By Ken Bannister, Contributing Editor
Innovation, by its very name, is different, whether you are selling a product, process or idea.
Selling innovation to management requires a carefully constructed sales approach designed to showcase both benefit and risk, delivering a Return on Investment (ROI) statement that all sponsors can believe in and use to defend their decision to move forward.
In Part I of this article, we presented Steps #1-3 in a seven-step process for successfully selling innovative ideas to management. In these steps, we discussed the difference between a “want” and a “need” and the importance of prefacing your ROI statement with “because” factors designed to appeal to all of the report’s audiences.
Steps #4-7 to innovation-selling success
The following items complete the seven steps. They’re intended as a structural guide to developing and managing a successful proposal.
Step #4: Present your proposal…
You’re now ready to assemble your information into a presentable form. You’ve identified the problem and put together an innovative solution that will provide a series of benefits. You have verified your costs and risks and are now prepared to complete and present your proposal.
Hallmarks of successful presentations are simplicity, conciseness and factual support. Remember, time is a precious commodity for your audience—and you’ll likely get only one chance to impress them. Consequently, you must preface you proposal with an executive summary that allows the audience to quickly assimilate the problem-and-solution concept.
The actual proposal must provide the details to back up your claims, and be able to facilitate the due-diligence process when moving forward. A proposal agenda is recommended—along with an appendix of relevant materials should the approval committee wish to check calculations or specification data, etc.
The use of the “I” word (“innovation”) will automatically trigger the notion of risk. When risk is perceived, you’ll probably be asked to present your proposal in person: Who’s more involved with the proposal and, thus, better equipped to answer the inevitable questions surrounding the fear of risk than you? This now becomes a formal presentation requiring a slightly different approach to presenting the material.
You must assume that the committee or management team to which you are presenting has read your proposal and come up with questions regarding the validity of your information. In preparation for the meeting, you can ask if there are specific items in the proposal requiring clarification and begin formulating your answers beforehand. Knowing who will be in attendance will allow you to prepare answers and your presentation in “currencies” understood by all attendees. For example, “maintenance downtime reduction” translates into terms of “production throughput increase,” “decreased inventory transactions” and “increased profit.”
At this point, it’s not effective to simply read over the report verbatim: The committee will want to see how well you know your material and if they can trust you. This is achieved by using three to five presentation slides that highlight the problem, the solution, the ROI benefits, the risks and the action plan to move forward. These slides should not be cluttered with detail, just a few straightforward, one-line statements that you can speak to extemporaneously. If you’re asked questions for which you don’t have answers, tell the truth and make a commitment to provide the answer(s) shortly after the meeting.
Don’t be afraid to solicit third-party help in preparing your proposal and presentation. If you’re using a third-party’s product or process, engage that party’s assistance in your preparation process.
In the end, you have to feel good about what you propose. Part of feeling good is knowing that you can successfully achieve the targets set out in your proposal. By doing your homework, you’ve earned the right to use positive language to sell your proposal—language such as “we will achieve these targets by this date” (not, “we think”). Setting goals and a tangible measurement method displays confidence and a true commitment to success.
Some readers might be familiar with the innovative business-idea TV shows Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, wherein entrepreneurs pitch their products and ideas to wealthy investors. If you have access to these programs, watch and learn the difference between a successful pitch and a failed one.
A well-produced ROI proposal makes it easy for the approver to say yes. Remember, too, that the approver may also be called upon to justify the yes decision.
Step #5: Monitor and report on progress…
If your presentation went well and your organization sees the benefit of moving forward, it will likely engage you in the implementation process. Many programs at this stage will be required to follow a structured project-implementation plan and provide progress reports.
Step #6: Manage your documents…
Corporate politics dictate ongoing change. Management changes and corporate takeovers are commonplace in today’s businesses—and often result in policy, program and personnel changes. Past decisions and purchases are frequently questioned and reversed if no relevant justification can be found.
Once a purchase approval is received, the ROI proposal must be catalogued and filed as a document record, along with any progress reports, as the project moves forward. Complete documentation will vindicate and help protect the approval decision if challenged at a later date.
Step #7: Provide proof of value…
Credibility is often explained as follows: “Tell them what you intend to do, do it, then tell them what you did!” If maintenance department credibility is to be built and sustained, the realized benefits from the initial ROI proposal purchase must be tracked and documented.
NOTE: A post-implementation report/presentation documenting actual vs. projected payback timelines and savings should be distributed to all affected personnel, as well as to the original ROI-proposal review committee. If possible, the report distribution date should be relevant to any documented amortization period.
Following up a purchase with proof of payback and savings, vindicates the purchase, enhances credibility and ultimately facilitates the ROI approval process of the next major “innovation” buy-in. MT
Coming Up: In June, Ken discusses the importance of being able to understand what you manage vs. what you control with regard to innovation.