How to Crush 2020: Selling Your Ideas
Today is part five of our 5-part series, How to Crush 2020.
Did you get the results you wanted in 2019? If you did, how do you get more? If you didn’t, what happened? How do you make it better?
On this series, we’re sharing things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.
Part five, Selling Your Ideas.
Hustle Unlimited features Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and hustler himself, Donald Thompson.
Donald will be speaking at the Plazabridge Product Innovation Summit on February 26th, 2020, on the topic of Selling Your Ideas. For more information on the summit, visit https://www.plazabridgegroup.com/2020-product-innovation-summit/.
Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.
Donald Thompson: So the backdrop for today is we’re going into a new year and after Christmas, there’s actually a lot of down time, and it’s a time for reflection.
It’s a time where people are thinking about the new year. They’re thinking about what happened this past year. Did they get the results that they wanted? And if they did, how did they get more? And if they didn’t like, well, what happened. How can I make it better? And what we want to do is share some of the things I’ve seen over now 25 plus years in business, working with hundreds, if not thousands of different companies and people, things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.
I mean, total fucking train wrecks, right? And how to keep people out of the train wrecks and a little bit closer to their own personal success.
We also do need to make a disclaimer like everything that I say are the thoughts of Donald A. Thompson Jr. They are not the thoughts of Walk West.
They’re not the thoughts of any of the other companies I’m affiliated with. These are exclusively my thoughts. Occasionally I may drop a few words that we’ll decide to bleep out or not, but I won’t do it cause I like to cuss but sometimes for emphasis, right.
With that , I think we can just jump in and get started.
Meghan Hockaday: Hey everyone, and welcome to the hustle unlimited podcast. I’m Meghan Hockaday, a content strategist at Walk West, and I’ll be your host today. My guest is your usual host, CEO of Walk West Donald Thompson. So today’s episode is part of our series of how to crush 2020. The topic today is selling your ideas and I’m excited about this topic cause Donald, you’ve had a lot of success in business and you’re also someone who has big ideas and turns them into actionable strategy.
So Don, welcome.
Donald Thompson: Thank you Meghan. and it’s always enjoyable for us to hang out and chat some. And so I look forward to this discussion.
Meghan Hockaday: Yeah. So Don, you are giving a keynote presentation in February about selling your ideas. Can you tell us a little bit about that conference and what you’ll be speaking on?
Donald Thompson: Yeah, there’s an organization, the consultancy that I do some partnering with Plaza Bridge Associates and they’re putting on a product innovation conference in February, and I was asked to be one of their keynote speakers and talk about selling your ideas. And so I’m super excited, number one, about being invited, that they thought enough of me to ask me to participate, but also because it is something that I’ve been doing throughout my entire career.
And selling ideas is, something of a skill, but it’s not something that anybody can’t learn, right. But it is very different than selling a tangible product or a car or a house. If you’re selling a house, somebody can go and see it, touch it, feel it. They can walk through it. They can see how their furniture would look in the house.
There’s abstract to it because it’s not yet theirs, but there’s not abstract because they’ve seen other houses before. They have a lot of experience with that physical what a house should feel like, and then there’s small differences between the house that they want, that they’re walking through, that they may build. An idea is something that is new and hasn’t fully been birthed yet.
And so how do you sell that construct to somebody that you have to get them in the same mindset in the same moment and the same mind space as you in order for them to buy into that vision. And so a couple of things are important when you’re selling ideas. Number one, you have to know your audience.
Are you selling an idea as a startup and you’re looking for investment? Are you selling an idea internally to your company to get funded for a new initiative for example. Are you selling an idea about why you’d be an amazing addition to someone’s team and you’re selling an idea of how you would fit into their organization?
A lot of times when we’re describing something, and I’ll use myself as an example, we think about ourselves from our own point of view. And the critical element of selling an idea is how do you link where you want to go with that idea, that information with the goals, the motivation, the personality, and the perspective of your audience.
