19 Jun 2014

How to sell your idea to the CEO

You have a brilliant idea. You believe that it could generate extra revenue, improve efficiency, or even transform your entire business. But how do you get the CEO to sit up and take notice? Some sort of analysis showing a solid return is going to help your cause.

1. Crunch some numbers: is it viable?

Any new idea or project is going to take resources to implement. This may be actual cash, or man hours, or a combination. Your manager will want to know the ROI: what return the company will get on its investment, and how long this will take. If Excel isn’t your specialty, you can even download free spreadsheet templates that will help with these kind of calculations.

At the initial stages you don’t need detailed financials, but you do need some kind of idea or sense of scale. Hundreds or thousands? Months or years?

2. Research it: is there a market for your idea?

Make sure you are across what the rest of the market is doing. You need to have at least some idea of how big the universe is. You can often find market statistics in industry news, or from government sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics. If your idea covers a particular market segment, there may be industry organisations that can share data with you.

Then ask yourself some tough questions:

– if it’s an entirely new product or service, why is there a gap?

– if there are existing competitors out there, what are they doing?

– what’s happening overseas, perhaps in a more developed market?

– how much are customers paying?

– how much can they pay? (how robust is their industry currently?)

– how big is the potential market?

– how can you differentiate yourself: what is new or different about your idea?

These are all questions your manager is going to ask before giving your idea the green light. Doing the research and answering them yourself will also help you hone your idea pitch.

3. Have passion: are you prepared to commit?

If you don’t believe in your idea, you will struggle to communicate it to others. No one is going to back something half-heartedly communicated, or casually put together. You need courage and to be prepared to put your own neck on the chopping block.

For example, agree to take volume targets for new products. Your confidence in your idea and your ability to implement it will inspire confidence in others.

Avoid Death by PowerPoint: your manager doesn’t have limitless time. Microsoft offers free downloadable templates to create a presentation, as do many other sites. At the early stages, just a well-written overview document can be sufficient, then fielding questions.

4. Be realistic: are the risks too great?

You have to be realistic about the financial outcomes. Claiming you’ll immediately capture 50% of the market and make a million dollars a day in six months is going to turn most managers off immediately. No new project or product is without risk, and you need to acknowledge this.

If your idea looks too big, it’s going to be a harder sell. That doesn’t mean you should only submit smaller ideas, but it does mean you will need extra passion and the data to back it up if you are asking your company to take a larger risk.

Find example of similar projects that haven’t succeeded, and consider why and what you would do differently. Analyse why others have failed: was it forces beyond their control, or did they fail to read the market properly? Having a clear awareness of risk is critical.

5. Pick your time: can it wait?

If your company is currently struggling with resources, can your idea wait for a few months? Few companies have the ability to offer policies such as Google’s Innovation Free Time, where engineers get to spend 20% of their time working on personal projects. But if your idea is time critical, perhaps you can negotiate something that benefits the company and rewards you for your commitment.

– sweat equity: you get a cut of the project’s success

– extra holidays: if your idea works out, you can claim overtime for hours spent on it

– bonus: tie your idea’s success to an annual bonus, or even a future pay rise

Not all companies will be willing or able to negotiate. But demonstrating that you are prepared to spend unpaid time on your idea may nudge it onto the yes-pile.

Make decisive recommendations, deliver with passion and be prepared to stand behind your recommendations.