Annual Meeting Recap: 7 Tips for Selling Your Best Ideas to the C-Suite

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By Seiche Sanders

“Don’t change! Nobody likes change.” That’s what a former editor told Liz Novak as she handed over the reins to her publication, now Performance Plastics magazine. Novak says that message was a definite sign that something needed to be changed.

Novak, editor-in-chief and senior director of marketing and advocacy at the International Association of Plastics Distribution, and Kim Howard, president of Write Communications LLC, talked about the importance of change and how to get buy-in during their presentation “Selling Ideas to the C-Suite” at the AM&P Annual Meeting in June.

Change usually begins by getting the right buy-in from your CEO or senior leadership team. Novak and Howard provided several tips on presenting ideas that will win that rubber stamp of approval.

  • Think like a CEO. Think about what they’re going to care about. Will it make money? Will it save money? Will it save time? What are the resources required and the timelines involved? And how will it benefit the member? Are there direct or indirect effects on revenue? Tell the story, and provide the justification for making a change.

  • Remember your association’s mission. CEOs want your ideas to tie into the organization’s mission. Explain how your idea embodies, supports, and drives the mission forward.

  • Ask, “Who else needs to know?” Think about all potential stakeholders, internal and external. “A lot of times, we’re the delivery mechanism for other departments’ information and the publication is that delivery source,” Howard says. “We have to make sure that we include them on a brand-new idea.” This advice also extends to committee chairs and others you trust to give honest feedback.

  • Socialize your idea—but make sure it’s with the right people.

    • Find people who will give you an honest opinion — who will poke holes in your idea, inevitably making it stronger.

    • Look for the “anti-you” and a different perspective from someone who will point out the flaws.

    • Stay away from “yes” people.

    • Don’t settle for “That’s great, you should do it.”

    • Find the weaknesses in the idea and fix them before you make your pitch.

  • Know your audience. If you have insights into your CEO’s communication style, you’ll be much more likely to present your idea in a way that resonates. Howard and Novak say assessment tools that categorize communication styles can come in handy with teams by helping to appeal to individual communication styles. “You need to know how the person consuming your information wants that information,” Novak says. “Having a little bit of understanding goes a long way.”

  • Start with a reader survey. “Take a pulse and they’ll tell you what they want,” Howard says. “They’re going to be honest with you.” Novak’s team surveyed readers who said that product news was high on the list of things they read. “We gave our sales team some ammunition,” she says. Having other teams on-board and making the case with you can be a big help.

  • Just do it. “It’s not always easy to make these changes, but sometimes you have to just do it,” Howard said.

Seiche Sanders is editor in chief and publisher of Quality Progress for ASQ. Association Media & Publishing thanks Seiche for her stellar job covering this session from the AM&P Annual Meeting for our members who were unable to attend.