Thursday, October 15, 2009

What your manager doesn't want you to talk about

Have you ever been pitching a brilliant new idea to your manager and in the middle of your brilliant pitch they check their Blackberry to see if anything important has arrived? Before you blame your manager, RIM, or whoever invented email, take a look at what you're talking about.

I spent an hour on a webinar yesterday frustrated at the inability of the presenter to recognize that I didn’t give a darn about the features of his offering. I’m not sure, but I may have dozed off. I know that I checked email every few minutes. And to be fair, the offering WAS very cool, and the email that came in was decidedly not.

Unfortunately, because of the distraction of all the “cool things” the offering could do (and the ensuing distraction of a frantic quest for a more interesting email) it took me about 45 minutes to figure out that was what the system does really well. The presenter bouncing all over his web-based offering didn’t help me figure that out. I’ll blame it on my marketing background; I want to know about benefits (WHY) first, and features (WHAT) last.

Perhaps people’s obsession with features is a strategy to justify one’s existence and big budget to the organization. My frustration stems from the fact that too many otherwise smart people get tunnel-vision and lose sight of the fact that the features – characteristics – of a product (like size, weight, buttons, appearance, functionality) or service (what is done, the offerings, what you see people doing) are not important to the person you’re selling the concept to until they are deep into the decision-making process.

This is true whether you’re talking about your customer, consumer, end-user or your boss. Yep, especially when you’re trying to sell the next big idea, it’s best to lead with the benefit to the user, the insight that says WHY the benefit is important to them, and then eventually get to WHAT are all the really cool features it offers.

It’s too easy to get sucked into the tunnel, seeing only WHAT your service/product does rather than WHY you do it for your customers. Until you’ve identified the WHY, you haven’t distilled down the importance of your product/service/idea, you’ve only described it. When that happens, it’s unnecessarily harder to convince people to buy or support your offering. Remember, “The true purpose of business is to provide ongoing and recognized value -- and to continue to stay in business by providing it.” So say Margaret King and Jamie O’Boyle of Cultural Studies and Analysis -- a company that is outstanding at figuring out the value of a service/product (For more, See the “Business and Culture,” article in our newsletter, The Innovative Brain.

So when you’re selling an idea and you see people lose interest, get distracted, interrupt you with questions you’re not ready to answer, check their email or generally nod off, remember to focus on the WHY not the WHAT. Convince them of the WHY, and the WHAT becomes useful information rather than an impediment to the approval process.

You can read more about how to sort features from benefits here or how to sell ideas through the organization here. You can also argue the point with me at the Innovation Immersion next week in La Jolla, CA. It'll be a great conference, and I hope to see you there!


So what are some of your secrets for getting people to accept your innovative ideas?

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