We have just completed some interesting work for a Senior Exec with world leader in Internet technology. One of their VP's had a project which was just not getting the focus it deserved. The other Board members where either disinterested or distracted by their own agendas to pay more than lip service. They all said they were in support, but their agreed actions went undone as other activities were given higher priority.

This is not an uncommon scenario, and one which we have tackled many times before.

In large companies (and small) there is rarely agreement on everything that needs to be done. As with any group, Senior managers cannot just demand the support of their peers. They need to sell their ideas to garner support. It doesn't matter how 'senior' you are, you have to sell; to constantly communicate and reinforce your project's messages and its value to other groups and their heads. It is no coincidence that many of the most successful corporate managers would be classed as great at 'selling their ideas' and 'politically astute'.

Our advice helped to identify where the issues lay, to recognise supporters and objectors. Rather than ignoring the elephant in the room, we said "embrace it". We helped to draft a new presentation of the project which engaged the issues directly and drew a much more considered, decisive, practical and measurable action plan that worked.

As I've said before I believe the 'sales funnel' is a poor model, far too simplistic. I feel as if it's how someone, who was never in sales, imagines sales to be.

And what of the 'sales process'? You know the 'sales process' its the 6/7/8/9 (pick a number) different stages that a lead goes through to end with a sale. There are so many learned papers and thousands of advocates about the sales process that I admit to feeling a little intimidated here; but I can see a problems with the sales process too!

Firstly let me state that I believe that there are stages in sales, I recognise them and any sales professional would. But look at the picture again and you will see the sales process is described with arrows and boxes and flow charts (and the funnel). Its as if the sales process is like a train, calling at stops along the way with some people alighting, as the train travels in one direction and with one destination. The passengers still on board when arriving at the destination are then to be called 'customers'. Its laughable, but some people believe that this is how sales works, not me!

The best ideas don't always win. In fact some of the best ideas never get off the drawing board. Why? Because they usually need (financial) support and can't get it. Did you know that the game Scrabble was REJECTED by every game manufacturer when it was offered to them. It was nearly lost forever, and took an enthusiastic entrepeneur to step in and save the idea (and make a fortune in the process selling 100 Million sets!).

Your ideas need supporters. This is true well whether you're an executive in a global corporation or an inventor in your garden shed. Everyone needs support. And the fact is that unless you are good at evangelising your idea you will never get it to fly.

My advice, if you are struggling for support. Don't assume that you have a bad idea (not at first anyway). Have faith in yourself. Remind yourself few innovators were lucky enough to have their ideas immediately accepted. AND THEN take a long hard look at how you are expressing your ideas.

  • Can you tell the story so that it can be followed by anyone?
  • Are you telling people why it matters to them, what good it will bring?
  • Can you distill you idea into a single sentence which everyone will recall?

If you can do this, then you will multiply the support you'll gain.

Over the years we have advised innovators and executives from organisations big and small on how to do this. We've taken complex briefs for very complex products and services and turned them into succinct business plans that invite support. We've helped campaigners hone their message and target their activities to amplify their results.

No its not an even playing field. And no the best ideas don't win. Even great ideas need to be sold well

Over the years I have been guilty of imposing a straight jacket on my sales teams. I admit it, its time to confess. I have gone along with everyone else and believed in 'sales stages'. In my defence, it's not entirely my fault. I was trained that way - most sales people were, and still are today. Just look at this image. This is what you see if your search for 'Sales Stages' in Google. You don't even need to zoom in to see what each of these pages are saying. You know that they are talking about the sales process and the ubiquitous 'sales funnel' and its cr*p! 

I was asked by one of our large clients (they shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) to advise on a few issues they were facing. These were seemingly unrelated issues, across a number of their Divisions, to do with launching new products, product branding, sales engagement, go to market strategy etc. In all of these areas they had problems, and I was asked why.

When I boiled it all down there was really only one issue - they failed to act (or failed to act decisively). 

They weren't surprised by my analysis; but they were surprised when I went on to explain what I saw as the cause. It was clear to me that they had a culture which cherishes expertise over execution. They have lots of senior people who are great and innovative thinkers but they don't concentrate enough energy on turning these thoughts into deeds, into products, into sales. There is a disconnect between ideas and action.

As I saw it, as they had promoted Experts into senior positions, but they were then expecting their Experts to Execute. And this wasn't happening. And I can understand why. Ask an expert if he has finished his work, and the answer will be no. He won't see the genius of what has already been created, only its faults that need to be improved in the next version. Ask an Expert if he is ready to go to market, and the answer is 'not yet', because he is working on that next version. Ask an expert to help create the go to market messages and either he'll be too busy or he'll bore you with detail. Ask an Expert why his sales are low, and its always because the sales team lack enough skills to sell it.

One thing that they did briliantly at this (nameless) company was debate. They like a debate, its intellectually stimulating and shows them off in an area of strength. But debates can be endless. And endless debates have no place in business. For a frustrated marketing manager/product manager/sales manager, who needs to get their product on the shelves and selling,  debates are only useful if used as a tool to create output. There must be an end product.

Business history is littered with stories of great ideas that never got to market, or innovators crushed by more adroit imitators. I have no doubt that Innocenzo Manzetti was a genius of his day, but he didn't have genius enough to take the telephone from his labs and turn it into a product. Alexander Bell did (have the genius to take the telephone from the labs of Manzetti and turn it into a product), and he's famous for it.

What counts is not how great your ideas are, its how well you get what you've got to market. That's why, on balance, I have always valued Execution over Expertise

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