Erik Lustgarten September 26, 2019
Throughout my career, I have worked in a variety of client-facing roles leading the rollout and implementation of large-scale strategic initiatives. These initiatives usually have two components (a) the technical product/process that underpins it and (b) the organizational transformation that allows it to flourish. I have found that in most organizations, it’s the latter that tends to dictate whether it ultimately succeeds or fails.
Our customers don’t lack smart people making the best decisions, so what happens that can cause a project to stagnate? What I have found, in most cases, is that leaders, architects, developers, and managers do not see themselves as salespeople. This often causes them to overlook important aspects of how to most effectively deliver and communicate their ideas.
People seem to equate the act of selling an idea or product to a shady practice filled with hand-waving duplicity; a dance performed by untrustworthy individuals trying to trick you. The fact is, we’re all salespeople in our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re presenting a new project proposal for your team, making a suggestion on a new approach, or simply asking a coworker for assistance, it involves asking someone to give something up in return for something you are offering. This is selling.
There are a lot of resources out there on what motivates people (The now-classic video by Simon Sinek: Start with Why), but here are a few principles that have worked for me.
Explain why it matters to your audience – This might sound obvious but it’s easy to overlook in your day-to-day interactions. Here at Nuvalence, people engage with us due to the quality of our work and our experience. When we propose certain strategies, it can seem obvious to us because we’ve done it before and know where it leads, but that’s not necessarily the case for our customer. Making it very clear why you are doing what you are doing is key to understanding.
Simplify your concept – We don’t win points by overcomplicating our ideas, in fact, the opposite is true. You gain trust by taking complex concepts and making sure everyone has a simplified yet accurate understanding. This helps align everyone and ensure we’re all rowing in the same direction.
Make sure your point is clear – A lot of times we tend to assume that people on the other side have a similar understanding as us and thus what we are saying should make sense and be obvious. But that’s not always the case, and in my experience, a great point of confusion and friction. If you want to make sure a key point comes across, simply state it.
Explain what value they are getting in return – Anything from training to new architectures, strategies, and roadmap can be seen from the audience’s point of view as asking them to give something up for whatever you are proposing (it can be time, comfort, learn a new technology). It’s critical that you explain why you are asking for it and how they’re going to benefit. If you can’t answer how things will be better for them, you can’t expect your customers to connect the dots either.
Be friendly and agreeable – The power of not being abrasive is huge. Abrasiveness spoils even the most well-intentioned conversations and will single-handedly tank the best-selling efforts. You may not agree with what someone is saying or with their pushback, but letting that get to you and acting unfriendly in response will negate any progress achieved by the above suggestions.
Keep these principles in mind whenever you are asked to present, put together a proposal, or simply ask a coworker for help. Hopefully, they will make your job a bit easier.