How or Why to Sell Ideas?

How or Why to Sell Ideas?

What’s the best way to pitch an builder to rely on your showroom for kitchens and baths or to convince customers that they should trust you to create the kitchen of their dreams? Is there a secret sauce for successfully pitching ideas?  Best-selling author Simon Sinek (Start With Why and The Infinite Game​), believes the best way to pitch an idea is to explain the why – what’s the purpose of what you are proposing.  Sinek believes when you start with why it is easier for people to understand the motives and goals behind your pitch or idea.

Another best-selling author and University of Pennsylvania professor Adam Grant (Originals and Think Again), does not agree. Grant believes that when you focus on lofty ideals in pitching a project or idea, you risk violating people’s notion of what is possible.  Instead, Grant argues that the pitch should focus on how you would achieve the proposed goal

Which approach is better – how or why?  The answer may have been found in a recent article in the Strategic Management Journal that summarized a study conducted by three researchers from New York University and the University of Bologna (Italy).  They asked two focus groups to evaluate a PowerPoint presentation pitching a novel product in an attempt to obtain funding.  One group comprised novice investors and the second group consisted of professional venture capitalists and equity investors.  

The novice group favored the why approach whereas the professional investors were more convinced by the how approach by a factor of 44%.  The researchers concluded that the novice investors who were not used to evaluating funding pitches concentrated more on the desirability of the product and its potential benefits.  The professional investors were drawn to the arguments of how something could be accomplished.  The researchers attributed this preference to the possibility that professional investors already understood the benefits that the new product would offer.  

Imagine you wanted to start Southwest Airlines and proposed the reason for the new airline was to democratize air travel for the masses or you explained that the proposed airline was competing against Greyhound Buses instead of other airlines because Southwest ticket prices would be lower due to sticking to one type of airplane, eliminating the high cost of servicing first class, and implementing an on-boarding and off -boarding process that reduces onboarding and off boarding flights by an average of 30 minutes or more. In this case, Southwest’s how would almost certain trump its why.  

The effectiveness of using how or why pitch approaches depends on your audience.  If you are pitching a community that will be funded by government entities that don’t ordinarily invest in multifamily real estate, the why approach most likely will be more effective.  If you are pitching to a large builder prospect, how you are going to meet their needs and budgets is a how approach that most likely will be more effective.  


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