Selling Inside and Six F-Words


I had the good fortune this week to co-lead a discussion at the new Digital World Expo in Las Vegas with Lynn Ingham and John Durham. I was grateful for the opportunity because selling things up the ladder internally is something I really used to suck at, but thanks in part to lessons I learned from my co-presenters over the years, I got much better at it.

As is my wont, I got better with a little list of things to remember as I prepared my pitch. I thought I’d share my little list in the chance that it may help someone else improve their win rate for internal selling.

Fit: Naturally any digital solution needs to fit the brand challenges facing the company. But the better you know the immediate issues facing the brand — and the language the brand uses — the more likely you can point out the features of your recommendation that make it an ideal fit for. We complain about internal company silos all the time, but our own success as digital advocates requires that we destroy silos instead of complaining about them. By improving the flow of information we can be of greater service to our brands.

Fear: Our insular way of talking about the industry and the digital divide that separates us from “regular people” – in our companies and in our target audiences – creates discomfiture among final decision makers. When we make an effort to explain things clearly and give decision makers a chance to, for example, try new platforms, we make those around us feel smart. The security of feeling smart helps people feel good about saying yes.

Faith: We need the trust and confidence of others to succeed. There’s a certain “type” of person in our industry that tries so hard to be different than others in organizations. In my experience these people are the least effective at internal selling because in their zeal to appear different they become disconnected from the people and the business. And if people don’t trust you – don’t think you have their backs – they won’t have yours.

Fog: While keeping up with everything in digital is hard, that is often not the responsibility of the final decision maker. That’s YOUR responsibility, as is distilling the oceans of new platforms, ideas, and hype that wash up on shore into coherent strategies and programs. Digital people find this stuff fascinating. Lots of other people don’t. When we can demonstrate the value of things with clarity, and without burying those around us with extraneous information, we clear the fog that makes it harder for people to say yes.

Follow through: In an era of extreme accountability, you need to make the most of every opportunity that reaches you. Match the risk profile of your recommendations with the stage that your company is in the progression toward adopting digital as a central part of its business. And make damned sure that when you get an OK on a project you do everything in your power to make that program successful. Success opens the floodgates of budget and responsibility. Failure slams them shut. There is a lot of discussion in the industry about the need to fail to stay out front of developments. I embrace the spirit of that, but before you fail, make sure you bank some cred with some successes. Usually, the first things a brand should do in digital are not fraught with risk. The risk is in not doing them.

Fun: People get into marketing because it is more interesting than they think finance or accounting or operations would be. Launching a great new product or launching a great marketing campaign is supposed to be thrilling. In digital, we get so buried in our ability to present millions of “metrics” that we forget the emotional side of what we do. Digital efforts are inherently exciting because their capabilities are unprecedented. Help decision makers feel the thrill. Show them how social motivates real people to express their love for the brand. Demonstrate how dynamic video is so compelling. Use the feedback loop of digital to enrich the empathy that is such a central part of marketing.

For me, remembering those six “f-words” as I formulate a pitch makes it far easier to put a tick in the win column. The help people feel smart, empowered and excited about digital. When you pair those emotional wins with a compelling argument for the rational side of your proposal, you’re unstoppable!

About Jim Nichols

Jim Nichols is Senior Partner - Strategy at Catalyst S+F, a marketing services company based in San Francisco. Surrounded by so many youthful Internet marketers every day, he fancies himself at 47 the "Oldest Living Digital Marketer." He keeps a daily blog profiling start-ups for ad:tech, is a is a frequent contributor to iMediaConnection, and has also contributed to ReadWriteWeb, Venturebeat, Brand Channel, MediaBizBloggers, and Daisy Whitney’s New Media Minute. You can also find him on Twitter @CatalystaJim



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