Ever get a case of the heebie-jeebies from the thought of selling a new idea up the ladder to your leadership team? Even the most minute innovations require guts and brainpower to execute—and they all begin with a pitch to leadership teams for the go-ahead to move forward.
So, where do most people go wrong when selling shiny new ideas?
While it’s understandably nerve-wracking to pitch something to a boss, many approach these moments like they’re on trial in a courtroom. The truth, though? Most leaders don’t want to be lectured to. They want you to give context, bring them into the conversation, and ask for their input.
SOMETIMES IT’S NOT A PRESENTATION—IT’S A CONVERSATION
Around the office, I like to practice what we call facilitative leadership. It’s pretty simple, really: frame up a conversation, seek input, and aggregate it in the moment.
And if your pitch isn’t going the way you planned? Pivot! Listen for cues, watch body language, and even ask directly whether the ideas you’re sharing are hitting the mark or not.
If you feel the mood in the room shift, pause and acknowledge it. Gone are the days of steely faces glaring from the shadows of high-backed executive chairs. Take a moment to break down that fourth wall and shift into query mode with a check-in to field questions or concerns. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the truth is that open dialogue and genuine exploration lead to great ideas.
While it’s certainly important to be passionate, never be so tied up in an idea that you’re not willing to integrate others’ thoughts or feedback. You can be committed to your mission and still have an ear for improvements.
TREAT FEEDBACK LIKE LIQUID GOLD AND PLAN TO HANDLE IT ACCORDINGLY
Being open and receptive to feedback shows strength and confidence that generates leadership trust in you to execute a big plan.
Take the time to jot fielded thoughts down—or (better yet), designate a notetaker ahead of the meeting to collect and disperse key points in a post-conversation recap email to participants. This thoughtful attention to detail shows care and acknowledgment of diverse opinions, which are likely to aggregate, support, and better the end result.
If opposition arises to an idea in the room, play an interactive role! Encourage the room to interrogate and explore opinions as they come through small breakout groups or free writing to allow every voice in. The time spent in this explorative zone is precious in every organization, so be sure to keep things generative and moving.
Remember: it’s not on you alone to usher this new value into the organization. When all parties involved feel understood, their stakes in the new idea are heightened—which just might tip the scales in your favor and enlist the backing needed to execute.
TIE THE ASK TO THE ORGANIZATION’S VALUES
Bring everything back to brand values. They’re really hard to debate—especially as a leader whose goal it is to drive them forward.
Explain, with confidence, why this internal restructuring supports your team’s value of collaboration. Tell them how hiring an in-house conflict resolution specialist is a critical step in bringing empowerment to every level at the company. Use your on-the-ground experience to help your CEO understand why your team needs those extra resources to accomplish their client satisfaction goals.
Then be sure to explain what will happen if the team doesn’t do what you’re asking. Sometimes the fear factor around things not improving, or getting worse, can be the most compelling reason for change.
And when it’s time, action-plan with closure. Confidently say, “Here’s where we’re going. What thoughts do you have?” When budget concerns come up, don’t shy away. Offer historical context or a ballpark estimate of what it’s going to cost. It’s usually a one-shot kind of thing, and leaders won’t backtrack. Give them an idea of the cost, get them committed, and work out details next.
YOU’VE GOT THIS
Whether you’re a fledgling recruit or a seasoned leader at the helm, selling it up the ladder isn’t easy. It can be intimidating, and often it’s those very nerves that undermine a good pitch—but this doesn’t have to be so. Go in with confidence in yourself and your proposal, open up a meaningful dialogue led by data and driven by company values, and show higher-ups what you know and what you plan to do about it.
Agency Principal | Owner at Simantel | Marketing Sweats Podcast Host | Advertising & Marketing Independent Network Worldwide Board Member