How To Sell An Idea

No matter what field you’re in, there comes a point where you have to sell an idea to someone. Whether it’s sharing a new company-wide initiative with your employees, a campaign strategy to a client or an insurance policy to a new homeowner, we’ve all got to find common ground with an audience and get them to sign off on something we’re offering. 

The term “selling” gets a bad rap. It conjures up that tired image of the slick used car salesman-type, cocky and aggressive, not waiting to hear himself talk so he can sell you more things. 

We’ve become accustomed to tuning out the white noise of sales, and that’s an entirely different topic to address at a later time. Today I’d like to avoid the noun (sales) and discuss the verb (selling).

Selling in this context is defined as “to persuade or influence to a course of action or to the acceptance of something. This is how most people “sell” in their everyday lives without realizing they’re doing it. Here are a few tips on how you can improve the way you persuade your publics, whether that’s an audience or a single person.

So how do you sell an idea to an audience? 

Put yourself in their shoes.

 When approaching someone with a new idea, it's important to remember that context and perspective are everything. Remember, you may be excited about your new idea and can clearly see the possibilities ahead, but your audience is hearing this for the first time. Frame the exercise as more of a discussion, not a you-versus-them scenario. Try to understand the situation from their perspective first before forcing your own agenda on them. 

Find and explore pain points. 

The backbone of selling a new idea is problem solving. Just as we talked about finding perspective, you’ll also need to dig deep to find the real heart of the issues your audience is facing. Are they worried about what others will think of the idea? Maybe we should enact a proactive plan to address perception. Is your idea too expensive? Frame your idea in terms of value, not cost. Break down each part of the plan piece by piece and show your audience how you will be helping them overcome problems they face. 

Paint a picture.  

No one wants to hear you talk about how great your idea is. Despite our best intentions, sometimes we get wrapped up in the process behind the idea, or the benefits that affect us personally. Immerse your audience in a narrative where they are the main characters and pivotal forces that make the idea great. Start with the opportunity laid out before them, shift into where you both can make a difference together, and resolve their problem with an idea that they are integral in executing. 

Present with the end in mind.

Don’t harp too much on the details, processes and steps involved in executing the idea. Keep  your audience engaged by walking them through the new world they will live in, where this idea has become a reality. Remember: benefits over features. How will this be different? What good did we do? Outline the results as if they've already happened, and allow your audience to experience the future impact of the idea. 

"In order to sell anything, you've got to display passion and exude authenticity. "

In order to sell anything, you've got to display passion and exude authenticity. If you don't believe it yourself, how do you expect anyone else to? Make sure that you're not only being true to yourself, but that you're also fully committed to the idea. Nothing is worse than having to listen to a pitch by someone who is obviously not sold on the idea themselves. Trust me, people can tell if you’re faking.

Although every situation is different, and there are a lot of variables in play (personality types, hierarchies, timing, budget, business goals, politics, etc.), these tips will help you frame your idea, open up the conversation, and warm the audience up to receive your idea with an open mind. 

Do you have any tips for selling an idea? Have you had any notable successes or failures in doing so? We'd love to hear from you! Shoot us an email at or tweet at us @toucanads!

Toucan Advertising is a New Orleans advertising agency.

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