And that’s really, really critical. And so if you’re talking to me in my role as a CEO and you’re pitching me a product, or you’re pitching me on investment, for example as an entrepreneur, what kind of investor am I? Have you done your homework? So one of the things, if you come to me, as Donald A Thompson, the angel investor, and your business has a $10- $15 million valuation, I’m probably not the right person to be selling your idea to. You’re too far along. There’s not as much upside. I’m not going to put $1 million into it. I’m a baby angel, I’ll write a $25,000 check, a $50,000 check on a good day, $100,000 check, but not $1 million check.
So that means if I’m going to put $25,000 into a company that already has a $10 million valuation, then my upside is super limited. So therefore talking to me about that construct doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You’ve wasted your time and mine a little bit because you didn’t do your homework initially about what kind of investor am I.
If you have an idea of a new business that is just starting, you’ve got customer number five, you’ve got $1 million valuation, a $2 million valuation, and you’re an entrepreneur and you are on your second company. And now you’re starting to describe that you need money and insight. So you want money and you want somebody to give you guidance.
Now all of a sudden you’re talking my language as an entrepreneur because I want to put money with entrepreneurs that want money and guidance. And so the construct is number one, know your audience. And number two, you gotta be able to link your audience’s goals and needs to what you’re trying to sell them when you’re pitching an idea.
Meghan Hockaday: How do you know you have an idea that’s worth selling?
Donald Thompson: So a lot of times you don’t know you have an idea worth selling without doing your research and your homework. So one of the cool things that I get a chance – I hear a lot of pitches, I hear a lot of people looking for jobs, I get to hear and see a lot of things.
And in my current role as CEO of Walk West, I get to participate in a lot of different businesses that we’re working on with clients. So one of the things that is really, really interesting is I know that I don’t know if my idea isn’t good without testing it. Everything we do in marketing today is about AB testing, is about how do we create a brand concept, but how do we create five of them?
How do we discuss them, collaborate with the client, collaborate internally? How do we mock up or do wire frames for a website? Everything we do innately is about creating multiple options and scenarios. The uninitiated think because in the shower, while they were humming along to Taylor Swift, their idea is now going to be the next Google.
And so they come into the meeting with conviction and no evidence, conviction, no feedback. And so a simple way to test whether you’ve got an idea that may be worth pursuing is talk to 10 people in the space you’re going after. You’re going to get a lot of different feedback from 10 different types of people. Now, if you all talk to 10 very, very close friends, you can get a false positive cause friends are terrible to sanity test ideas.
They will lie to you in your face and tell you that what you’re doing is amazing. They’ve never seen anything like it. They wish you the best of luck. They’re praying for you. All of these false things like prayer is good, but your idea can still be a prayerfully dumb idea. Like there’s nothing wrong with prayer, but your idea could still not make money. So what you want is to talk to 10 people that are going to give you real feedback as to whether or not your idea has legs. And here’s how you know: when you talk to 10 people about an idea, ask them would they be willing to give you a check. They’d be like, Whoa. Uh. Yeah, how do you know if somebody thinks your idea, are they willing to help you with it? Are they willing to help you fund it? Are they willing to help be recommended to other people to talk more about the idea? So even if they don’t have money to invest, even if they don’t have time to help, everybody knows people that could help you with your idea. If your friend gives you none of those three points of feedback, money support in terms of their effort, referrals, it doesn’t matter what they say. They don’t think your idea’s good. And so a part of that is really asking people that are going to give you that good clear feedback. That is how you kind of test if you think your idea is kind of worth pursuing. How do you know what to build? How do you know how to build a business plan against an idea?
You need to talk to 50 to a hundred people about your concept and do the serious work of research. You cannot talk to a hundred people about your idea without becoming smarter, more insightful, having a better understanding of what the market would actually bear for what you’re trying to do. And that is whether you are a startup. That is whether you’re going to pitch a new idea for a new initiative at work. That is whether or not you’re looking at a resume for a new job. That is whether you’re going to go for a promotion at work. Whatever idea or concept or transition you’re trying to sell, get some outside people to truly sanity check it and you’re going to be much better off and stronger when you present it to the people that matter.
Meghan Hockaday: Yeah. A lot of what you’re talking about is becoming an advocate and a salesperson for your own concepts and ideas. Do you think it takes a certain personality type to be a good salesperson?
