Selling and Leading Innovation

As we will know from past experiences this sales process is not easy and can be prone to failure.  I would argue that more than half the initiatives that are declined, at the concept step, were under sold.  In other words, given the right approach the initiative would have gone ahead.

If you are not prepared to learn the skills to cover the common deficiencies in a selling change process, I would argue that you are resigning yourself to providing the same service level for years to come.  Selling change requires a special set of skills and we all can, and should, get better at it.

Three books have opened up the way for us to rethink change and to apply techniques that will get change over the line.

1. Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan’s “The Three Laws of Performance”

Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan have written a compelling book “The Three Laws of Performance” that explains why so many of these initiatives have failed.  The first law is “How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.” The writers point out that the organisation’s “default future” which, we as individuals just know in our bones, will happen – will be made to happen. Thus, in an organisation with a systemic problem, the organisation’s staff will be driven to make initiatives fail, so that the default future prevails.

They went on to say that is why the more you change the more you stay the same.  The key to change is to recreate, in the organisation’s staff minds, a new vision of the future, let’s call it an “invented future”.

Zaffron and Logan signal the importance of language (the second law), without language we would not have a past or a future.  It is the ability to use language that enables us to categorize thoughts as either the past or the future. Without language we would be like the cat on the mat, sunning itself for yet another afternoon, thinking about our next meal but without the ability to process complex thought.

The next point they raised was that in order to make change we need to use a future-based language (the third law).  It is interesting, if you listen to the outstanding orators of the past like Sir Winston Churchill, you will hear future based language at work.  These great speakers knew, intuitively, about the power of future-based language.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill

2. Harry Mills’ Self Persuasion

Harry Mills, a multiple business book author, has written extensively about persuasion.  In his recent work “The Aha! Advantage” he talks about the significance of self-persuasion.

“Self-persuasion is fundamentally more powerful than direct persuasion essentially because of the way it reduces resistance.”


Mills’ work is very consistent with Zaffron & Logan.  We need to get the staff in the organisation to have, for themselves that Aha moment, that “Hell no” we do not want the default future.  When the staff come to this point, change is inevitable.

This means we need to structure our workshops so there is more involvement, more chance for staff to have that Aha moment, and less dogmatic rhetoric about the facts.

3. John Kotter’s Eight Steps to Leading Change

In 1996, John Kotter published “Leading Change,” which quickly became the seminal work in the field of change management. He pointed out that effecting change — real, transformative change — is hard. Kotter proposed an eight-step process for creating major change, a clear map to follow when persuading an organisation to move. I will discuss each Kotter step while at the same time, embedding Zaffron & Logan and Harry Mill’s thinking. If you follow these steps you will increase the chances of change projects many fold.

Establish a sense of urgency— Here we need to appeal both to the intellectual and the emotional sides of the executive team.  There are two steps. First, ambushing the CEO with a compelling elevator pitch so you get to step two.  Second, delivering a masterful sales presentation, of around 15-20 minutes, aimed at obtaining permission to run a focus group to assess, validate and scope the proposed initiative.

Create a guiding coalition— In every organisation you have oracles; those individuals everyone refers you to when you need something answered (e.g., “You need to talk to Pat”).   These oracles exist right across the organisation and might hold, seemingly unimportant positions.  Do not be fooled.

An investment at this step is paramount.  In one case study, an organisation held three, two-week workshops which were designed to progress their planning tool implementation.  Yes, that is six weeks of workshops.  The CEO was present for part of each of the workshops and the wisdom from the oracles was channelled, by an expert facilitator, into a successful blueprint for the project.

No project will ever succeed without a guiding coalition of oracles behind it.  In “The Three Laws of Performance” Zaffron and Logan point out that when you present the “burning platform” you are aiming for an overwhelming “Hell no” response upon asking the question “Do you want this future?” The oracles want the alternative future which you have also articulated.

However, Mills has warned us to be patient, give time for the staff to discuss, think and mull over the content.  In most cases a two-day workshop will be more beneficial in giving staff time to let self-persuasion work.

Develop a vision and strategy— In order for the journey to be seen and resources made available, we must master future-based language that is compelling and motivational. As mentioned Zaffron and Logan have signified the importance of language (the second law) and that it is crucial that you talk using a future-based language (the third law).

