Implementing an agreed change in any business environment can be a real challenge. Tough deadlines, unforeseen issues, conflicting priorities all conspire to give even the most able project managers a headache. But at least to get to this point, the business has at least agreed to the planned changes and the destination point is set. How do you actually create a great idea to sell? And crucially how do you obtain that ‘buy-in’ to your idea i.e. how do you sell it?
The answer is, like a military campaign, you plan.
Firstly you need to get that great idea. So whether your span of control covers 1 category of spend, an entire supply chain or an entire function you need to do some homework. Think of yourself as a Marketing Director and either define for yourself a problem that needs to be solved (something to move away from), or a vision of the future that looks much more interesting, efficient and effective (something to be pulled towards), write it down and chat with others to find advocate relationships who may either work with you or at least make supportive noises on your behalf. Marketing folk spend a lot of time on research and getting their facts right – market share, perception of the brand, sales figures, growth potential – because they know no one buys a product they don’t believe in, so they will need to create a compelling story to sell. Following a rigorous category management process will help you create that story.
Research. Ideally with a team to support, accurately portray the current situation backed up with supporting evidence and avoid falling into the trap of myths and legends that have been so long established they’ve become ‘fact’. A good marketing Director would never put forward his or her marketing vision and plan without a thorough appraisal of the current market position. You shouldn’t either. This exercise gains trust, proves you know your stuff and is believable – and importantly for you, makes sure you don’t miss a key gap or issue which could become your next great opportunity.
And Get Out There and Dare to Dream. When conducting research a good Marketing Director wouldn’t sit in a darkened room, scrolling the internet for all the facts, they’d engage a research team, and personally network with others in the same sector and outside the sector, and brainstorm with colleagues internally, sat on bouncy balls if they have to. You should do the same – strong research comes from a variety of sources and if you’re serious about instigating a change, you need a full spectrum of thoughts, ideas from all perspectives. So if you’re the Travel buyer, ask the Glass buyer what s/he would do with the same problem over coffee – why not? You might be suprised ! As Gloria Steinem said “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning”.
So you’ve got your objective, factual insight into the current situation, you’ve brainstormed some great ideas internally and externally from colleagues, suppliers, networking fora etc., your business case stacks up and now you’re ready to pitch. Remember you only get 1 chance to make a first impression and a badly executed sales pitch could stop your idea getting its due air time. It is said that for every minute of speech, there had been 60 minutes of planning for Winston Churchill’s inspiring speeches. Consider how complex your idea is. Sales & Marketing Managers know that buying decisions take time – especially for high value sales. Making a change in a sector or category would likely impact a lot of other operations. Whilst the size of your prize might be truly compelling in the medium to long term, the short term pain could be so daunting senior decision makers may take the easy path and avoid it. This is a high value ‘sell’ and will take time. Decision makers rarely make a buying decision on first sight and people generally don’t like surprises – especially in group environments when they can become defensive or self-conscious. So establish your key ‘Buyers’ – those who will be responsible for the final “yes”, work out their advocate relationships, the people they trust and target them based on a communications plan. Consider drip feeding information, informally on a 1-2-1 basis and be prepared to listen, and flex your ideas. And finally beware the lone voice. Get those who you’ve been working with to be selling too - an idea is so much more believable and compelling when there are many who are talking about it and believe in it.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail”.