I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I hate talking on the phone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to communicate, and I love to write and express emotion. I just don’t like doing it with a piece of plastic attached to my ear -- at least, not for very long.
My dad, on the other hand -- who owns a small business where I grew up -- talks on the phone all day long.
He prices jobs, schmoozes with customers, and haggles with vendors, all with a million-dollar smile on his face. Meanwhile, I send emails, reply to tweets, and publish blog posts as a means for establishing a community.
But here's the thing -- we don't denounce each other's methods. We curiously ask each other about new things that can help us and our colleagues, respectively, continue to learn and adapt.
Unfortunately, not every business relationship mirrors our willingness to learn new things from each other. That’s a symptom of fear-based leadership, in which decisions are made based on “immediate safety and conformity over creative thinking and innovative problem solving,” neuroscientist Dr. Maryam Bigdeli explains to LDL Leadership Development. Progressive marketing managers are met with resistance from the risk-averse when trying to experiment with new strategies.
If you frequently find yourself in this position, you might crave a way to find a middle ground with your boss, and sell strategies that might contrast with the reliable approaches that worked in the past. Does such a thing exist? Yes -- and it might be less complicated than it seems. We’ve broken down some tips for how to sell new, unconventional marketing projects and experiments to your boss.
How to Sell Marketing Strategies to Your Boss
1) Be sure you actually understand your boss's perspective.
When research professor Brené Brown spoke at INBOUND 2015, she related a tale of being upset with her husband … due to reasons that it turned out she invented in her own mind. That taught her a lesson -- when we’re upset with someone, we should pause to frame it with the statement, "The story I am making up in my head right now is … ” Have a look:
What does this have to do with selling your boss on a new idea? Well, before you try to make a case, try to understand where she’s coming from. When she says no, you might believe or create a story that she’s too traditional and resistant to change -- whereas, in reality, she might have context and reason for saying “no” of which you’re unaware.
That’s why it’s important to pause and, when we have those thoughts, frame your reaction to a “no” as a story. Then, think about how your manager understands and perceives value. When you think of results, you might do so in terms of the creative resources, platforms, and projects you think will hit quantitative goals. Your boss, on the other hand, might also be focusing largely on numbers, but from a different perspective:
What’s the return on my investment?
Will this increase our profit margin?
How will this impact our market share?
Remember that, depending on the size and structure of your organization, your boss also has people to answer to, like her own manager, the board, or other stakeholders. That can sometimes convey what might seem like risk-averse behavior -- which can lead to an understandable desire to always want to protect against risk.
That’s not to say your boss can’t be convinced to experiment with a calculated risk -- you just have to present the idea with a lot of empathy and preparation. We’ll get to how you can do that in a bit.
2) Do your research.
When it comes to making a case for a new idea, you need to be able to back it up with reliable data. Here’s where a combination of internal performance numbers and external supporting research become your new best friends.
Let’s start with the former. Perhaps your organization has been doing things the same way for a while -- but at what point was that approach considered “new”? It may have been a while ago, but before it was executed, once upon a time, it was a new idea. And when it was new, how did it help the company to meet goals, increase market share, or gain customers? Having those answers can help illustrate the value of making change, even if it’s done incrementally.
Accompany that with recent (preferably within the past two years) statistics that prove the value of what you’re trying to do. For example, let’s say you want to propose creating more visual content. Using a source like the 2017 State of Inbound report, you could use supporting statistics like:
31% of marketers are reporting that visual content creation is their company’s top priority.
48% are adding YouTube -- a highly visual content distribution platform -- to their marketing efforts in the next 12 months.
3) Prove the value.
Telling your boss that a new marketing strategy should be tested because “it’s an industry trend” isn’t good enough. Trends alone don’t answer the above-outlined questions your boss might have -- not without supporting data, at least.
That’s where all of that fabulous research from Step Two comes in. You’ve found the supporting data -- now, it’s time to tie it into the overall vision and goals of the business. A statistic alone doesn’t prove that your idea will solve for the enterprise. In order to do that, in needs context. For example:
Notice how all of that data is more effective when it has context. By providing it, you’ve eliminated a lot of work for your boss by coming prepared with information on how your idea aligns with business goals.
When you focus on the data-supported solutions that your idea will provide -- and make sure you’re able to address any potential gaps or problems that your boss might ask about when you discuss it -- you can make a stronger case for why, qualitatively and quantitatively, things can and should be done differently.
4) Measure the costs.
Finally, in addition to supporting your idea with reliable data, you’ll need to be able to answer any questions your boss has about costs. Remember: ROI is one of your manager’s chief concerns.
Before discussing new marketing strategies with your supervisor, go through a checklist of the following questions:
Who can help us do this?
At what cost?
What’s the timeline?
What investment of time will they need from us?
Who will manage the process?
How will this investment impact the bottom line?
It can’t hurt to prove the reliability of the associated costs, either. If you’re looking to enlist the help of a vendor, for example, find case studies that emphasize the value of who you’re looking to work with.
When in doubt, apply the same formula from the previous three steps to this one: measurable data + context = success.
At the end of the day, your boss is probably extremely busy. So if you’re looking to pitch something unconventional or new, make her time count.
Show your manager the real business value of new marketing strategies and projects. And remember: Go in with an understanding of her perspective. She can’t necessarily unlearn the things that have worked in the past, so take an approach that is strong, yet empathetic.
In other words, you can identify problems, but focus on solutions. And more than anything else, prove their value.
How do you sell marketing strategies to your boss? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jun 6, 2017 6:00:00 AM, updated July 12 2017