Selling any idea is hard.
First, let us talk about how ideas die prematurely.
How Ideas Die Prematurely
Most ideas die in your mind. In fact, here is an over-simplified representation of the journey of ideas.
1. Random Chatter
You get a lot of ideas and most of them are useless. This is not a bad thing as you need to get a LOT of ideas before some of them turn out to be GOOD ideas. Many ideas here are like mayflies – die extremely quickly
2. Death at First Filter
This is the next stage of elimination where you really give them your real attention and contemplate a bit. However, many ideas here won’t pass through your first filter – you realize very quickly that they were dumb ideas and don’t think about them again.
3. Death on Reflection
These ideas gain a lot more of your attention. But, upon reflection, you realize that they don’t deserve any more attention. You move on from them.
4. Death at First Contact
These ideas are the ones that pass through your first filter and you are confident enough to share them with others – at least with those that are close to you. You are super enthusiastic about these ideas but unfortunately, these ideas won’t survive the first contact of others. Your assumptions are questioned, other failed such attempts are highlighted and the classic – someone has already done it, so why bother?
5. Death by Marketplace Shift
You marinate several ideas in your mind for variety of reasons the most common of which being – you are waiting for the “right conditions” before you make the jump. However, while your marinating your ideas, the marketplace is not waiting for you and shifts happen. Instead of witnessing conditions that support your idea, you notice conditions that make it difficult for you to pursue them. You sadly abandon them.
6. Death by Holding on to the Past
This is where things seem fine externally for you to move forward but you don’t have the confidence to let go of the past and jump head on into the execution phase. Either you kill the idea blaming it on somebody else or simply blaming it on timing.
7. Death in the Chasm
This is where you are ready or at least you think you are ready but you are not able to get buy-in from the people that matter. In other words, you are unable to sell your idea and those unfortunate ideas end up in the chasm.
This article is about crossing the chasm by learning how to sell your ideas
[ Note: Let me set the expectation straight - there is no magic bullet formula to sell any idea. It requires a TON of thinking and varying quantities of luck AND of course timing. ]
Factors that Influence Your Ability to Sell Your ideas
1. Localized Proof
If you can show that your ideas work even with a limited scope, selling your idea for a broader scope becomes easy. In fact, the more stellar your idea is doing in a localized environment, higher the chances of getting it sold for a broader scope. A good example is Khan Academy. It started off with Salman Khan creating videos to help his 12-year old niece pass a math exam. The videos were created without fancy equipment but were very insightful. As they started becoming popular, others (most notable being Bill Gates) came to him. Salman Khan didn’t have to sell his ideas, they got sold on their own because of the awesomeness factor and localized proof.
2. Who you are
When your ideas don’t have a lot of history, your history becomes important. In the minds of others, your past accomplishments or lack there of will influence the odds of success of your new ideas.
3. Who knows you
Note that I didn’t say who you know. You might know a lot of people or at least you think you know them but what matters really is whether you matter enough for them to know you.
4. Your emotional bank balance
If you have a high bank balance on your emotional bank account, you will surely get their mindshare at least to listen to your idea. Ultimately merit of the idea counts but a good opening gives you a competitive advantage for sure.
If your timing is off, then the best ideas have a slim chance of moving forward. On the other hand, if your timing is impeccable, even mediocre (but relevant) ideas get attention.
The Art of Selling Your Idea
Your ability to communicate your idea obviously makes a big difference. You know this but like me, I am sure you too are open to learning a thing or to – to get better at this.
So, here we go.
I termed this concept as “laying the mental breadcrumbs.” It is where you go to a place where your audience is super comfortable with and then keep placing mental breadcrumbs until they come to where you want them to come.
The first step therefore is to know what your audience knows so that requires a bit of homework on your part. Going there will get a first mental nod from your audience probably including an externally visible indicator that you got them.
Now, don’t make the mistake of presenting your main claim right away as that will be too big of a jump for them. Your approach will be to present something that will extend something that they already know – metaphorically placing a mental breadcrumb. If you observe carefully, you will notice an internal nod in their eyes that will show that they have moved to the next step.
Then continue by placing another mental breadcrumb, resulting in another mental nod.
Now continue with another mental breadcrumb and keep repeating until making your claim is the most obvious thing to do. In fact, if you have placed the mental breadcrumbs right, your claim should be a logical conclusion for them to make.
You might even give them the satisfaction of solving a puzzle. Your claim will be the prize they receive for having solved the puzzle.