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How To Sell To Internal Clients

If you work for a company of more than one person, you have to sell to internal clients and colleagues. You could be selling an idea, a marketing program, a new hire, or a budget line item. By selling, of course, I mean influencing. How can I get you to say yes?

Many of us are uncomfortable with selling, but it is a necessary activity in business and life. It might be helpful to think of it this way: Don’t sell… persuade.

I spent a decade of my career creating marketing programs for internal clients. My clients happened to be sales teams. I was selling to sales people, which is not an easy thing to do. If the sales folks didn’t buy my programs (aka sell the marketing programs to their clients)… I failed at my job. Obviously, I didn’t want to fail at my job, so I began to research influence and decision-making. My job depended on it. From my research on the science of persuasion, I developed this six-step process and used it to great success:

Step 1. Identify the problem. By the problem, I mean your client’s problem because that is generally what they are concerned about. And I assume you are selling them a solution (idea, marketing program, new employee, etc.). More importantly, align on the problem with your client. If you are not on the same page about the problem, you won’t be in agreement about the solution.

Step 2. Plant the seed. Discuss the problem with your client and brainstorm possible solutions. You want your client to actively participate in the ideation. Your solution will be one of many in the list of ideas.

Step 3. Stop Talking. That’s right, stop talking. Do not defend your idea. Do not criticize your client’s ideas. Do no selling in the ideation session. Thank your client for their help and input. Express your gratitude for their wonderful ideas and promise to get back to them soon with a solution to their problem based on their feedback.

Step 4. Provide your client with three options. The three options of the solution should be versions of ideas that were discussed in your ideation session. They can be further fleshed out, but they need to be similar. You are leveraging the power of familiarity. We like things with which we are familiar more than things that are new or foreign.

Also, by providing three choices, we avoid the yes or no answer to the question… “Do you want to buy this idea?” Instead, “Which of these choices do you prefer?” This leverages our desire to compare and contrast. “I like this version better than those two versions.” By making a choice, your internal client has taken ownership in their decision. Once we make a decision, we will fight to defend or justify it. Our decisions become a part of our self-concept. Basically, we don’t like to admit when we are wrong.

Step 5. Make it easy to customize. This leverages the power of ownership. We all want to “make it our own,” so build flexibility into whatever it is you are selling. This even applies to that new employee you are vying for. It works like this: “What responsibilities would you like to add to the new employee’s job description?” You have just allowed your internal client to “customize” the new hire.

Step 6. Offer to hold their hand (or have someone else hold their hand). Don’t sell anyone anything without offering customer service to ensure flawless execution. This is basically your old fashioned money-back guarantee, which is a risk mitigation tactic. It can’t be a manual or an instruction guide. Customer service has to be a real live person who will pick up the phone and actually be helpful (and courteous).

The client can’t lose!

This six-step approach has worked for me for years. Best of all, it isn’t selling. You haven’t begged your client to buy your big idea. In a way, they are buying their big idea. That’s the art of persuasion.


Need more ideas on how to persuade your colleagues or internal clients? I can help. Contact me today HERE.


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