The purpose of a pitch is to change decision makers' thinking and perception about something. The ideas you are bringing to them about products, services or process is worth considering and even adopting if you are successful in persuading them. We all like to think that unless you are selling a product or service, you are not in sales. That is selling to make a living and 1 in 9 people in the United States are in a sales profession. As it turns out the other 8 out of 9 are also engaged in selling that Dan Pink refers to as non-sale selling in his book "To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others." And what they are selling most of the time is pitching ideas. Pink writes that they are "spending their days moving others and depending for their livelihoods on the ability to do it well."
To be successful in pitching your ideas at the top, you have to identify who the key decision makers are; what their hot button issues are; who the key influencers; how they like the ideas pitched to them; and how it will help them both personally and professionally. To be in a position to pitch your ideas to decision makers, it is a long and difficult game, so you have to pitch your ideas ideas at the right place to the right people at the right time in the right way; therefore, you need to have good interpersonal skills, be politically savvy and have good communication skills. To increase your chances for success, you have to know the tactics that have proven to work.
In the HBR article "Get the Boss to Buy In," authors Susan J. Ashford and James Detert write about what works in getting your ideas accepted by higher ups. They describe their method as "issue selling." The tactics they recommend has proven to be very effective for middle managers who have had to pitch ideas about new products, processes, markets or customers to pursue, improving existing products or processes and ways of keeping employees productive and happy. These tactics can be tweaked to pitch ideas to get a job.
When you are trying to persuade an employer to give you time, you have to have an idea that is well thought out, and also you have to know how to gain acceptance. People at the top are usually not receptive to ideas coming from the bottom or outside the company so you have to work hard and smart work to get through to them. You have to be strategic in your effort. Pitching ideas is the most important skill you need for success whether you want a job, get promoted or generate business. If you don't have this skill, it is hard to be successful.
Tailor Your Pitch
You have to know what the decision makers know, what they value and what their goals are so you can craft the right message that will resonate with them. If you are trying to convince a company to target a different market, such as logistics instead of healthcare, you have to understand why the company is pursuing healthcare. How long have they been doing this? What their results are? When would it make sense to pursue a different market, if at all? You have to look at it from the company's point of view to establish credibility. Unless the decision makers know you have done your due diligence, they are not going to be receptive to your ideas, no matter how good they are.
When you are looking for a job, you have to take the same approach and not just try to propose what you think will work. You have to know what is going to move the decision makers. You may need to build a consensus within an organization to sell your ideas. You will have to show that you are a doer and not a talker. If you can show what you have done and what you can do, then the company will be willing to give you more time to understand what you are pitching. You have to build trust incrementally with your ideas and performance.
Key Takeaway: Ensure you are pitching to the right people who are going to be receptive to your ideas.
In order to get others to pay attention to what you are pitching, you have to show what you are pitching is consistent with the big picture the decision makers in which they are interested. If your ideas are tied to the big picture, then they will be receptive since it is playing to their interest. In a sense, look at it on what it will do for the company's top or bottom line instead of something that is not a priority. If you are pitching to a large organization, you have to show how other departments can benefit from what you are proposing to have a better chance of gaining acceptance. You want to careful of not bringing fear since you risk no action being taken. You may also succeed by bundling your ideas into something that has already been accepted rather than keeping it disparate. You have a better chance of gaining acceptance if you can show that your ideas are related to something that the company deems important.
Key Takeaway: Frame it on how it benefits the company and why it should be acted on now.
Manage Emotions on Both Sides
Showing emotions can be very tricky since you want to show passion without being out of control. If you appear out of control, then your pitch will backfire. You have to calibrate this right so that you are looking to solve a company's problem rather than looking more at your selfish interest. Others may not see the problem the way you do and may not see any urgency to solve the problem. An effective way to approach this is to remove yourself from the problem and approach it like a lawyer making a case for another party. If your ideas fail to gain acceptance, then you will be glad you put up a good fight and not take it personally. Lastly, if you keep your emotions under control, then others will focus on what you are ideas rather than get distracted with your emotions.
The other thing you also have to consider is to make sure that you keep decision makers' emotions in check otherwise they will not make the decision based on the merits of your ideas. You want to make sure you don't overwhelm the decision makers with your ideas, but give it to them that makes it easier for them to understand and ask more questions. You want to stay away from details as much as possible in the beginning.
