When we talk about innovation, catch phrases like “fall forwards” and “fail fast” get thrown around to nods of agreement in the boardroom. When it comes to taking real risks with ideas, however, directors often talk a much bigger game than they actually play. For change makers who may be working hard to live up to their job title, it’s unwise to approach apathetic stakeholders unprepared. You’re likely to have your idea shot down with a few carefully worded questions before it even gets off the ground.
That’s why, this week, we’re going to explore some ways that you can be more effective at driving change with a few stakeholder persuasion techniques. Convincing people is all about activating your stakeholder’s sensory imagination and breaking down logical barriers. We have a couple of tools in our toolkit to do that:
1. Make the rewards seem tangible
And by tangible, we mean data-driven. Nothing speaks to your stakeholders like telling them you know how to increase (or decrease!) the numbers that are important to them. If your idea saves time, put a figure on it in hours. If it increases morale, quantify that with survey results. Hard data is the best method you have for making abstract notions feel real.
When Buffer pitched their business idea to investors they used hard data on their existing traction to show how the business could generate a return. Check out the slide deck here.
2. Comment on the opportunity cost
For every benefit associated with your idea, there is a cost in failing to implement it. Pitching your benefits as missed opportunities to the company can be extremely persuasive, especially if you’re able to spin them as boons to your competitors. Paint a picture of the scenario that could happen if you don’t follow through; “I wouldn’t want to be the one reporting those numbers to management…”.
3. Plan for failure
The sad reality is that your stakeholders expect you to fail. Not because they want you to but because they have seen a thousand failed projects before. They need to know that if this project breaks down half-way, it’s not going to disrupt current operations. Stakeholders also want to know how much it will cost them if your plan does go wrong, and at what point they’ll have to cut their losses and abandon it. You’ll need to think about timescales too, with worst-case-scenario timings thought through. Use strong reasoning to show why their nightmare scenario really isn’t all that bad.
4. Don’t underestimate the challenges
It’s essential to remember that the people you’re pitching to probably have a broader, perhaps even a stronger, knowledge of your organisation than you do. That means you’ll want to spend some time carefully identifying the challenges that stand in the way of implementation. Think about the issue from all possible angles, including how changing market conditions might affect your plan. Moz does a really good job of this on slide 25 in their original pitch deck, breaking down the scenarios that could lead to problems.
5. Consider the stakeholder pool
“I love it, but it’s going to be a hard sell with [X].”
We hear this sentiment a lot. Never forget that every stakeholder you’re pitching to has to answer to somebody else. Their decisions are based on how it will make them look as much the actual results they’re able to get. Make sure you factor this into your pitch and think about how your boss’ bosses will view this project.
6. Design a controlled-environment test
And, if you can, run it first. It’s always much easier to approach stakeholders with a prototype that works, a process that’s been tested or an idea that’s worked for someone else. Tangible results help your stakeholders to envision a future in which your idea is functional. If you can’t test your idea in real life, at least include a testing procedure alongside your idea pitch. That way, your stakeholders know that you won’t break anything by giving it a go.
7. Approach buy-in step-by-step
The likelihood of your superiors signing off on an organisation-wide change after one conversation is extremely low. The reason being that it takes considerable resources to implement anything on a broad scale. That’s not going to happen until you can prove that it works on a much smaller one. Find a way to demonstrate the results you can achieve on a micro-level before you request more buy-in. Stakeholders are much more likely to give lots of small yeses than one large one.
Follow these steps and you’re much more likely to position yourself for a successful idea pitch. Remember, stakeholder buy-in is the key to driving change and making an impact on your organisation.