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Nuts and Bolts: Selling It

by Jane Bozarth

May 1, 2012


by Jane Bozarth

May 1, 2012

“What we find cool, others find intimidating. What we find useful, others find threatening. What we find magical, others find scary. And the very benefits we tout are sometimes exactly what others fear.”

I help moderate the weekly #lrnchat Twitter discussions (Thursdays, 8:30 – 10 pm ET), and while I’m not much of a TV watcher, I admit on occasion to running Grey’s Anatomy in the background. A recent episode included a storyline about a woman’s second surgery to repair a botched first one. The surgical resident came out to talk to the patient’s husband, who thought his wife was in surgery for a major but not extraordinary repair.

The resident began to gush about the surgery and said, “They’re putting her heart back in [husband looks shocked]… They had to take her heart out to repair the valve, but they’re putting it back in now. It’s good.”

The resident thought this was just the coolest, most awesome-est thing ever, to be able to take out a human heart – on the spur of the moment – to fix it.

The husband did not find this cool or awesome in the least.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

I see this happen all the time with people trying to gain support for implementing new learning approaches and technologies, and I am sure I am often guilty of it myself. What we find cool, others find intimidating. What we find useful, others find threatening. What we find magical, others find scary. And the very benefits we tout are sometimes exactly what others fear (Figure 1 is a historical fantasy, but accurate).


Figure 1: Bell invents the telephone.

So in our enthusiasm I worry that we are often shooting ourselves in the foot and generating the very resistance we’re trying to avoid. So, what to do to sell ideas?

Find examples that show value  

I have an entire presentation that is nothing but screenshots of the use of social tools and mobile apps to support performance, from Apps for the Army to YouTube videos designed to offer emergency medical services staff just-in-time information on procedures.

The challenge: for every great example, there are 10,000 more instances of kittens riding Roombas and babies biting each other’s fingers. For every great instance of using virtual classroom technology for engaging, interactive training, there are 1,000 more bad, sales-pitch-y online seminars. Our challenge is to find those good examples, relevant to our work, and get them in front of those we seek to influence.


Rentokil L&D Manager Shannon Tipton, in a conference presentation on influencing leaders, talks throughout about her success with the “chip, chip, chip” approach. Do not expect to generate change in a one-shot meeting. Chip away at resistance. Chip away at the bad examples. Chip away at individuals and their objections one at a time. Bring the idea up again on Tuesday, and again on Friday. Look for opportunities to demonstrate a small idea, and people amenable to listening.

Stop talking

I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard someone – people from L&D, no less –  try to “explain” Twitter, or the advantages of storyboarding, or use of a new navigation plan. Stop talking; start showing. Become fluent with examples, mockups, and demos. What the competition is doing. What the competition is not doing. Watch for opportunities to fit a solution to a real problem: my own example, for instance, in introducing Google Docs to my boss at the moment of need by just setting one up in response to her real problem, without convening committees or offering lectures (

Find small wins

The lust for “enterprise solutions” can make us slow. Look for opportunities to conduct small pilots. Recognize small wins, then document and share them. Find pockets where there is a greater likelihood of acceptance.

Find the right people

The network administrator is not the person who sets policy for your organization. Find that person’s boss, or someone else who has influence over those who create the barriers and silos. Identify ambassadors who can help carry your message elsewhere.

Get clear about what you really need

I see people contact IT and say things like, “I want to do Facebook” or, “We should buy a Webinar product” with no supporting information. That’s not going to get you past any obstacles. Instead, try “We have a large community of graduates from our leadership academy, and I need to find a way to help them stay connected after they finish the course… “ or, “I need a virtual tool that provides good breakout room capability, so people can work in private groups on the sales roleplays without flying them in.” These are better ways to begin more productive conversations.

Get clear on the business case

I find people have a hard time articulating business need or desired result. “Because it’s cool” is not a reason, and “because we can” is not a strategy. What problem will it solve? Will you sell more product? Will employees in the call center be able to calm angry customers more quickly? Will we be able to keep customers from getting angry in the first place? Will we lower the rework rate? Will we decrease the time spent looking for information by 34 percent? It’s no secret that I love new technologies, but I need to be careful not to be just the geek girl wandering around with a tool in search of a problem.

Finally: Stop cajoling and complaining and dragging. Figure out a space in which you can act, and just DO it already.

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I am a serial offender when it comes to failing to 'stop talking.' That said, my greatest wins in my current position do, in fact, come from churning out examples that people can then pick apart.
Great practical advice!
This blog discussion is very important and relevant to the instructional design field. I am just getting started in my instructional design and technology (IDT) education, coming from a business management focus, and I think many things about the IDT field are interesting, exciting, and valuable. However, you make a very good point (with two vivid examples), that because we are familiar and comfortable with the tools and methods of instructional design, we may forget, in our excitement, that others do not have that same comfort level. In addition, the nature of this field calls for frequent change, and it seems to me that the qualities that draw people to instructional design may also include the flexibility and ease to quickly and enthusiastically accept change. Most other people are not so quick to adapt. When business leaders attempt to implement any type of business change initiative, they use many of the steps you discussed to smooth the transition and overcome or minimize resistance. We have to think of it as a strategic campaign, not just a single operation, in which we include all of the steps you discussed. Identifying change agents or “ambassadors,” “showing” not telling, relating the process or project to outcomes that support the company’s strategies, and celebrating the “small wins” are key factors in “selling” our ideas. The bottom line is that we have to understand how to be change agents as well as instructional designers.
So glad you mentioned this during our #lrnchat session this evening; the article is one of those timeless pieces that continues to resonate. Hope it continues to draw attention and inspire positive action among those of us who read it.
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