Donald Thompson: There’s two questions in that. One, is there a certain personality type to be a good salesperson?
And then two, do you have to be a salesperson to sell your idea? So one, certainly people that have more outgoing personality, are not as emotionally attached to whether they get a yes or no and can really persevere while that idea is really being sanity checked, that emotional strength to continue in spite of some negative feedback really helps in a sales professional or leadership professional. But in terms of selling your ideas, we all have to do that. We all do that. If you’re married, if you have kids, people are selling ideas all the time. Think about a kid that wants something for Christmas. They’re selling an idea.
If you think about it, how many kids are making a verbal contract with their parents about how amazing their behavior will be in the new year if they get the new game console. Right from, I don’t know, Sega, is that still a thing? I’m dating myself. I get Nintendo, I don’t know, whatever the cool game things are, right?
Like fortnight upgrades or whatever. Right? But kids are making verbal contracts for their behavior. They’re going to be better in school in 2020 if they get something from mommy and daddy. That’s selling an idea. It’s innate in all of us. We just attribute it to a business concept and think it’s different, but it’s really not. It’s how do you create mutual benefit for somebody to listen to a concept that’s not yet birthed? How do you get somebody to see the mutual benefit? That’s no different than Girl Scouts selling cookies. Girl Scouts aren’t selling cookies, they’re selling an idea. They come to the door, they don’t say, Mr. Thompson, do you want some cookies? They say, listen, if you were to be gracious enough to buy these cookies, we’d be able to go on field trips and you know that you want young ladies to be and have better opportunities as leaders and for us to do our public service. And we go on this annual trip and you know what?
If we sell enough cookies, not only are we going to get prizes that are going to make us feel good about us, we get to go this annual trip and it takes more pressure off our mom and dad cause we want to feel like we earn this trip. And so we’d really like your support if you’d like take a case of these cookies.
I remember I was in the mall one time and I got sales pitched by a young lady similar like this, and I literally bought like five cases, of these damn cookies, and I didn’t want, I gave them all away and who could eat that many cookies? But I was like, I have been hustled. Like this is amazing, right? She was selling me the idea of women’s empowerment. And I was like, how many cookies do you have? It wasn’t like, do I want one box, two boxes? Like how many cookies do you have? Because I’m all about empowering young ladies to pursue their goals and dreams. But what was she doing? She sold me an idea, right? Not Samoas. The kids that sold me Samoas I bought one box of cookies. Somebody sold me an idea I bought a case – cases.
Meghan Hockaday: That’s amazing. What advice do you have for people who, they’re good at developing the big ideas, they’ve gotten investors, they have people on board ready to move the needle on their business.
How do they transition from ideation to action?
Donald Thompson: So the transition from ideation to action, which is a great question because a lot of times people think that having a big idea is enough and it just really isn’t. And even working towards the big idea isn’t enough. you know, I was talking with somebody about a project and they were like, well, nobody’s working harder than me. And I said, who gives a shit? And I didn’t say, who gives a shit? HR like, but I said like, who cares? Is the idea and the work that you’re doing going to create a marketable product that brings revenue to the company or not?
Effort based rewards is a death kill to the ideator because if you believe that because you try hard or your idea sounds good, you’ve already got a prescription for failing. Your idea is valuable to the degree that it can be commercialized. Will somebody pay money for it?
And so that’s where most people get hung up is two fold. Number one, they fall in love with the idea itself. Number two, they fall in love with the idea in its current state when most good ideas are going to pivot two to three times before they reach any kind of commercial value. So you have to go into the ideation process understanding that current state and future state may be slightly or radically different. And really it’s just a journey to get there. And then who are the people that can help you get there smartly, so that that idea can actually create some commercial value. And it’s all our attitude. And the other thing is like you could be a good idea starter, and that’s why we all need a team.
We can’t do things individually. You need people that can help you move things through from idea to execution. And that’s usually a different thought process. It’s a different type of person that working together make something that’s pretty powerful. But we’re in this society today that everybody gets a ribbon.
And how hard I try and my ideas are important because I say them . Because mommy and daddy told me my ideas were good. My professor told me my ideas were good. The only ideas that matter in the marketplace are things that people are willing to pay for. And that sounds harsh, but it’s true.
Like, think about this idea. If somebody comes in and says, I need to be promoted because I’ve known the company for three years. So? That’s not a reason you should be promoted. I need to be promoted because I want to buy a new house and my wife’s pregnant. Again, so? That’s not a reason why the company should pay you more money.
I have created an idea and concept. My value to the company is I can work with five to seven clients at a time. My ability to context switch is very powerful. When I work on client business, our clients are 40% more likely to be retained because I’m on that piece of business. Well, that’s valuable to me as an entrepreneur, so wait a minute, by you being in my company, the retention of my clients is higher.
It makes a lot of sense. But one of the things when people are selling their ideas is, again, back to the motivation of the person that they’re selling. So a couple of things are really important.
Idea to execution to buy in is when you’re selling an idea to someone, are they motivated by opportunity or are they motivated by risk? It’s whether you’re selling yourself on an interview, sell an idea, and a company selling to an investor. Some investors have money to invest, but they’re risk averse. So you need to talk to them about, I’ve talked to a hundred people, I’ve researched this.
I’ve got three other investors that have already given us money. You’re going to be the fourth investor at the 50 to a hundred thousand dollar level, not the first. You can talk to three or four of other investors to make you feel comfortable. That person’s risk averse. Or you can be talking to me and say, Hey, listen, Don, you’re going to be one of our first two key investors. You’re going to be on the ground floor. We’re going to give you the ability to help shape what we do. A board seat comes with this investor because you’re going to be co risking with us. I’m not really afraid of risk. I’m just afraid of not having some level of control.
But you gotta know the difference between who you’re talking to so that you’re either selling opportunity for a brighter future or you’re selling risk against current competition, current pain, or making a mistake. If I’m going after a new job and the person says, Hey, listen, what happened to the person that worked in this role before me?
That’s a question that I would ask if I was going for a new job. They tell me that job changed. Well, what about the job changed, what requirements? We really need somebody that’s a driver that’s going to help us open new markets that it’s going to help us do what? That employer just told me they’re opportunity motivated.
They don’t want the status quo. So now in selling the idea of my candidacy, I talk about things in my past where I’ve created, sold, driven something new. Most people just start talking. And they don’t ask enough powerful questions to actually know what and who to sell to get what they want.
Meghan Hockaday: What do you recommend if you’re in a room with all your coworkers, you have a brainstorm, you need to pitch some new ideas. You have competing ideas. How do you know someone else’s idea is better?
Donald Thompson: So when you have competing ideas in a brainstorming, in a corporate setting, you still don’t really know whose idea is better. What you want to do is have a framework to test and hypothesize multiple scenarios, and so a lot of times what you should do, instead of getting into a debate of whose idea is better and whiteboards are amazing, you put the different ideas on the whiteboard.
I like when everybody’s on the same page. So we just run through the paces with scenario A, B, and C, and look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats for each one of them independently. And then all of a sudden it becomes more obvious which of the ideas have independent strength because you’ve used all of the mental brain power in the room to focus on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats of each idea, not trying to debate them independently.
And a lot of times you can get the wrong outcome because somebody that’s a proponent of a bad idea is the most eloquent, most persuasive. And that’s not the way that you want to make decisions because the idea needs to stand on its own. So you put each idea on trial independently and then you bring them together to kind of compete for which ones should be on top.
Meghan Hockaday: That’s awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Don. That was Donald Thompson, CEO of Walk West and the usual host of Hustle Unlimited. Thanks for listening, and we hope this helps you reach for those dreams you’ve had and crushed 2020. As Don mentioned, he’ll be speaking at Plaza Bridge on Wednesday, February 26th. His keynote speech will be on selling your ideas.
Look on his social for more information. If you like this show, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Leave us a rating and review as well, or connect with Don on LinkedIn and any other social media platform. This episode of Hustle Unlimited was edited and produced by Earfluence.
For more podcasts they’re producing head on over to Earfluence.com. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Hustle Unlimited.