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Selling to your Boss

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

Show your boss the evidence and make it real

I realised that I first learned how to sell a few years after I first did it. I was a young British Army Officer and one of my jobs in the Mess was to have all of our dining room chairs restored. The chairs were getting battered by many functions and daily use by thirty blokes and their occasional guests. I took one chair as a sample to a local furniture restorer to be restored and took it back into the Mess to gain the approval of the senior officers before having all of them restored.

But I didn’t just show them the restored chair. Firstly, I showed them a chair which had not been restored and which was probably the worst one of our set. The unrestored chair was rickety and had had much of the varnish chipped off. I showed the group of senior officers how bad things were but how good that they could be by investing in having the chairs restored. Having the chairs restored was a whole lot cheaper than buying a complete new set. Approval was gained.

One of the biggest challenges that some employees or even business directors face is having to convince their boss or fellow directors that they need to invest money into their project. Most people fear the rejection or fail to persuade their boss or bosses on why the investment is an investment and not a gamble.

I met someone recently who is facing this challenge. Their business is a web based news site which focuses on a science and technology. It has grown its unique visitors to the site from 6,500 per month to nearly 15,000 in the last year. It has benefited in the economic downturn, it would seem, as people seek more knowledge and information.

On the outside, it appears that this is a good news story. But, the underlying trends on the site show that people are spending less time on the site. The site is very much a ‘broadcast’ site meaning that it does not have capabilities for viewers to interact with the site by way of leaving comments, sharing articles with friends or colleagues, or even posting other content onto the site such as photographs.

Its competitors are large. One of their competitors has fifty times the number of unique visitors per month to their site. The competitors’ site is more advanced by way of tools which allow visitors to subscribe to the web site through RSS feeds, to read blogs, or to download and listen to podcasts, for example. Not only are their competitors larger, they are competing more effectively for the visitors by providing reasons for them to keep them coming back.

Herein lies the problem with the smaller news site. They have an infrastructure to their site which is bespoke and they are finding it nearly impossible to change. Furthermore, the owners of the web site do not see the problem. They see rising visitor numbers and they have achieved their original aim of setting up a successful web site providing the specialist news. “Why should we change the infrastructure?”

The infrastructure they have is bespoke and there very few people who can develop their system to customise it and add new features. They are stuck with a single supplier who charges them a lot of money to maintain but not develop and expand the capabilities of the site.

The owners are not seeing that their web site will become soon see the number of visitors declining because they receive better services and news elsewhere. The people in charge of marketing and running the site don’t have the support of the owners to make changes because the owners don’t think there is a problem. So, the status quo prevails and when the number of visitors and subscribers decline, they won’t be able to react. This is a classic case of people not worrying about what a rising tide covers up until the tide turns.

How do you deal with this inertia? How do you show that something is wrong when all seems to be rosy when your boss doesn’t believe it? Think back to the chairs earlier. Everyone in the mess was uses to the chairs being a bit battered or wobbly. Nobody was really complaining about them. But, by showing them how good they could be and how much more presentable and professional our Mess would appear, the senior officers approved the investment. They did not care how the chairs were restored as long as they were done professionally.

This is similar to the situation with the contact I met who was struggling with their bosses to see that their web site was not competitive. You have to show them evidence and keep showing them and not just accept the status quo and the inevitable pain they would go through again if they did not change their infrastructure. You need to show them what their competitors are doing. You need to show them what real people want and then how that will help their business survive. It’s tough but evidence and outcomes are very persuasive. You need to be bold, strong and persistent.

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