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Five Strategies for Marketing Your Groundbreaking Idea

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    By Costas Markides

    There are five important variables that determine how likely it is that your efforts to convince people to back your idea will succeed:

    1. Who is the seller?

    Some people at better at selling their ideas than others. Consider, for example, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. In 1962, he challenged the American people to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  It was an extraordinary goal but did people buy into it?  When the President visited NASA the following year, he asked a janitor working there: “What do you do here at NASA?”  The reply was:  “I’m helping put a man on the moon, sir.” Now that’s an example of someone who really bought into the idea.

    How did President Kennedy succeed in convincing people to pursue his vision? Effective sellers of ideas are credible, passionate about what they are selling and homophilous with the buyer (homophilous means the buyer looks at you and thinks, ‘I can relate to this person; he/she is one of us.’) The question for anybody trying to convince others of their idea is simple: “Do you display these characteristics of effective sellers?” If not, can you use somebody else to act as the seller of the idea?

    Watch on FORBES:

    3. How are you selling?

    Some selling tactics are better than others. For example, if you’re not the president of the US, or if you do not have a lot of credibility, you may need to create some evidence to back up your idea. To do this, try it out, experiment with the idea. Collect some data and then go and show it to people. Similarly, if the idea is disruptive to people, can you frame it in a way that makes it appear less threatening? Can you use allies to help you sell the idea? Think creatively how to sell your idea and how to overcome resistance.

    3. What are you selling?

    Some ideas have characteristics that make them easier for people to accept than others. It is therefore worth taking a long, hard look at what you’re offering and positioning it in a way that makes it attractive to people. For example, if your idea is to sell alcohol to people who are against the consumption of alcohol on religious grounds, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed in selling your idea, no matter how effective a seller you are.  In general, ideas that are disruptive to people’s values and norms will find it hard to be accepted.  You’ll therefore have to reframe them and reposition them to make them less disruptive.

    4. What’s the context in which you are selling?

    The context in which you are selling your idea influences its acceptance.  For example, is the timing right?  Is there a sense of urgency demanding the adoption of the idea? Is the ground “fertile” to accept the idea?  You might be selling a fantastic idea in the most effective way but people may still not buy it if the context isn’t supportive.  For example, nouvelle cuisine took off in France at the end of the 1960s because people were revolting against the status quo at the time—remember the student demonstrations in Paris in May 1968?  Nouvelle cuisine was a protest against traditional French cuisine, with its many rules, such as the need to pair specific foods with specific wines or the “proper” way to cook certain types of food.  In 1970 only 3% of restaurants in Paris served nouvelle cuisine. By 1997 it had been adopted by 37%. Therefore, before proposing an idea, ask yourself:  Is the timing right for it? Is there an urgent need for this idea? Is there a fertile ground for it?

    5. Who is buying?

    Who are you selling the idea to?  Depending on the idea, some “buyers” will be more receptive (less resisting) than others.  For example, suppose you want to get people enthused about joining you to change the world for the better.  Chances are you will be more successful in selling this idea to young people than older folks.  Or suppose you want to start a movement to fight cruelty to animals. Chances are that you will be more successful in selling this idea to animal lovers than to the average person in the street.  So, before proposing an idea, ask yourself: “Who is likely to find this idea attractive and how can I exploit their support?”  At the same time, ask yourself: “Who is likely to resist this idea and how can I neutralise their resistance?”

    Many books have been written on the “how” variable (i.e. How can I sell effectively?) but the “how” is not the only factor that influences selling effectiveness—all five factors are important.  More importantly, all five factors can be influenced to increase your selling effectiveness. For example, if you are not the right person to sell an idea, you could look for others to do the selling for you. If the timing is not right for your idea, you can help by creating a sense of urgency for the idea. If buyers are resisting your idea, you can look for allies to help. And you can certainly use a variety of tactics to sell your idea.  Therefore, think strategically about all five of these factors before you even start selling your idea.

    Costas Markides is a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Robert P Bauman Chair in Strategic Leadership; Executive Education Faculty Director at LBS.

    First published in London Business School Review.


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