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Pitching Ideas

More important than having a great idea is figuring out how to sell it to the boss — especially in a culture that’s not too keen to accept your idea. How to do it? A couple of academics from Stanford and the University of California at Davis looked at how ideas are successfully sold in, of all places, Hollywood. Selling a script or a movie may not be all that close to selling your idea for a new product or marketing campaign. But the lessons ring true, no matter what kind of idea you’re peddling.

More important than having a great idea is figuring out how to sell it to the boss — especially in a culture that’s not too keen to accept your idea.

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How to do it? A couple of academics from Stanford and the University of California at Davis looked at how ideas are successfully sold in, of all places, Hollywood. Selling a script or a movie may not be all that close to selling your idea for a new product or marketing campaign. But the lessons ring true, no matter what kind of idea you’re peddling.

Here’s what Stanford’s Roderick Kramer and UC-Davis’ Kimberly Elsbach discovered:

  • Not surprisingly, the more passionate the person pitching the idea, the more effective he or she was.
  • And the better the pitcher was at drawing in the person on the other side of the table, the more likely he or she would succeed.
  • Indeed, the most successful pitchers were those who convinced the idea catchers that they had something to do with the crafting or improving of the idea itself.

“A lot of naive pitchers we talked to assumed what was important was for them to be passionate and to get their concept across clearly,” says Kramer, a former script writer and psychologist who is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford. “That’s important, to be on fire about an idea. But the other thing was to what extent the catcher was engaged and also felt creative.”

In fact, adds Kramer, the person hearing the idea “has to feel like (he) is drawn in and contributing.” The more you can make the potential buyer of the idea believe he or she came up with or helped improve the concept the better. You need to effectively persuade the “suit” that he or she is truly creative.

My takeaway: Never underestimate the importance of ego and vanity — not yours but the person sitting across the table — in selling your idea.

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