Career Advice

Five Tips for Selling Your Ideas to Senior Management
Staff posted on September 10, 2019 |
If you can’t persuade senior management to buy into your idea, you’ll never get to implement it.

Contributed by Darr Greenhalgh, senior manager of customer solutions at MSC Industrial Supply Co.

You may have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t persuade senior managers to buy into it, you’ll never have the opportunity to implement it.

Over my career in supplier consulting and manufacturing, I’ve seen plenty of good ideas crash and burn in front of decision-makers. In fact, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t happened to me a few times. At this point, however, I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t when presenting a business solution.

There are five keys to selling your ideas to senior management, and they work no matter what restrictions on format, length and time you may face.

However, before you start planning your pitch, make sure your idea is solid and that management isn’t going to view it as coming out of left field. Here’s how to make the most convincing case possible for your proposal.

1. Set the Stage and Grab Their Attention

The unfortunate reality is that many senior managers spend their days going from one meeting to another, sitting through one presentation after another. To sell your ideas, you need to break through “meeting hypnosis” that can result when a senior manager has spent too much time in conference rooms.

How do you do this? Fireworks aren’t necessary. The secret is to define up front what you’ll cover and why. You should open the curtain on your message just enough to ensure they’re paying attention.

You need to provide enough clarity and spark enough interest that you don’t come off like a Southern California meteorologist with a ho-hum forecast of yet another sunny day.

2. Dig Into Their Needs — But Only the Ones Your Solution Will Solve

Senior managers have plenty of worries they’re wrestling with. Make sure you understand what needs they care about and which of them your solution will address. Then focus on those needs — only those needs if possible — for which your proposal offers a solution.

It’s worth spending a bit of extra time at this stage digging into those needs with senior management. Not because they don’t understand them, but to remind them of the urgency and pain that are likely associated with the needs for which you’re proposing a solution.

3. Tie Your Solution to a Specific Existing Cause

At any given time, your company is probably focused on a handful of operational priorities, such as cost reductions, safety or sustainability. Rather than simply presenting an idea because it’s getting a lot of attention in the industry or the media, tie your idea to something senior management cares about.

Ideally, you’ll have measurable benefits you can explain, such as estimated cost savings. Even if you don’t have that, find a way to connect your proposal to a metric that management cares about.

4. Identify Value and Benefits First, Costs Second

Of course, senior managers care about how much your proposal will cost. That’s important, and you won’t get approval without that information. But start out by identifying the value your idea will produce and the benefits it will provide to the company.

This order — value and benefits first, followed by cost — allows you to focus on the reasons to implement the solution rather than what negative impact the solution might have. Focusing on hypothetical costs instead of values and benefits only ensures that your idea will go straight to the circular file. By highlighting value and benefits first, senior managers can properly assess the positive impact your solution has versus potential costs.

5. Ensure Your Idea has a High Degree of Success and Low Risk

No matter how many spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides you pull together to support your idea, those managers will always ask how you know it’s going to work. So, make sure you’ve done your homework. For example, perhaps you know your idea will be successful because it’s been implemented successfully by peers and competitors.

You also should structure the plan to minimize risk. No one expects a risk-free proposal — we don’t work in risk-free businesses. Showing that you’ve considered and managed the risks will add more muscle to your pitch.

These five tactics do create some extra work for you up-front. But the extra planning and preparation will boost your odds of getting the go-ahead from senior management and your chance to have a significant impact on your company. And maybe your own career.

Darr Greenhalgh is senior manager of customer solutions at MSC Industrial Supply Co., a leading North American distributor of metalworking and maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) products and services. 

He has more than 35 years of experience in procurement, project management, lean supply chain management and manufacturing in a range of industries.

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