How to sell your ideas to gain support

The ability to achieve strategic and tactical influence has helped HR in getting a seat at the boardroom table, but how effective will it be at securing your seat?

Your colleague from finance has been there much longer, is armed with data to back up their arguments and has the credibility gained from years of being a member of the “inner circle”. Your other colleagues from sales and marketing, operations and manufacturing also have their figures, financial models and track records.

HR, on the other hand, has a history of “initiatives”, addressing the “softer issues”, and of not producing bottom-line justification for what it does – often for the reason that “people things are difficult to measure”.

Clinton Wingrove, executive vice president and principal consultant, Pilat HR Solutions

Well, the world has changed. You now have a seat at the table. So what are you doing to ensure that you keep it? In addition to excellent core professional skills, you also need new skills:

  • Selling. There are only two reasons people don’t buy in to your ideas. You need to know what they are and how to address them.
  • Negotiating. You can’t always expect to get precisely what you want but you need to be able to get what you need and avoid poor compromises (most so-called “win-win” agreements are actually “lose-lose” agreements).

Oh, and a third new skill you will need is courage – who said that it is going to be easy? Do you think that this is a characteristic not a skill? Perhaps it is, but you can learn how to act more courageously. You will soon see how often you gave away a victory rather than lost a win! Honing the other two skills will go a long way towards helping you to be more courageous.


Know your customers

Before you can “sell” anything to anyone professionally, you need to know:

  • What they need. If what you have to offer is right for them there are only two reasons why they will not agree. Either they are unaware of their need or they are insufficiently motivated by it.
  • What they want. This is likely to be how they already see their needs being met. If this is not the solution that you are offering, you have to first enable them to understand their need and then to show how your offering meets that.
  • Money or resources. In short, what they have at their disposal. These include all aspects, not merely the financial ones; they also include the resources needed to implement and sustain your offering. You may have to be able to justify how resources can be saved or earned as a result of the solution, as well as explain any up-front resources that are needed before such payback time.
  • “Dominant buying motive” (DBM). This is the number-one emotional reason that may cause them to buy in. Most decisions are not made based on logic – that comes earlier in the process and determines the options that can be considered. Once all options have been logically considered and approved it is often emotional factors that determine the final choice.

Know your offering

Before you can attempt to persuade someone about an idea or solution, you need to know it precisely in terms of how it meets their needs.

Armed with your knowledge of their needs, wants, money and DBM, and of the features of your solution, you need to select the critically important facts, identify how these meet the needs and be able to back these claims with evidence.

Present persuasively

Persuasion is an iterative process during which you need to get the other party to focus on one or more aspects of their needs, wants, resources and DBM. You should then deliver the information about your solution, making clear claims about how each satisfies a need, providing appropriate evidence to support each claim and explaining how personal needs or preferences will be met.

Handle objections early

If you are aware that there may be objections, address these early and proactively. If you sense that there are other objections, try to uncover them. Also, don’t spend time talking about or trying to handle objections that are really only diversions.

Check progress

It is easier to “un-sell” than to close a deal, so check early to see if the other party has already bought in or is ready to. Ask them if they feel that you are getting close to an agreement. If not, check out the reason – it may be another distraction or a genuine objection to handle.

Seal the deal

Don’t be afraid to ask for commitment but make it as easy as possible for them to make one. For example, offer choices rather than a stark request for a “yes”.


Negotiation is about declaring an opening or a current position that is above what you would like to achieve and even higher than your fall-back position. Negotiation can only occur if the two fall-back positions overlap.

Negotiations typically start with each party declaring their opening positions and each party testing the other’s stance using questions designed to identify omissions, intent, inconsistencies, etc. They each then use combinations of power, style and techniques to get concessions and movement from the other.

Courage – the final word

Many ideas fail to be adopted merely because the people in the position to promote them fail to do so. This often occurs because they hesitate through uncertainty. There is critical need to be courageous if you have an idea that you genuinely believe will add value. If so, you need to present it assertively; treat the other party with respect; and persevere with your pitch.

Selling and negotiating are skills that, once obtained, will increase your chances of gaining support for your HR initiatives and ensure that you retain your seat at the boardroom table. But, without courage, these skills are acquired merely in vain and are in danger of being untested and fruitless. As Maya Angelou wrote: “Courage is the most important of all virtues because, without it, we can’t practice any other virtue with consistency.”

Clinton Wingrove, executive vice president and principal consultant at Pilat HR Solutions

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