How to sell a good idea

19147577 We’ve all seen it happen.  You’ve got a great idea.  Not creative for creative sake, but a strategy that will really spike sales in your company, attract the perfect employee or get a client’s business to a different level.

But the idea isn’t what people are expecting.  In fact, it might make them downright uncomfortable.  Or maybe it’s counter intuitive to your entire industry. 

Having the idea isn’t enough.  You have to sell it.  Often times, the better the idea, the harder to sell. 

Keep these things in mind when you’re teeing up an idea you really want to save from the trash bin.

They didn’t go on the journey with you.  You can’t just show them the finish line. You have to go back to the starting point and walk the path with them.  Show them all the different options you explored and why this one kept showing up as the winner.

No idea is perfect.  Don’t sugarcoat or over protect your idea.  You should know the dangers or weaknesses.  Why not present them before anyone else does?  Bring up the downsides and your solutions for mitigating them.

Know the difference between a single battle and the war.  If your idea doesn’t get the support you wanted in the first presentation, that doesn’t mean it’s over.  Sometimes people need to let an idea simmer for awhile before they can support it.  Or, if may require another conversation to help them see the logic behind what you’re proposing.

Eric Karjaluoto at Ideas on Ideas recently wrote about how his agency presents ideas to a client or prospect and how they give them a fighting chance.

What other tips can you add to the mix?

P.S.  Taking a detour here. Okay, admit it.  Don’t you think this is what the back of Seth Godin’s head looks like?

9 comments on “How to sell a good idea

  1. I am SO linking to this post. Great common sense rule Drew. Look for email from me to you and Gavin in next few days re: promoting AoC new book along with my parenting book. Want your blessing on press release. Also, I know I am a total dork but where is the blogroll code for new AoC authors. I am sorry as I know you sent it but can’t find it, made some changes to my blogs. Thanks Drew. You are, as always, the coolest.

  2. Josh Klein says:

    Be willing to take full responsibility for failure and shared responsibility for success. It is the truth – if you DO sell the idea through, but it fails, who are you to say anyone held you back? And if you sell it through and succeed – remember it took some brave colleagues and a powerful support system to make it work.

  3. Michelle,

    Glad you liked the post and I’m looking forward to your spin on it!

    Gavin and I are ready to hear any and all promotional ideas so fire away. And I sent the list to you!


  4. Josh,

    Isn’t it ironic that we have to take on the failure but share the success? But, as you describe, it has a lot of truth in it.

    And it’s a lot more fun to celebrate a success with someone else in the room!


  5. Eamon says:


    Useful points

    I, also, think it is a good idea to give examples of how ideas in the past have worked for you. In particular, choosing ideas that at first didn’t look as promising as others, perhaps.

    The thing about ideas (I have come across through experience and reading about, at least) is that often ‘good’ ones turn out to be nothing more than just ordinary. Ideas should be ‘great’ (otherwise they aren’t going to make much of an impact – and wasted time and effort relative to some important change / improvement that is needed).
    The thing about trying to create great ideas is that the process is often temperamental and risky. It often goes horribly right or beautifully right (Churchill’s Chief of Staff, General Alanbrooke said that every day Churchill had 10 ideas – 9 were terrible and one was brilliant – the task he said was to figure out which was the brilliant one). Perhaps clients should be reminded that great ideas (and important change) does involve an element of risk. But you are able to demonstrate how ideas in the past that might not have looked ‘great’ turned out to be ‘great.’
    There is no point in trying to create ideas that are going to make little or no real difference.
    It’s not easy (creating great ideas). In the words of David Ogilvy (the great ideas man in advertising – ideas as in branding / marketing ideas – of the 50’s / 60’s and 70’s):
    ‘Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.’

    Eamon. Account Planner.

  6. Eamon,

    Ahh, risk. You are right, very few amazing ideas are perfectly safe. Part of the job of selling the great idea is to help the client find some comfort in the risk.

    Do you think there are fewer great ideas in today’s ads than there were in the 60’s?


  7. Eamon says:


    ‘Do you think there are fewer great ideas in today’s ads than there were in the 60’s?’

    Good question

    I think people in advertising back in the 60’s were pioneers of a new era in advertising. In a sense they were more entrepeneurial and bigger risk-takers than today (the larger ad agencies today are certainly more corporate than they were back then). And people back then were dealing with very different media channels and a very different kind of consumer audience.
    However, saying that, is the ad industry now not a lot more competitive (many more people in it – or in derivatives of the traditional, creative ad agency) than it was back then (so people in advertising now have to come up with the goods). And is the ad industry now not moving into a new era of advertising (or communications) – pioneers into the digital age etc ..
    My opinion is that there were more ‘big ideas’ (marketing ideas as opposed to creative concepts) – ideas that made a splash on the TV screens etc back then. But that a more subtle approach is needed now. The ‘big idea’ still works but it has to be more subtle in order to fit in with the media / consumer age we live in.
    Overall, I would say that people now are more consistent than they were back in the 1960’s – in producing effective days.

    I don’t know – just a few ideas!

    What do you / others think?

  8. Eamon says:

    (by the way, I think there is a difference between a ‘great idea’ and a ‘big idea’ in advertising. This isn’t being pedantic.

    A great idea is one that meets the objectives of the customer: i.e increases brand value / sales to the customer’s expectations.

    Not to be confused by the ‘the big idea’ which was a phrase coined by David Ogilvy about creating a big marketing idea – around which a big creative concept would be based – for the big media channels at the time, i.e TV (where the whole family would sit together watching it etc ..). We still have to think big, of course, but the idea is about being more subtle (or a tapestry of ideas linked together by an over-riding idea). This might seem pedantic but I think it is a subtle point in regards to advertising. Whether you can apply this thinking to marketing in general, I don’t know, sligthtly different subject, perhaps – I am just talking about advertising, here)

    (apologies for talking at length here – but just find this subject interesting and would be interested in exchanging ideas with others on this).

  9. Eamon,

    I think you are right…great and big are different in terms of the conversation we’re having.

    So if you could be known for one or the other…would you choose great? Would that be because you think big is less relevant today?


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