How to Sell Your Ideas to Questioning Clients

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting




Ideas don’t sell themselves -- no matter how good they are.

Oftentimes, the better the idea is the more hesitation there is.

To be able to produce the type of creative and marketing campaigns you want to -- the ones that push the limits of your team, show off your skills, and provide those impressive results your clients want -- you need to get better at convincing clients of the value of your ideas. It's time to embrace the skills of the salesperson.

To get your clients to say "yes" more often, follow these tips to increase your persuasive powers.

How to Sell Your Ideas

1) Make the Client Comfortable

According to Oren Klaff, author of Pitch Anything, the client must be feel at ease before you begin presenting your idea -- or you’ll never have a chance.

Klaff writes: “In the vast majority of cases, they don’t [feel at ease] because they don’t know how long they’re going to be stuck listening to you, and you’re a stranger. Most people just don’t want to sit through an hour-long pitch. To put them at ease, I have a simple solution: It’s called the time-constraint pattern.”

He goes on with exactly what he says prior to presenting to an audience: “‘Guys, let’s get started. I’ve only got about 20 minutes to give you the big idea, which will leave us some time to talk it over before I have to get out of here.’”

Klaff writes that presenters need to master attention and time, not the details, by respecting an audience’s limits. This approach also plays into anticipation, which will drive your clients to remain focused because they know how long they have to wait for the big idea and the conclusion of the meeting.

2) Use Data

Clients want to invest in marketing, but they don’t want to spend their resources on the wrong idea. It’s your job to convince them that your idea is the right and best idea for getting the results they want.

Data is one of the best ways to make it easy for the client to say “yes.” With data from either previous tests you ran on the client’s behalf, another brand’s successful marketing experiment, or your previous clients’ results, you can easily prove the value and the potential ROI from the investment in the idea. By providing data, you are also increasing the trust between you and the client, and it gives her the information she needs to convince her bosses this is the right decision.

3) Provide Case Studies

If you pair data with highlights from a case study, you’ll be a powerful persuader and a more credible presenter.

According to Agency Management Institute, one of the biggest influencers in the agency selection process is industry expertise, and case studies are the perfect vehicle for showcasing past successes and your in-depth knowledge of the client’s industry or business.

Case studies are influential throughout the entire buying process because they show that you can do what you say you can do. They help a client to better understand what it will be like to work with your agency’s team, the quality of the work you create, the results previous clients have experienced, and your processes.

By providing clients with access to case studies -- either in the proposal or during a pitch -- you can increase your credibility and help the client to imagine what it would be like to work with your firm.

4) Pitch It Like You’re Telling a Story

No client really wants to sit through a pitch. They want ideas, they want to be convinced, and they want to know that you understand their business and what it needs. But being subjected to a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation is not anyone’s definition of exciting.

Instead of relying on densely packed slides full of steps, ideas, data points, forget the slides -- or include only the most essential ones -- and pitch the idea by telling a narrative. Captivate the client's attention through a story.

This most likely means you need an experience with the client’s brand. It could be as simple as describing your visit to the retail location or retelling a story you uncovered by interviewing the brand’s customer service rep. Put the client in a frame of mind that readies them for the solution. Build tension, describe interesting characters, and highlight the challenge. Then provide the answer and all the supporting research, information, or creative.

Want more tips on how to sell your ideas? Listen to this episode of The Growth Show featuring Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez, co-authors of Illuminate.

5) Focus on the Client

There are too many late nights to count. You spent hours and hours coming up with idea after idea. There were discussions that bordered on arguments. People gave up time with their families and friends to make this client a priority.

But the client doesn’t care. She only is really concerned with her company’s need, her job, how she’s going to look to her manager or CEO, etc. You are there to bring her an idea that will make her look good. Your job is to convince her that your agency can help her achieve her goals within the budget and the timeframe.

While you might think detailing all the hours and effort you put into the idea/concept/pitch shows your dedication and commitment, it’s irrelevant and distracting. No one cares how long it took you to come to a solution -- as long as there is a solution, and it’s the right one.

6) Make It Simple

In a study, researchers replaced shorter words with longer words in college essays. Participants then rated the essays based on how intelligent they thought the authors were. They found that those who used shorter words -- more simple language -- were perceived as being more intelligent.

Using shorter words, more straightforward language, and explaining things simply and clearly makes people seem more likeable and intelligent.

Don’t assume that using complex, jargon-filled language is going to either impress the client or confuse them into buying something they don’t understand.

As David Ogilvy said, “The customer is not a moron. She's your wife.”

7) Lead Your Clients to the Answer

Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion gives hundreds of inbound marketing workshops and speeches each year. And he believes that presenters need a better understanding of how people process information and come to a decision.

An approach he uses in his workshops is called the Columbus Principle, which is the idea that “everyone wants to feel like they are the one that discovered America.”

You ask people question after question after question that slowly leads the person to the right answer. People want to make their own decisions, but by employing this strategy, you can help to guide their thought process and instead of telling, you lead them to understanding that your solution is the right solution. When you make a hard sale, people naturally try to come up with reasons why something wouldn't work or why this isn't a good idea. With this approach, people embrace the idea because they discovered it -- albeit through your guidance.


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