Communicate the change vision — Kotter emphasized that it’s not likely that you will under-communicate a little bit; you will probably under-communicate a lot, by a factor of 10 to 100 times. This will undermine your initiative, no matter how well planned.  During a project, the project leader needs to obtain permission from the CEO to gate crash any gathering in the organisation and have a 10-minute slot to outline the project and progress to date. One sure fire way to failure is to believe that staff will read your project newsletters and emails.

Empower broad-based action— Early on the need for change and the right to change must be handed over to teams within the organisation. Zaffron and Logan concur with this view. Once the invented future is set in the minds of the organisation’s staff, the staff will march toward this future. All the great writers have emphasized that some chaos is good so let teams embrace the project in their own way.

Generate quick wins— Obvious to us all but frequently missed.  Always remember that senior management is, on occasion, inflicted by attention deficit disorder. Progress in a methodical and introverted way at your peril.  We need easy wins, celebrated extrovertly, and we need to ensure we set up the CEO to score the easy goals.

Consolidate gains and produce more change — This is the fly-wheel affect so well put by Jim Collins in his books “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”. When the staff are working in unison the fly wheel of change will turn quicker and quicker. This was very evident in the case study where they had six weeks of coalition building workshops.

Anchor new approaches in the culture— Make heroes of the change agents, make sure their values are embedded in the corporate values and now ensure we weed out those in management who have not embraced the change and who, over time, will be dowsing the fire at night when nobody is looking.

4. Selling A Blue Ocean Strategy Project to the Senior Management Team

The process of getting the senior management team (SMT) on board requires first, an understanding of the need to sell through the buyer’s emotional drivers, a well-prepared elevator pitch, and a masterful sales presentation.  The object of the sales pitch is to obtain permission to run a focus group to assess, validate, and scope the proposed initiative.

Learn to Sell by Using the Emotional Drivers of the Buyer

It is through your audience’s emotional drivers, and not through logic, that a story is sold. Failure to appreciate this has undermined many an accountant’s pitch to the board.

All major projects need a public relations machine behind them. No presentation, email, memo, or paper related to a major change should go out unless it has been vetted by your PR expert. Do not get offended when they rewrite most of your content. Just admire their genius and claim the credit when the PR process works – that’s what everybody else does.

Selling by emotional drivers: How a car sale is made

Three customers arrive on the same day to look at a car that has been featured in the local newspaper. The first person is a young IT professional, generation Y, and wearing latest designer clothing. The salesperson slowly walks up and assesses the emotional drivers of this potential buyer. Having ascertained that the young man is an IT guru, working for a major search engine organisation, the salesperson says, “I hope you have some track racing experience. You need to be a Lewis Hamilton to handle this beast. This car has 320 BHP, a twin turbo, and corners like it’s on railway tracks. Only a top driver can handle this beast. It’s a real driver’s car.” The young man responds that he was the under 15 state go-karting champion. SOLD.

The second person could be me, with my grey hair visible. The salesperson might say, “This car is five-star rated for safety, with eight air bags, enough power to get you out of trouble, unbelievable braking when you have to avoid the idiots on the road, and tires that will never fail you.” SOLD.

The third person is wearing stylish clothing and is impeccably well groomed. The opening sales line might be, “This car has won many awards for its design. Sit in the driver’s seat and see the quality of the finish. Everything is in the right place. You look a million dollars in that outfit you are wearing and every time you drive this car you will feel like a million dollars!” SOLD.

The Elevator Speech

Having now understood why prior initiatives have failed through poor selling let us now look at how we get the SMT motivated. The key is to have a 20 second elevator speech that is designed to capture their attention. It must be ready so that when we next bump into the decision makers we are practised and ready.

The 20 second elevator speech is designed to capture their attention. The term came about in management books describing how you need to be able to get a point across in an elevator ride, as sometimes this is the only chance you may have to have a one on one with the decision maker.  The aim is, as you walk away, that they ask you to come to their office in the next few days to discuss this further.

An elevator interaction might go like this.

