Editor’s note: Entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His posts appear on Wednesday.

RALEIGH – Many entrepreneurs are creative thinkers who can quickly innovate and come up with new concepts. The tricky part is moving from concept to product, then connecting that product with your target market. How do you sell a concept to someone who has a completely different perspective or experience? How do you recruit the best talent to join you on your journey when there’s no track record of success? 

Many think you need to have the stereotypical sales personality – charming and outgoing – to successfully sell. But you don’t have to become someone you’re not in order to persuade others that you’ve got a good idea. In fact, being authentic and showing others your vision are key to successfully selling your ideas.

  • Selling ideas is a learnable skill.

To begin, you need to understand how selling an idea differs from selling a tangible product. You cannot touch, see or feel an idea. The thing you are selling is abstract, new and conceptual. It has not yet been realized, so it’s harder for your audience to grasp. 

Take for example our experience starting The Diversity Movement. How do you sell the idea of investing in diversity, equity and inclusion to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept? The answer: Help them understand the value to their business and how an investment today will help them compete in the future.

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We talk about how 67% of those looking for jobs consider diversity to be an important factor in their decisions and how diverse companies have 19% higher revenue because they’re more innovative. 

By showing someone the why behind your idea, you help them understand your mindset, which helps them better understand your vision and ideas. This is true no matter if you’re pitching a product, a business idea for customer service or even something seemingly simple like a job you want, a promotion at work or a big purchase. People sell their ideas every day. 

The key to successful selling is to learn what motivates your target audience and connect with their desires and goals to show that your idea benefits them.

  • Know Your Audience

The single most critical piece of selling anything is to understand your target audience. Who are you selling to, and what do you know about their personal goals, motivations, personalities and perspectives? Do research to learn about your audience and what makes your idea a valuable investment for them, whether you’re asking for a raise, a promotion or a capital investment. Are they motivated by opportunity, achievement or risk? The answer will help you to craft a communication that incentivizes participation and feeds a sense of shared

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For example, as an angel investor, if you come to me with an idea that’s already valued at $30 million to $50 million, then you’re too big for me. My upside is limited since I’m not going to invest $1 million, when I’m looking to invest $50,000 to $100,000. That means you didn’t do your homework to understand what kind of investor I am, my motivations and phase where I can play a role.

  • Build Mutual Benefit

Successful selling hinges on mutual benefit. Connect the thing you want from your audience with what you know they want from the world. This does not mean that you should be disingenuous or people-pleasing to get what you want. 

Instead, it means that you should try to understand and empathize with other people’s points of view. If you want someone to give you money, advice or referrals, you have to show them how that investment will get them something they want. 

Take for example building a team in a start-up. How do you get people to join you when you have no proven track record? At The Diversity Movement, it’s not just a job. We’re changing how people do business by helping them incorporate DEI into their organizations in a way that drives results. Most people want to make the world a bit better through their work and understanding that motivation has helped me recruit top industry talent to join us. Do you get excited about changing the world? We are looking for people who want to build the future. 

You’ll have more success if you align your goals with those of your buyers, prospective employees or investors.

  • Understand Marketability

It’s easy to believe that all of our ideas have intrinsic value just because we thought of them, but the hard truth is that most ideas aren’t ever worth selling. If your concept won’t survive in the market, don’t waste your time fleshing it out. 

The true value of any concept is its potential for marketability. In other words, will people buy it? As you transition from ideation to action, you’ll start to understand whether your idea has independent strength. 

And that means testing and having options. Everything we do in marketing is about A/B testing. Everything we do innately is about collaboration and experimenting to come up with multiple options and scenarios. For the uninitiated coming up with ideas in the shower, they think they’re going to create the next Google. They come into the meeting with conviction and no evidence or feedback. But you can easily fix that.

  • Gather Feedback 

One way to gather evidence is to talk to others. Pitch your idea to 10 people and ask for honest feedback. Remember that your friends and family can’t possibly give you an accurate reading of your idea’s strength and commercial viability. They like you, so they’ll probably like your idea. Instead, seek advice from industry experts and other professionals.

Tell 100 people about your idea, and you’ll start to build an even stronger concept of what your idea needs to survive in the market. Listen, learn and don’t be afraid to make necessary changes.

If you want to know what people actually think of your idea, ask them to invest in it. Usually, that means financial investment, but even someone who can’t give you money can donate their time or help connect you with other people through network introductions and referrals. 

You may be a good ideator, but you will need collaborators to move from concept to execution, so build a network of colleagues and mentors who are willing to put their skills to work.

  • Be Ready to Pivot

Most good ideas will pivot two to three times before they reach commercial value. That’s normal, and it’s ok! Don’t let your ego get in the way. The truth is that there is no right or wrong; there are only ideas that need to be tested. 

In our latest white paper, we talk about how one of the pillars of leading for the next generation is to think like a start-up. That means being flexible and thinking about your business from many different angles and perspectives. Continuously looking for that new way of doing things and focusing on growth allows you to be nimble and respond to changes in the market. It helps you hone your idea into something that’s desirable and easy for others to understand.

If you’ve done your research and shown the mutual benefit, at this point you’ll find that most investors are willing to jump on board. Many entrepreneurs and creative people are full of conviction and good ideas but don’t do the research to understand why their idea will or won’t work. 

When you walk in the room with conviction and evidence, your ideas will almost sell themselves. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is CEO of Walk West, founder of The Diversity Movement, a business mentor, author and angel investor. His skill in selling his own and other people’s ideas has made him a frequent consultant and public speaker on marketing strategy and personal and professional growth. He has previously addressed this topic on The Donald Thompson Podcast. If you’d like to share your personal experience with selling a concept, reach out to Donald on Linkedin or through donaldthompson.com

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