, let’s dive into the topic of how to get buy in on your ideas.

Do Your Homework—Internally and Externally

In case it’s not clear, you need to know the full scope of the problem and the solution. What some people don’t realize, however, is just how far each of those two things spiral out in your organization.

First, let’s start with the problem you’re trying to solve. Quickly go through this list of questions to fully identify and name what you’re dealing with.

We’ll start with the idea:

  1. Does this idea only affect you, or are any of your fellow employees also impacted?
  2. What about customers—is this idea internal or external?
  3. Is the idea on your boss’s radar? Has the issue previously been raised? If so, what happened?
  4. What is the cost of letting this idea go stagnant?
  5. Rate the priority of executing this idea from 1 (it’d be nice to have fixed in the near future) to 5 (work stoppage).

Now let’s do the same for the solution:

  1. What is your proposed solution?
  2. What type of resources (budget, time, support) do you need to implement?
  3. Will the solution affect anybody else? How so?
  4. How quickly will the company see ROI?
  5. What’s the primary benefit of solving this problem (company/revenue growth, efficiency, peace)

Lastly, and this one’s just for you, ask yourself:

What will I do if I present this idea and nothing happens?

While the answer to this shouldn’t necessarily go in your pitch, it’s something you should be aware of. Is your idea groundbreaking enough that if it’s rejected, you’d quit and start your own company? Or, is it something you’d like to see happen, but could wait a year or two.

By the way, just like real homework, it’s best to write all this down into a bulleted one-sheet for reference and as a leave behind for your boss.

Bonus: Enlist A ‘Red Team’

Don’t worry, this isn’t as scary as it sounds.

From Wikipedia: A red team or the red team is an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role or point of view.

Basically, find somebody who is ambivalent (like from a different department) to your idea and pitch them. Since they have no background and no skin in the game, they can objectively point out any holes they see in your proposed idea.

Is this overkill? Maybe, but input from the Red Team might also be the last tweak you make to your presentation to put it over the top.

OK, homework done, let’s sell this thing!

Framing Your Idea For Maximum Impact

Want to hear a sad reality? Lots of good ideas go unused because they weren’t communicated effectively.

So what exactly does “communicate effectively” mean when it comes to pitching ideas to your boss.

The easiest way to get your point across is to tell a good story. That’s because telling, listening to, and comprehending stories is a primal instinct in humans. Ideas that are wrapped in stories are easily transferred and understood from sender to receiver.

And you don’t even have to be a great storyteller to pull it off! You just need a framework to follow, and there’s no simpler framework than the classic And, But, Therefore (ABT) formula.

Let’s give it a go.

First, start with a statement of agreement, something that nobody can dispute.

I’ve been working at our company for 5 years.

Then, warm up your idea with some details and supporting context:

And in that time, my team and I have onboarded more than 500 customers and generated over $5 million in revenue.

Now introduce the problem:

But, we’re not moving as fast as we could be because we’re limited by our processes. We’re leaving a lot of customers and revenue on the table.

Now bring it home with your idea!

Therefore, I propose a trial of Dropbox Sign to cut down the time we spend chasing contracts and getting signatures. Its automated workflows will save even more time by getting projects kicked off faster, speeding our time to revenue. What do you think—can we implement next week?

Because of the way you told your story, there’s no doubt about what you’re trying to do and why. Now, you can just sit back and field any questions that arise. Luckily, since you already did your homework, this part should be a breeze.

As the Q&A begins, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Find a way to align your idea to company goals
  • Remove all risk from saying “yes”
  • Identify key influencers and stakeholders
  • Show empathy to the problems of your boss
  • Collaborate with your boss and make it a team effort

Here’s the last thing to keep in mind:

It’s hard to be nervous when your heart’s on service.

If you truly believe that your idea will help the company, have confidence that you’re doing the right thing.

What do you think—are you ready to pitch your idea? Go ahead; lay it on us!

Looking for more insights about productivity, digital transformation, and getting ahead at the office? Subscribe to the Dropbox Sign blog.

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