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The Chief Innovation Officer: Part Two – Selling Ideas

Just because you have a bunch of great ideas it does not mean you can sit back in a chair and kick up your feet. Selling ideas is the biggest and most difficult role of the Chief Innovation Officer. It requires knowing the right people, understanding the politics of an organization and understanding what it takes to get an idea implemented. Please check out Part One: Gathering Ideas of the series if you have not already done so.

To sell an idea you need to do the following:

  1. Sell a Need: An idea must come from a need to be successful but if there is not a need that currently exists, you can always create it. It is important to sell the need first before you sell an idea. You have to make everyone want a solution just as much as you do. Remember, everyone subscribes to WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) so the need may be different for different people.
  2. Have a Plan: Have a complete plan to implement the idea and make it simple to understand. It is also better to use visual aids than words and always provide examples. Make it very hard for people to say no.
  3. Show a Benefit: Show the benefit and do not spend too much time talking about implementation. It is best to share the benefits in a one-on-one setting because everyone may benefit differently and it is best to gravitate to their individual needs. This is critical for the Chief Innovation Officer — they have to be able to determine and adapt to every individuals needs and desires.
  4. Explain Lost Opportunity: Good ideas need to have a sense of urgency. It is just as important to sell the lost opportunity of not adopting an idea as the idea itself. Tons of ideas are implemented not because of what they provide but because of what would happen if the idea was not adopted. This can be a very powerful tactic in selling an idea.

Selling an idea is not an easy task and it is just as important to know when you are not the best person to be selling an idea. These 4 tactics can be easily coached to anyone who has a great idea.

Please do not forget to check the third and final part in this series, implementing ideas, to continue on your journey of becoming a Chief Innovation Officer.

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Great post – I really like #4. In government that can be the hardest issue – the sense of urgency is essential to move

Deb Green

Completely agree Tim. Having ideas is one thing, and making them into great actions require bridging one big chasm. You need to be able to SELL it.

Shocker: Most great ideas have been thought by someone else before.

The distinguishing factor isn’t having the idea – but convincing others that your idea is worth investing time, money, resources, and effort in.

Great Idea without mobilization of resources = Nice idea to talk about.

Idea + resources + right leadership + vision buy in from team = true change brought to life.

Tim Howell

The first part is the one that I see a lot of people kill an idea from the get go. You really do have to sell a need before you pitch the idea. You need start planting little seeds and identifying pain points. So when you do come up with a solution/idea, everyone understands that there is a need and automatically connects it. Plus it is easier to sell needs one-on-one then in a group.

I remember when I tried to introduce Yammer to my organization for the first time. I had one person on the Leadership Team send it down in flames when everyone else actually liked it. But the guy had a counter to every need I introduced and I did not have the compelling data to sell the needs.

Too many people go in with ideas thinking that everyone is going to see the need. That is rarely the case unless the need is already at the point of critical. And I will add, IMHO good ideas rarely come out of crisis although a lot of people like to think that they do.


Awesome post! I think a lot of people use “ideas” and “observations” interchangably. It doesn’t take much to identify a problem that has to be solved, but it’s hard to conceive and sell the solution, and lots of folks, at best, phone that part in. Even applying one of these steps could not only grease the path to implementation, but also help legitimize innovation at an agency. I find that when leadership kills an idea that deserves, it makes it that much harder for them to take future ideas seriously, even thoughtful ideas with clear value and a strong business plan.

David Dejewski

Attaching a back scratcher… The you-scratch-my-back,-I’ll-scratch-yours factor:
Particularly when you start “selling” ideas among the senior ranks, it often comes down to what someone is going to get from by supporting your idea. This often has little to do with the idea itself.
For example, senior leader #1 wants to make the next rank. Supporting your idea may have nothing to do with their advancement, but if you can get senior leader #2 to release the death grip she has on project X, then the chances for senior leader #1’s advancement goes up.
In this case, senior leader #1 couldn’t care less about your idea, but they are interested in advancement. If you can do something to get them closer to their goal, they will support whatever idea you’ve got.