CIO Best Practices

The Only Three Insights CIOs Need To Sell Their Ideas

Every leader sells, and as the CIO portfolio broadens, selling ideas becomes an even more critical skill. Three insights will help you reduce friction and be seen as an advocate rather than an adversary.

Joe Woodruff


December 22, 2021

Photo credit:
Imad Alassiry

I just wrapped some Christmas gifts for a friend, and I put them in a box for shipping. I knew that I needed to seal that box with tape, so I went to the closet and found unopened packing tape branded as EZ Tape.

Only it wasn’t.

I got more tape on my skin than on the package; it took more time to tape the box than to wrap the presents. Did I eventually get the box taped? Yes. Will I ever buy that brand of tape again? No.

The reason I will not buy the tape isn’t because it didn’t work, but because it wasn’t easy. That’s called friction.

The number one reason people don’t buy our ideas is because we make it hard on them to do so. We don’t mean to, of course. It’s just that a number of leaders fail to take into account how an idea is being received. The idea itself may be great. But as my basketball coach taught me, a good pass is only a good pass if it is a completed pass.

As a CIO, you sell ideas. To people. That’s the critical component. People receive differently. And sometimes you sell it to a group, which of course is composed of people, and a group sale is even trickier.

Regardless, when selling, we need to reduce friction and increase ease. There are three insights that will help us to do so.

When selling ideas, we are appealing to a person’s motivation, value and cost.

  1. Motivation
    Motivation is rooted in either pain or pleasure. A person wants to avoid something or attain something. They have a problem or they have a possibility, a dysfunction or a dream.
    We need to know what their motivation is.
    Our idea is a bridge from where they are to where they want to be. That bridge needs to represent for them an obstacle that will be removed if they cross it, or an opportunity that will be opened to them.
    The only accurate way to know is to ask. Most sales fail on the sands of guesswork or assumptions.
    The first insight we need to sell an idea is that we know why they would listen to us in the first place.
  2. Value
    This is where the “sell” gets very customized. People need to agree that the solution you provide has value and that it benefits them. Only, there are three types of people we are trying to convince, and they set value differently.
    Feeling people relate to ideas from the heart. Some will make decisions based on how a solution will affect others. Some make decisions based on how the solution will make them look in the eyes of others. The rest make decisions based on an inward feeling and on their mood. If we know a person who is always helping others, or tends to over-perform, or is often self-conscious, we are likely dealing with a feeling-person.
    Fact people relate to ideas from the mind. Their biggest obstacle is usually fear. Fact-based people like to investigate and weigh options but are also likely to not stick to a plan. Once convinced, and especially if it feels like their own idea (they make the choice), they need a smooth course of action.
    Faith people are instinctual. They challenge, seeing things as one way or another; they look out for others even more than for themselves, and they easily spot imperfections. We are dealing with a faith-person if they get their hot buttons pushed easily or if they tend to simmer on things.
    The second insight needed to sell an idea is to know who we are dealing with so that we understand how they assign value:
    Feeling: I like this idea because I and others can feel good about it.
    Fact: I like this idea because it is the best choice based on what I know and can see.
    Faith: I like this idea because it resonates with me and checks my boxes.
    Feeling people need inspiration; fact people need information; faith people need insight, an aha moment, the so to a what.
  3. Cost
    Cost is assigned based on the time, energy, ability or money required to adopt your idea. Our idea has change inherent in it. People don’t mind change, they just mind change that makes no sense, change that isn’t worth the effort because it won’t produce what it promises.
    When people clearly see the benefit we are proposing, they better assess the investment required on their part.
    Clarity and honesty are our friends. I always ask, “What other costs have I overlooked? Is there something more to take into account?”
    If we have done your work in the motivation and value stage, we have become their partner in the cost stage. When a person begins to bring up other costs, they are looking for justifications to overcome that cost. If we are premature, and jump to cost before being clear on their motivation and value, then cost becomes an objection, even a non-starter.
    The third insight into selling our idea is to partner in the cost conversation. We both are looking at cost from the same side of the table. Too often, the “sales person” is on the other side, and sometimes literally: Only after agreement is there a handshake.

Embrace this process, and the handshake takes place after the value has been agreed upon.

Sales is often seen as adversarial. I prefer to see it as advocacy. Adversarial is characterized by friction; advocacy is marked by relief: Someone gets me, someone is for me, someone will guide me.

It isn’t easy. It takes some work. But it is sure a lot easier than EZ Tape.

If I can help you peel back more insights on selling your ideas to your team and executives, reach out to us here.

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