How to Sell an Idea: 9 Strategies That Work

Sales can be a brutal business. Just getting in the door can be tough. One way to overcome rejection is to stop selling products and start selling ideas.

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Sales can be a brutal business. Imagine you finally land an appointment with a prospective customer. Just as you start your presentation, they interrupt you and say:

“I don’t know you. I don’t know your company. I don’t know your products or what your company stands for. I don’t know your customers or your reputation.”

At this point, they look you directly in the eye and pause for a second, before wrapping up with this: “Now why would I buy anything from you?”

Talk about a tough audience! Fortunately, you’ve come armed with the five-word response you need to change the tone. “Because,” you say calmly, “I’ve got an IDEA.”

Ideas command attention. Prospects may not want to buy products or services, but they’ll listen to ideas that can improve their business.

Selling ideas sets you apart from your competitors during the sales process. They help distinguish you not as a seller but as a solutions-provider. It’s no longer a commodity sale reliant on selling your product or service cheaper than your competitor. For example, you’re not selling small business tools. You’re selling ways to improve their small business — with a solid idea.

Remember this: You’re not there to sell. You’re there to help.

The 9 ways to sell an idea and land a sale:

  • Make it personal
  • Sell yourself
  • Tell stories
  • Be transparent
  • Highlight your unique selling proposition
  • Showcase the ROI
  • Share success stories
  • Create comfort
  • Create urgency

1. Make it personal

When you’re trying to sell an idea, the best way to position it is to focus on how your idea will impact the person you’re targeting. This requires investigation on your part to understand how your idea will translate into solving a problem for the buyer.

If your idea can help them meet their sales quotas or make their systems or process more efficient, that’s great. If it helps them achieve personal goals, it’s even better. Include a personal selling approach to your sales strategy.


2. Sell yourself

People buy from people they trust. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product, service, or idea. If they don’t trust you, why would they accept your premise? If you want to sell an idea, you’ve also got to sell yourself.

This is more important than ever. Just 18% of people consider salespeople to be trustworthy. That’s less trustworthy than professional athletes, musicians, lawyers, or baristas. Tackle this head-on and provide evidence that you can be trusted.


3. Tell stories

Stories are powerful. They can help you make a connection with a prospect and show how an idea becomes reality. Too many salespeople tend to load up their presentations with facts and figures. While they may help tell a part of the story, these numbers just aren’t memorable. One study showed that 63% of attendees for a presentation remembered the stories told while just 5% remembered any of the statistics presented.

Stories should have a beginning, middle, and end and lead to your goal: validating your idea. A lot of salespeople have made a lot of money using this simple four-step formula:

  1. Identify the hero: This is your prospect, who wants to build a successful company and take care of their customers.
  2. Create a villain: This is where you describe the problem or pain point that prevents your hero from meeting their goals.
  3. Vanquish the villain: Banish the problem or pain by having your idea or solution come to the rescue!
  4. Live happily ever after: You’ve vanquished the foe, solved the problem, and the hero — your prospect — gets the results they needed.

4. Be transparent

Be transparent as possible when you are idea selling. For your prospect, it may be the first time they’ve heard your idea. All the work you’ve done to develop the idea and bring it to them is hidden from view. Open up the curtain and let them see the work that’s gone into it. Explain the research you did and why it’s the right idea for them.


5. Highlight your unique selling proposition

When you’re trying to sell a business idea, you’ve also got to sell what makes it different from anybody else’s ideas. You need to highlight your unique selling proposition (USP). Your USP is the one specific benefit that only your idea or business can provide.

Once the conversation moves past the selling a business idea stage, the next question will be “Why do business with you?” You’ve got to have the answer ready. There’s no shortage of suppliers out there in any industry and many can sell it cheaper. If you can’t articulate your USP and what sets your idea apart, you won’t close the deal.


6. Showcase the ROI

No matter how great your idea is, you need to demonstrate the ROI. This goes beyond telling people how much money they’ll make. The best approach is to visually walk them through it.

ROI Formula
ROI = Net Profit / Total Investment * 100

If it costs $20,000 to implement your idea and it brings $100,000 in new sales, the ROI is 500%. Breaking it down to easy-to-digest numbers can make it tangible.


7. Share success stories

Help mitigate risk by sharing success stories of how others using your ideas benefitted. There’s safety in numbers. Better yet, use testimonials. Talk to your best customers and ask for a quote and a picture you can drop into a slide deck, or record a video on your phone.

Focus on quantifiable results. “She brought me this idea and told me we’d get a 5 to 1 return. We actually got 7 to 1,” is going to be more effective than a generic endorsement. Use success stories to create confidence in your ideas. It reduces the feeling of risk in buying your idea.


8. Create comfort

Idea selling pushes someone to think differently or take a leap of faith. You must get people comfortable with buying ideas and provide them with peace of mind.

People worry about their jobs, reputations, status, families, and finances. If your idea helps reduce their concern or worry about any of these items, it helps remove doubt. That’s part of why ROI and success stories are so powerful.


9. Create urgency

We hear it from our sales teams frequently. Creating urgency is one of the top challenges when getting someone to buy an idea or close the deal.

You can inject some urgency by setting deadlines for follow-up, offering incentives to move forward, or letting a prospect know that you’ve got other people that will hear your idea.

Whatever you do, don’t create an artificial deadline or false sense of urgency. This can damage your relationship and undermine the trust you’ve established.


How to close a sale

That frosty response when you first approached a buyer may warm after you’ve articulated your idea, explained the value proposition, and demonstrated how your solution produces results. However, you’re still likely to have to do more work. When you’re trying to figure out how to close a sale, remember that you need to establish trust. If they don’t believe in you, they won’t believe in your idea.

Whether you’re selling a business idea or selling an invention, an idea may get you in the door, but it’s what you do after you get their attention that closes the sale.

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