In answer to the question “How are you?” you might say. “I am troubled”. “Why is that?” being the natural response from the CEO.  To which you reply, “I have been looking at future projections of our five major products and I have estimated that over the next 10 years we will be witnessing a decline of $__Million and $__Million in revenues if we do not find some more offerings.  I have been researching the blue ocean shift approach, which has been tried and tested elsewhere, that would generate these new offerings.  I just need 15 minutes of your time to explain the way forward.”

The key is to fine-tune the elevator speech so that it is compelling.  I recommend you practise your elevator speech at least 10 times so that it is focused and no longer than 20 seconds. As Kotter, says we need to create a sense of urgency and connect both intellectually and emotionally.

Deliver a Compelling Burning Platform Presentation

Assuming the elevator speech has given us an audience, we need to prepare and deliver a presentation that will get the senior management team to agree to holding a focus group workshop with the organisation’s “oracles”.

A sales pitch to the senior management team and the board should go as follows:

  • Make sure you have a good proposal and one with a sound focus on the emotional drivers that will matter to your audience.
  • Focus on selling to the thought leader on the senior management team and board before presenting your proposal. This may take weeks of informal meetings, sending copies of articles, telling better practice stories, and so on, to awaken interest. Remember that the thought leader may not be the CEO or board chairperson.
  • Make sure you prime the thought leader to speak first after your presentation has been delivered. This gives your proposal the best chance of a positive vote.
  • Go for an easy next step, the running of a one-day focus group with the organisation’s oracles. You state, “If I can convince the oracles that this project will work, and get their involvement in the project plan, I will be able to present to you a project that has a greater chance of success.”

It’s important to get this presentation right, because you will probably not get a second chance. Thus one needs to embrace the better practices around delivering “killer” presentations.  I have recently read “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience” by Carmine Gallo .  It is a compelling read.  I have incorporated his work along with the work of Nancy Duarte’s “Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations” and Garr Reynolds’ “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery” in creating a list of the top tips to deliver compelling presentations.  This checklist is included in the attached electronic media attached to this paper.


To find out how to surmount these barriers purchase David Parmenter’s working guide which is on sale at USD 29.90 and comes with 15 electronic templates.

A Look inside the Innovation working guide:

A perfect storm.. 2

Understanding Gemba Kaizen Innovation. 3

  • Housekeeping. 3
  • Waste elimination. 5
  • Visual management 7
  • Adopting winning methods 7

Blue Ocean Innovation. 8

The five-step Blue Ocean Shift Model 9

  • Step 1: Get started. 9
  • Step 2: Understand Where You Are Now.. 18
  • Step 3: Imagine where you could be. 22
  • Step 4: Find how you get there. 24
  • Step 5: Choose and make the blue ocean move. 28

Selling and Leading Change. 31

  • Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan. 31
  • Harry Mills’ Self Persuasion. 32
  • John Kotter’s Leading Change. 32
  • Selling A BOS Project to the Senior Management Team.. 33
  • Learn to Sell by Using the Emotional Drivers of the Buyer 34
  • The Elevator Speech. 34
  • Deliver a Compelling Burning Platform Presentation. 35

Wisdom from the great management thinkers. 37

  • Peter Drucker’s Lessons on Innovation. 38
  • Jim Collins’s Lessons for Innovation. 42
  • Jack Welch’s Lessons for Innovation. 42
  • Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman’s Lessons for Innovation. 43
  • Gary Hamel’s Lessons for Innovation.  . 43
  • Jeremy Hope’s Lessons for Innovation. 44
  • Tom Peters’ Lessons for Innovation. 44

E-Templates include

  • Post-it re-engineering
  • Understanding where you are now
  • Establishing a BOS Project Team Checklist 48
  • Establishing BOS Team Questionnaire. 50
  • BOS Team Applicant Questionnaire
  • BOS Team 360-Degree Questionnaire. 53
  • “Just Do It” Culture and Process Checklist 55
  • Job Description for the BOS Team Leader 56
  • Workshop Preparation Checklist 58
  • Guidelines to Running Workshops. 60
  • Pioneers, migrators, settlers template
  • Six pathways exercise
  • Step 2 scoring factors
  • Buyer utility map
  • Four actions framework

The working guide can be purchased from