Selling ideas

I did an AMA on Clubhouse a little while ago and there were a lot of awesome, hard-hitting questions on the panel. So for the next several weeks, I’m going to write out my thoughts to each of the questions and how I answered them.

When you introduce a new project or idea to a team of developers, how do you sell that to the team to get them excited about it?

Believe it or not I used to work in sales. For a little while I ran my own consulting firm full-time (I still accept clients but for small, one-off consulting reports and advice). Running your own services business is arguably more sales than is it actual service development.

So when folks ask me about sales I point them to the classic book SPIN Selling. It’s for sales people by sales people.

But Adam, I’m an engineering manager. Why would I need to read a book about traditional sales to convince people to buy things?

Because everything is sales.

You sell yourself when you interview for a job or go on a date. You sell your products or services if you’ve ever been an entrepreneur of a business. And most commonly, you sell ideas to your teammates and stakeholders to convince and influence people to believe in the things you believe in.

So who better to learn sales from than actual sales people? If you ever have the chance to shadow sales people at your current company, do it. You will not only build rapport with folks in other departments that you normally wouldn’t, you’ll also learn a ton about how to influence and persuade people.

Selling ideas is all about persuasion and influence. There are books for those as well but I’ve got a whole curriculum for that. To get you started, you really only need to remember what the SPIN acronym actually stands for:

  • Situation: where are you today? What’s the current “state of the union”?
  • Problem: what are the current pain points and frustrations that your new project is aiming to solve?
  • Implication: what is the value of your solution? What would it look like if these frustrations and problems went away as a result of your solution being implemented?
  • Need-Payoff: how important or urgent is it for you to solve this problem? What are the benefits of building this solution for customers?

If you can construct a narrative that incorporates all 4 of those kinds of questions into the new project or idea you’re bringing to your teams then you are much more likely to get them energized and excited to make a real difference for your customers.

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