Key Takeaway: You must not only manage your emotions but the other person's too so you can both discuss the merit of your ideas.
Get the Timing Right
You could do all the above well, but if the timing is not right, it will not lead to success. There could be a change in priorities or change in management or some external events such as a trend or economic conditions.
You have to be attuned to the timing aspect in pitching ideas. You also want to build a momentum within the company. If there is no consensus then, it will not be accepted.
Often you don't know the decision makers' timing so you have to assume they are in an exploration phase; you want to engage them in an open-ended inquiry till you find out if the timing is right for you to make a formal pitch. If they are not ready then, they are not going to pay any attention to what you are pitching. It is like a spam email. It will quickly get deleted.
Key Takeaway: One of the most important things to consider in how you pitch your ideas is the timing based on some change in internal or external conditions.
You may not be the best person to pitch new ideas. You may need to bring others who can help you get buy-in. Some people may know other people well, and each person receives the message based on who is delivering the message. If you have a technical solution that has to be presented to a technical manager, then get someone technical to help assist you.
Sometimes you may have to build a coalition to sell your ideas faster if it requires people with different specialties and relationships. Coalition building may not be practical if you want a job; however, if you broaden your scope, it can pay off in a big way since you are not likely to face any competition. If you can monopolize the time of an employer, then they are not going to be spending time with someone else.
You do want to get the lay of the land to see who are your proponents, opponents of fence-sitters. For a job, this may not be practical, but if you want to get your ideas accepted, you have to do what will make you successful.
Key Takeaway: Involve others and build a consensus to get your ideas accepted by the decision makers.
Adhere to Norms
You want to present the information in the way the decision makers likes to receive them. You need to know whether they prefer informal conversation or formal presentation. The author's research found that if you want decision makers to take you seriously, use a formal approach. The formal approach does not mean you start with a formal presentation. You can start in an informal way, but then move to a formal presentation to gain adoption. You have to present the information to decision makers in a form that will help them make a decision.
Key Takeaway: Present in a form that decision makers are comfortable with so they can focus on the ideas instead of the form.
If you are going to bring up a problem, then you have to bring up a solution to have credibility.
Here you want to be careful and not to come across like you have everything all figured out. Instead make it a collaborative session so others can provide input and become invested in your ideas. They will be more forthcoming to help you make your ideas better and approve them.
Sometimes you may need to come up with a solution as a group if the company's culture is to make a group decision.
If you don't have a solution, then you may have to suggest a process by which a solution can be developed.
Key Takeaway: You have to craft a solution in a collaborative way to gain acceptance.
Create a Tactical Campaign
Choose your battles in what you want to pitch. Pick the ones where you have the best chance for success. No matter how good your ideas are, there are some areas the company is simply not going to be interested in for whatever reason. In that case, don't bring it up.
For example, you are not going to get a company to invest in new technology since they have something that is working, and they are not feeling any pain such as losing business.
You can't win most of the time, but the authors recommend you must ask these two questions before you pitch your ideas:
"How important is the idea to the company?
How important is the idea to me?"
If you do decide to pitch your idea, the question is what tactic to use. Using one tactic is better than just winging it; however, the authors discovered that by using all the seven tactics, as needed, the difference between success and failure was 40%.
What is the best way to deal with your immediate boss?
Often your boss has a lot to do with your success in how he supports you. If he kills your idea, then it is going to be difficult, if not impossible. You have to win your boss over. If he lets you pitch it, then you can get his help in pitching your ideas to the key decision makers. If you and he both think that it is better for your boss to present it, then you want to prepare him well so he succeeds. A formal pitch is one and done so you can't leave anything for a chance. Often the best way to do this is to accompany your boss so you are both invested in the idea and the decision makers will pay careful attention to the pitch.
Key Takeaway: Choose your battles carefully; once you choose your battle, use multiple tactics to increase your success rate; work with your boss on the best way to pitch to key decision makers.
As Dan Pink writes in his book "To Sell is Human," that though many of us may not be selling for a living, but we all do engage in non-sale selling such as pitching ideas. However, in order to succeed today it is not enough to just come up with ideas; you also need to be effectively communicate them and change the way others think and perceive a problem and solution. If people in power see it your way, then they are more likely to adopt your ideas. Pitching is one skill you must learn to master to not only to create a job, but aslo create new opportunities for yourself in the competitive business environment.