Selling the Big Idea

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Imagine This:

You manage a product team for a consumer electronics company. Over the last few years, customer feedback and input suggest that there’s an opportunity to combine two of your products into one to improve customer satisfaction and usage. In fact, combined capabilities could simplify how customers use the product.

But it’s out of line with the timing of your go-to-market strategy and would require the executive team’s and the Board’s approval to disrupt the product roadmap and push this concept forward. A year ago, you presented the customer insights and got approval from both groups to explore a prototype.

And now you have it! It’s time to sell the big idea from market potential to production costs and forecasted revenue. And while the steps to this point have gone smoothly, there’s more than a 50% chance it won’t move toward production.

Why? Most leaders say they stall ideas at this point because the insights shared aren’t clear or compelling. And that’s a communication roadblock.

How can that be? After almost a year of effort by an innovative product team, the potential of a prototype stalls because of poor communication. And poor doesn’t mean the presenters weren’t confident about what they said. It means they approached the presentation the wrong way and missed the things the listeners needed.

They made one poor assumption as they built out the communication about HOW to get to product launch. They assumed the listeners could reengage with this concept from the discussion they had that launched the prototype. More than a year ago!

It’s the most common blind spot we see in high-stakes presentations: a presenter who communicates from their perspective instead of the listeners. And while that may seem like an obvious blunder as you read this…it’s not. Most communicators can’t recognize the difference between the two perspectives without some coaching to understand and adjust for what a listener values.

Take the example above. The product team has vested almost a year in getting to that prototype and working through details of market analysis, production and revenue forecasting. From their perspective, the point of a presentation at this point is to get approval on a plan and a budget to get this new concept into market. And they’ve worked hard on the HOW behind it. They’ll come in with details, charts and numbers to support the execution. And in under ten minutes, they will be at odds with the leaders.

The blind spot and gap in perspective is significant:

  • The senior leaders and Board members haven’t thought about this concept for a moment beyond when they agreed to a prototype exploration.
  • The product team has thought about it every moment for the last nine months.

It would be virtually impossible for these two groups to be on the same page, and yet, it’s how many organize presentations. They assume the listeners are where they are in understanding, interest and buy-in.

Starting with a listener’s perspective is one of the most critical skills of content development. It’s the component of a storyline that sets up more about WHAT and WHY in order to guide a listener to the HOW of the details.

And if you’ve taken a workshop with us, you know that good messaging drives clarity. The message for this presentation might be: When product X and Y are combined into a single product Z, we will see a 40% reduction in production costs and an additional $30 million in revenue.

At the start of the presentation, the listeners hear value and impact through messaging. Then, we leverage a concept we call “Funneling” to set a storyline that creates interest and validation for WHY it makes sense to disrupt the product schedule and push this new prototype to the front of the line.

Here are the elements of a compelling storyline that gain approval and buy-in from some of the toughest audiences:

Listeners start with External Perspective.

Leaders and board members think broadly, and they want to know that you’ve done the same. Before they’ll take your word for a big idea, they want to know that the concept began from someone else’s: ideally, your customer. In the scenario above, the product team has this, but they presented it a year ago and then left the ideas behind. The listeners have forgotten it and will need it to see value in the prototype. They need to remember that customers gave a lot of input on this combined product idea and in fact, it’s what drove the decision the leaders made a year ago.


Then, the listeners will want Internal Perspective.

This is contrasting what you currently have against the insights above. Why have you not combined the products before? What makes this a viable option today in a way it might not have been before?  Can you leverage change or interest called out in the External Perspective to pivot the listeners thinking on timing and positioning that helps them see a valid reason for considering this now?


And finally, listeners want you to dive a little further into Specifics.

This gives them a way to quantify the magnitude of disruption and interest. How do they think about this shift? What happens to the product timeline if they do it? What happens to the customer interests if they don’t?


These three elements set the compelling storyline that leads a listener to the HOW it could be done. And those are the insights that matter most to the product team at this point. So it isn’t that one perspective trumps another. It’s the skill of being able to put the listener first pulling them to your perspective that gains buy-in.

When I shared this concept of our storyline with a client recently, she said: “Basically, you’re telling me I have to go backwards in order to pull the listeners forward.” And it’s an interesting way of thinking about communication when you’re the communicator. When you start with the listeners’ perspective, you‘re focused on setting the stage and providing context they need to get to your perspective. In the scenario above, it would have made a $30 million difference.

What’s the risk of your communication?

If your team needs to set a more compelling storyline, we’d love to coach a group on how to do it.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates