Trying to gain buy-in for a solution or recommendation can be maddening. Despite all of your effort, your thorough analysis and rich data set, sometimes you just can’t get people to sign up.
Despite the increased calls for data-driven decision-making, data alone won’t sell your argument. In fact, data play a much smaller role in people’s decision-making than they think.
People don’t buy data, they buy logic. The first step in selling a solution is establishing a logical argument for that solution. If people buy-into the logic, they’ll often buy-in to the conclusion. If they don’t buy-into the logic all of the data in the world won’t make a difference.
Poorly defined problem statements are one of the main issues undermining logical arguments. If your audience doesn’t understand or believe the problem, they will rarely accept your solution.
To create a logical chain from an issue to a recommendation/solution, you must establish three things:
1) There is a problem to be solved
2) The problem is worth solving
3) You understand what is causing the problem
There is a problem to be solved – Nobody buys a solution without first believing that there is a problem. However, in many presentations the initial problem statement is often overly simplified and doesn’t capture the audience. For example, a presentation might start with the statement, “We are seeing a significant increase in attrition.” While that summarizes the problem, it doesn’t help the listener understand the full story. When did the attrition problem come about? Have we preciously had attrition problems or is this something new? Is the attribution problem happening across the entire organization or focused in certain areas? These types of questions help you create a more holistic picture of the problem. It helps your audience become more engaged an immersed in the problem. Engagement and immersion drive buy-in.
The problem is worth solving – Not every problem is worth solving. Prior to establishing a solution, it’s important to help people understand why they should care about the problem. Attrition may be high but if it’s not affecting customer service, productivity, quality, sales, or costs, why solve it? Most people aren’t going to get excited about fixing an attrition problem. They will be interested in reducing the impact that attrition has on the business.
You understand what is causing the problem – Too often the cause of the problem is skipped over. It gets stated AFTER the solution is presented as evidence for why the solution makes sense. However, this creates a logic leap for your audience. For example, suppose that you’ve established that attribution is a problem and its worth solving. You then say, “We need to change our reward and benefits programs.” You just made a huge leap. How did you get from attrition to rewards and benefits? There are a lot of things that might drive attrition.
If you are telling a compelling story, you audience will be starting to anticipate what comes next. Once you’ve identified the attrition problem, they will begin to think of potential causes. If your audience is thinking that t the problem is compensation (or if there are several options on their minds) and you suggest a rewards and benefits solution, you’ve lost them. It’s hard to change someone’s mind once they’ve come to a conclusion.
Help them along by providing the cause BEFORE stating the solution. That way you re-calibrate their thinking and assumptions prior to determining whether your solution is right or wrong. If you do this right the audience should arrive at the solution before you even say it. When that happens, you’ve won. The chances of them buying into your solution are very high. If the solution comes as a surprise, then you’ve not set the context properly.
Setting context and clearly defining the problem are essential to selling a solution. They are also the part of most presentations that get glossed over or short changed. While it is important to be concise and to the point, don’t skimp on the context setting. It’s not only where you start to build buy-in, it actually is a major driver of whether you will get it.
Consider a print ad in a magazine or newspaper. How much space is devoted to context-setting (e.g., the picture) and how much is devoted to the actual solution (describing the product, service, or company)? Context creates a story. People’s decision to buy into your solution is dependent on how well they see themselves in that story.
Once you’ve established the problem and recommended a solution you still have work to do but that is the subject for a future post.
Before you try to sell your solution, make sure that people are bought in to your problem. If you do, you will have much greater success in gaining buy-in.