It’s frustrating when you know you have the right answer to a problem, but you can’t seem to convince your execs to listen to your ideas. For new managers, it can even feel personal when your plan is shot down. But when your idea isn’t getting traction, harness this emotion and energy into positive action.
It’s part of the job to get pushback, so don’t see this as an obstacle. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity for growth. Leaders must elevate their thinking and use the evidence available to them to build their business case.
As long as decision makers are willing to listen, you have a shot! To increase your chances of success, take the time to build a business case by backing your idea with data, alliances, and a clear connection to company goals.
Find data to support and backup your stance
When you know you have a good idea, you’ll want to fight for it. Instead of trying to win the argument or control the discussion, change your frame of reference and try to determine what the right answer is–for everyone.
As a Director of Sales, you’ve noticed that there’s an issue with lead conversion. When you comb through your CRM data, two things stand out to you:
- When leads are contacted within 15 minutes of submitting their interest, they have a higher conversion rate.
- Only 70% of new leads are being contacted within that 15 minute window.
There’s clearly a need to improve lead followup and add more efficiency to the sales process. You believe that purchasing a new sales software tool, like LeanData, will help reps contact more leads within the 15 minute window, giving the sales organization a better chance of reaching fiscal year revenue targets.
Before circulating your idea, start by investigating your available data and take a look at your processes with a focus on information gathering. Review lead generation numbers, marketing campaign success, lead routing workflows, and compare results against different geographies or departments.
Does the evidence show that there’s actually a problem to be solved? Is the problem relevant to other teams or business units? If the answer is yes, reach out to the leaders of those teams. If lead generation is down, talk to the Demand Generation Manager. If leads aren’t routing properly, speak to the Revenue Operations Manager.
Ask them what they’re seeing and what they believe is the problem. You might find that the problem is due to poor communication: sales reps aren’t aware they need to follow up on leads within 15 minutes. If so, you can focus your efforts on improving their speed to contact. If the data proves that there’s a bigger problem, move on to the next step.
Solicit the support you need from others
Leadership is about collaboration and compromise. You need to find the answer for everyone and get buy-in from key stakeholders that you know will be pulled into the discussion by your executive team. Make sure these people have your back before you pitch. Show stakeholders how your idea will help them reach their own goals and highlight a mutual benefit. See where people stand, what’s top of mind, and what’s important to them.
Before pitching your idea to other teams, run it by trusted colleagues who’ll give you honest feedback. You might not like what they have to say, but don’t let that discourage you. Take any feedback you receive and determine whether it’s applicable or not. Not all feedback is useful.
Talking with others can change the way you look at the problem or help you refine your talking points. Their feedback might alert you to major barriers. For example, it might not be the right time for your idea because of other, bigger priorities. It’s okay to feel a little dejected by lackluster responses, but try to use the information to iterate on your idea.
Pitch your manager
Before escalating the conversation, try out your pitch on your manager first. No matter what, you’ll need their support and approval so align your idea to your manager’s goals, benchmarks, and motivations. Your idea should be in their best interest as well. If it makes their job harder, you’ve hit a dead end.
The first question you’ll receive is, “what does everyone else think about this idea?” It’s time to work on building alliances with other teams and functions. Shop your idea around to decision makers and solicit the support of colleagues that have a good reputation in the business. Reach out to vendors you’re considering and ask them to help you build your business case. The more people that support your idea, the more likely it is to be considered.
Tie your idea back to company goals
Every new idea or initiative needs an investment of time, staff, and capital. To get these resources, tie your idea directly to accomplishing company goals. If expanding the company’s product offerings is the biggest priority, show how your idea can help with acquisitions or how it can help internal teams develop new products faster. If market penetration is the goal, your pitch should show why your idea is a competitive advantage.
Going back to our case study, your idea is to prove that the company can benefit from new sales software. The business has a high revenue goal for this fiscal year and unfortunately your data shows, based on current pipeline and forecasting, that you won’t reach this number. Your pitch should show how your solution will solve this disparity and get the company back on track.
When pitching, focus on the strategy, not the goal itself. Increasing revenue is a goal but it’s not a strategy. HOW your solution will increase revenue is the strategy. Come prepared to show your executive team something concrete, like a budget proposal with an ROI analysis. This will help them feel more confident that you can execute and deliver results.
Some company goals are more important than others so make sure that you’re pitching your idea at the right time to the right decision maker. If management is hyper focused on cost cutting, don’t approach them with a big budget request. It won’t be received well.
Finally, anticipate objections to your idea and come prepared with answers. Here are some examples of questions you might hear:
- What realities could get in the way of success?
- Do we have the budget?
- Are the resources and staff available to make this happen?
- Why is this important to the business?
- What strategic goal does this contribute to?
- Which goals is the business in danger of missing if we don’t do this?
Practice, practice, practice
Leaders will pitch many ideas throughout their careers. You’ll probably only get a few ideas through the gates–and that’s a good thing. The more you practice building a business case for your ideas, the better you will become at finding supporting data, building alliances, and connecting your solution to a company goal.
Here are some final pieces of advice on how to pitch your idea:
- Get your execs excited. Problems are escalated to execs all day, every day, from every direction. Stand out by presenting your idea as an exciting opportunity instead of harping on the doom and gloom of the issues you are trying to solve.
- You won’t be successful right away. Getting your idea over the line can take months or even years, but don’t get discouraged. The fact that you were heard means you had a seat at the table! Unfortunately, the job of an exec is to say “no” way far more than it is to say “yes”.
- Be comfortable with negative feedback and hearing no. The learning from this can be invaluable. Your idea may be well supported and still be rejected because the timing is wrong, the resources are unavailable, or there’s no budget. It doesn’t mean your idea isn’t worthwhile. As long as their decisions remain aligned with your values, ensure your exec team understands that you are fully on board with whatever direction they go.
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