Company Culture

How to get Buy-In from Internal Executives

Scott Leese

Everyone has ideas, including you. But how can you give your ideas the best chance of seeing the light of day—especially when you need buy-in from the C-suite and other senior management?

The good news is that if you’re in sales, you already should be familiar with a lot of the necessary skills. After all, pitching ideas and getting buy-in, is a form of sales and ultimately comes down to the principles of negotiation.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown to help you get an edge when seeking to transform your ideas into action, and get buy-in from executives. I call them the 4 P’s: Players, Package, Present, Persist.

Let’s start with the first P, Players.

Getting Buy-In: The Players

It’s important to understand who needs to hear about the idea and has the capacity to help make it happen. So the first step is to identify the relevant players. Need a new feature? You’ll want the product and engineering leadership in your corner. Think there’s a fresh market opportunity? Get the head of marketing involved. Need to spend money? (Hint: Of course you do.) You’d better be ready to articulate the monetary benefit and justify the costs to the CFO.

If you’re in sales, get your VP Sales (or equivalent) involved, but don’t expect them to do the work for you. First, turn them into a champion who can sponsor your idea with the executive team and make introductions. You’re not going to get your idea implemented by cornering the CEO in the elevator.

Next, you need to understand what these players care about. They’re all under extraordinary pressure to hit their targets, so they’ll have little patience for ideas that distract from their goals. Spend time digging deeper into what their current departmental goals and timelines are so you can speak to how your idea increases their chances of success. Sales 101.

Once you figure out who the players are, it’s time to move onto your second P, Package.

Crafting the Package for Internal Buy In

Everyone is busy, so when you ask for time to present an idea, you’re already starting your pitch. Whether you’re sending an email or discussing in person, it’s crucial to identify:

  1. A simple expression of your idea.
  2. What problem it solves.
  3. Why it’s important.
  4. Why it’s important to do now.
  5. Data that backs up your claims.
  6. How your idea solves the problem.

Distill each into a sentence or two that makes the point succinctly. If you confuse the players with the packaging, your idea will die on the vine before you even have a chance to execute it.

The point on data is critical and often overlooked. Maybe your idea originated with data, but if not and it’s based on a hunch or intuition, find real data to back it up or expect to be told to not come back until you do. You might find help obtaining data from your sales ops, engineering, or data science teams. Salespeople live in a world where for far too long, gut instinct has been the only measuring stick of whether or not something makes sense. You have to understand that executives in other departments do not think or make decisions the same way you do.

Package your pitch across a few different mediums tailored for different audiences. These might include a written document, slide deck, design mockups, and spreadsheets. This not only helps you present your idea in familiar formats to executives, it also helps you distill your idea and think about it from multiple angles.

This brings us to the third P, Present.

Tips to Present

You’re likely to present your idea in a meeting—perhaps multiple meetings, each time to a different audience of executives. It’s also highly likely that this will be the first time the attendees are hearing about your idea, so you must present as if they’ve never heard it before.

Don’t linger too long on details that apply only to one department—especially if that department is not in attendance. The details that matter will be addressed by questions, so be sure to anticipate questions and get ahead of objections with considered responses before the meeting begins. Being caught flat-footed won’t do you and your idea any favors.

Finally, you’ll need to Persist.

Keep it going and Persist

Here’s the rub: your idea may not get a hearing immediately. Some of the most popular excuses are “we don’t have time for that now”, “it’s too expensive”, and “this doesn’t fit into our team’s goals for the month/quarter/year.”

But you’re in sales and objections are life. You’re used to excuses, and these excuses are information that can tell you where you need to adjust your pitch. No time for your idea? You haven’t communicated the urgency of why your idea needs to be done now. Too expensive? You haven’t broken down the cost/benefit analysis sufficiently to justify the investment. Doesn’t fit into the goals? You haven’t adapted your idea or pitch to how it solves their problem.

Spend the time to gather more data and refine the idea. Pitch it to your peers and get their feedback. Build a grassroots coalition to socialize the idea within the organization so that when you do get a hearing, people will already be familiar with what you’re trying to achieve.

Lastly, be open to asking probing questions, seek new evidence, and be ready to abandon your idea if you become convinced that it isn’t the right one or that now isn’t the time to do it. You’ll learn from the process and will be better equipped when the next great idea strikes you. It always does.


Scott Leese