The Fine Art of Selling Ideas

Knowing how to sell ideas is a critical skill to add to your professional toolkit. Build a successful career in the creative industry by mastering these four key sales strategies.

The day I entered high school I already knew exactly what I wanted to do for a living. I was going to be a designer­. Whether it was designing skyscrapers or comic books, my goal was to do what I loved and create art every day.

At 15, I discovered a book about Michelangelo's murals in the Sistine Chapel. While sitting on the floor between the stacks in the library, I devised a plan to convince my parents to let me travel to Italy to see Michelangelo's masterwork in person. It was my first lesson in the fine art of selling.

I would have never guessed that years later being adept at selling (or pitching) would be so vital to my success as a creative director. Whether it's persuading senior leaders to select a particular concept, negotiating the lowest production costs without sacrificing quality, convincing top talent to join my team, or delivering less-than-desirable news to an employee or client, at the core of these interactions is the ability to sell an idea.

What I've learned is that the fine art of selling is highly nuanced. The degree to which I've used various selling tactics determined my ability to transform an idea into a reality. Here are four tips on how to sell your ideas: 

1. Do Your Homework

Fully understand the ins and outs of your chosen concept by educating yourself prior to pitching. Research a cross-section of reliable, well-respected sources. During the vetting process you'll need cold hard facts supporting your idea readily available because clients and colleagues will challenge you. Nothing impresses smart clients more than being prepared to share a new insight about their industry, competitors or customers. This is especially true if the information can be used to improve their organization's offerings or position within the industry.

 2. Care Deeply

You must truly care about the idea for others to begin to take it seriously. Remember that most people gravitate to passionate people and you can't be passionate without caring first. As a creative director, you can't adequately lead a project brainstorming session and ignite excitement if you're apathetic about the project.

I remember working on an economic development assignment that featured several historic bed and breakfast inns. As pleasant as the project sounds, it was a high-stakes octopus of an assignment with many moving parts. I had the idea of creating a calendar that opened like the grand double doors of a B&B. I was extremely passionate about the idea and believed it was critical to conveying the warmth and graciousness experienced at these B&Bs.

Selling this seemingly small but wildly expensive idea to our client, my team and the printing and binding vendors was a Herculean task. Without question, my passion was what ultimately enabled me to sell the idea.

3. Observe and Listen

It's important to understand how each of your clients and colleagues like to communicate ­– and be communicated with. Someone who is boisterous and outgoing may respond differently (both verbally and nonverbally) than someone who is reserved and quiet. Be sensitive to these differences and learn the unique communication style of the person you're pitching.

4. Focus On What's In It for the Stakeholders

Step outside yourself, put your needs aside and clearly explain how your big idea will benefit others. This is absolutely the best way to gain support and buy-in. I've found this approach to be very effective when negotiating production costs with vendors, for instance. When vendors can see how they'll benefit from working on a highly creative assignment ­– one that allows them to showcase their full capabilities ­­– only then are they willing to make concessions on fees. Why? They can use the results from the collaboration to attract new business.

You might be wondering if my parents cosigned my plan to go to Italy and visit the Sistine Chapel. Well, I figured out how to sell them on the idea. Many of the tactics I used to persuade my parents then, I still use today: researching, caring, observing, listening and clearly articulating what's in it for the other stakeholders. Each of these selling tactics can be effective, but when combined, they elevate the act of selling to a fine art.

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