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The purpose of a business presentation — any type of business presentation — is to win buy-in for an idea. You don’t simply present information for its own sake. You want people to do something: to give you their feedback;¬†to implement your proposal or to allow you to implement it; to give you the money, time, or personnel to continue your project; to hire you or to buy your product or service; to contribute their own efforts or expertise.

So, in effect, every business presentation is also a sales presentation. There may not be an exchange of money for goods or services, but there is still an exchange: you give something and they give something in return.

5 Tips for Winning Buy-In for an Idea

  1. Be a credible advocate.
    Your idea will not and cannot speak for itself. It needs you to present and represent it. If you’re not willing to back your idea up with your time and effort and, more importantly, with your reputation, it stands no chance of being adopted or implemented. It is only as credible as you are, and conversely you are only as credible as your idea is. Be fair and honest and aboveboard, but don’t pretend or try to be impartial or objective.
  2. Build alliances.
    The best ideas don’t always win on their merit. (You know that already, don’t you?) Sometimes, good ideas get shot down and inferior ideas get the thumbs up because of office¬†politics, turf warfare, or interpersonal grudges. So be savvy. Before you even schedule a presentation figure out whose support you need and how best to secure it. And develop a strategy for winning over or, at least, disarming those who might oppose your proposal.
  3. See it from their perspective.
    Of course, you have a personal stake in your presentation. (If you don’t want something from the people you’re presenting to, why are wasting your time and theirs?) But the only way you will get what you want from them is by showing them how they will get what they want. So show them how your idea will help them solve a problem or achieve a goal that matters to them. This presumes, of course, that you know them well enough to understand their agendas.
  4. Follow up.
    Selling an idea doesn’t begin and end with a presentation. You do much of your work beforehand: doing your research, building alliances, creating and rehearsing your presentation. And you do a lot of work afterward: strengthening commitments, answering objections, and (sometimes) gaining final approval.
  5. Learn.
    Whether you win or lose, you owe it to yourself (and your team if you worked with one) to learn from your effort by performing an after-action review. Were there any surprises? What worked well? Why? What didn’t work? Why not? What would you do differently next time?

Selling an idea isn’t the same thing as selling a product of service, although it’s similar. It’s really about helping people understand what you’re proposing and how it will benefit them or their organization. In some ways it’s easy. It doesn’t involve twisting arms or selling your soul. But in some ways it’s hard. It does require you to figure out what you want people to do and why they would want to do it.

review of Daniel Pink's book To Sell Is HumanIs anyone reading To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, Daniel Pink’s latest book?

On the recommendation of numerous people, I decided to give it a go. So far — I’m only about a third of the way through — I have a mixed reaction to it.

I agree wholeheartedly with Pink’s main premise: “Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

Gone are the days when leaders could simply tell people what to do and expect them to do it. (Okay, the command and control model of leadership still thrives in certain industries and sectors, but it’s on the wane.) These days, whether you’re a CEO, manager, small business owner, self-employed entrepreneur, community activist, healthcare practitioner, or parent, you are always selling. You’re always seeking people’s buy-in.

But then Pink confuses me.

In some places he talks about “non-sales selling,” which sounds a lot like influencing and persuading, and which is what most of us do most of the time. But in other places he defines selling as “moving other people to part with resources — whether something tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention — so that we both get what we want,” which sounds a lot more like traditional sales (i.e. not non-sales selling).

They are two different, but related, activities.

Influence and persuasion attempt to change how people think and feel about an idea or issue, an activity or behavior, a person, product, or service. They can be the prelude to making a sale. (It’s easier to convince you to buy something if I’ve first convinced you of its value). But most of the time neither influence nor persuasion lead to a sales; they do not “take resources from people in exchange for something else.”

I’m still working my way through To Sell Is Human. Maybe I’ll get clearer on what Pink ultimately means by selling as I read more.

What do you think he means? Do you agree?



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