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The Art of Internal Selling

If you work for a corporation, you have picked a career in sales. You may not work in the sales department. You may not call on customers. You may prefer working alone at your desk to schmoozing with clients. But you’ve picked a career in sales nonetheless. Congratulations!

While you may not be responsible for selling products or services to customers, you are responsible for selling your ideas to your company. Good ideas create efficiency, innovation and, ultimately, competitive advantage. Your company cuts you a paycheck every month assuming that you have at least a few good ideas floating around in your brain.

The problem is that ideas go nowhere unless they are accompanied by the right sales story. Have you ever encountered a brilliant co-worker who is full of great ideas that never seem to go anywhere? Conversely, have you ever encountered someone with average ideas that are consistently implemented? I’ve met both types many times, and it has proved to me this: at work, it’s not about which ideas are best, but which ideas have the best sales pitch.

I didn’t realize this when I first entered Corporate America. I naively assumed that if I came up with a good idea, that my corporation would applaud me as I “dropped the microphone” and “walked off stage.” I quickly realized, however, that developing an idea was just the beginning and that the real work begins from there. If I wanted a corporation to pull my ideas of the shelf, I needed to make sure they were wrapped in an attractive package. I needed to sell.

And so do you. Here’s how to better sell your ideas to your organization:

Start with Small Audiences: Ideas are fragile—especially new ideas. You need to start testing your ideas by talking to people who will listen and give you honest feedback in a supportive way. These people can help you tweak your ideas in the early stages so they are more polished when you present them to key decision makers.

Find Champions: As you share ideas with co-workers, some will naturally gravitate to your ideas more than others. Those that grab on to your ideas in the early stages become your champions. They can be extremely valuable to you, especially if they are influential in your organization. Once they are sold on your idea, you start asking them to be an evangelist for you to other people.

Be Flexible but Persistent: Recognize that a corporation isn’t a used car lot. You don’t need to close the sale on your first try. Sometimes people just aren’t ready for the message you have, so give it time. People will come around eventually if you keep at it and if your idea is good.

Speak in Their Terms: Always help the people you are selling to understand what’s in it for them. Highlighting the benefit to the company is important, but highlighting the benefit to the individual you are selling to is better.

Make It Easy for Them to Say “Yes”: A few years ago I wanted to switch jobs at my company. This job would have a new manager and was in a new department. The problem was that the job didn’t technically exist. So I got to work on a sales pitch to my potential boss. In our first meeting, I told him my rationale for wanting the job and why I thought I could add value in the position. He liked the idea, but was hesitant because there was no job description. I told him that I would be happy to write a job description and work with HR to make it official. He smiled. How could he say no to that? I wound up getting the job.


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