Pitching a big idea, and asking for approval on the spot, is very tough:

  • People often resist ideas that they are hearing for the first time
  • Asking people for an immediate decision can put people on the spot
  • People tend to support the status quo when confronted or challenged  

Putting people on the spot can make them more defensive than creative and collaborative—especially with a new idea, an idea that will rock the boat, or a complex idea for which there isn’t a simple solution.

Why take that risk with your biggest ideas?

When you think your idea might be a tough sell, try pre-selling it. Pre-selling your idea:

  • Gives people a heads-up (courtesy, respect)
  • Gives people time to think about it before having to make a decision
  • Helps you gather crucial intelligence before crafting your pitch and asking for a decision

The Idea: 

When you have a complex idea that will be tough to sell, instead of presenting it as a fait accompli or pitching it to a cold audience, present the issue to them as a challenge—a problem to be solved. Ask for help. Make people part of the solution. Engage them in discussing how it might be accomplished if you were to implement it.

The Technique:

First, connect the people dots by asking yourself who would be affected by your idea. This helps you identify the people to whom you need to be pre-selling.

“Who will this impact and how?” And: “Who will or should be involved in making this decision?”

Second, pre-sell to a sample of decision makers and people who will be affected by your idea. The key technique here is to formulate your idea as a hypothetical, i.e., as a possibility, rather a decision that has already been made or that you want them to make:

“We are [I am] thinking of making this change / implementing this idea [describe idea]. What do you think? If we were really going to do this, what would it take to do it right and make it a big success?”

When you formulate your idea as hypothetical, people tend to open up right away and freely share their ideas and doubts.

When they do, your job is not to argue with them, try to win them over, or overcome their objections, but to take notes and thank them for their input. The information you gather—positive and negative—will be invaluable.


Formulating your idea as a possibility—prior to asking for a decision—has a several huge advantages:

  • People feel far more free to share their ideas (doubts and suggestions)
  • Helps you identify challenges and obstacles you will have to address
  • Helps you identify the drivers of success for the project
  • Helps you find out who is onside and what kind of support will be available
  • Helps you identify who is on the fence, who will resist, and how great the resistance will be
  • Gives people time to think about it before having to make a decision
  • Gives people a chance to start thinking about potential solutions
  • Helps you start building understanding, buy-in, and consensus

People are not in the market for solutions to problems they cannot see or understand, so engaging them in diagnosing the nature of the problem or challenge prior to asking for a decision can be extremely powerful.

Moreover, knowing the potential challenges and obstacles to your project will help you (i) prepare to overcome objections and (ii) craft a far better solution, i.e., build a project plan that better addresses the challenges and leverages the drivers of success.

In other words, instead of presenting your proposal to a cold audience, i.e., when you have no idea how they will respond and what objections they might raise, use a more consultative approach by asking for their input.


Ideally, for all of the reasons stated above, you want to do your pre-selling prior to asking for a decision.

If you have no choice but to pitch it cold (one shot deal), then try to use the pre-selling technique within that meeting:

  1. Here is my idea. If we did this, and did it well, what could the biggest benefits be? What are the costs of not moving forward?
  2. What challenges and obstacles would we have to face in implementing this idea?
  3. What are the key drivers of success; how could we make this project successful?

This should lead to a much more educated discussion of possible solutions and give you crucial information that can help you guide the conversation to your preferred conclusion.

Many professionals worry that if they open the discussion to challenges and obstacles, they invite negativism and resistance into the discussion. The opposite is usually the case: if you don’t make a space to discuss and resolve the challenges, people might think you are hiding something, and they will hold onto their objections even more tightly. Discussing challenges openly begins the process of resolving them (problem solving) and getting closure on them (at an emotional level).

It is very important that you facilitate this discussion with an open mind. Be ready to learn and adjust your efforts. Maybe after discussion it turns out that your idea is not as good as you thought it was—not the best way forward. Or maybe it calls for a different kind of solution than you had first imagined.

In any case, having your team on board—and part of the solution—will make your ideas far more actionable and help you maintain much stronger working relationships with your colleagues.


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Copyright © 2014 Advanture Consulting, all rights reserved.


Joel Shapiro

Advanture Consulting
Building talent to achieve your vision!
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