Dana Publicover and her team at Publicover&Co have worked with impressive clients like NASA, Google, and the Met—but they encountered the same sales challenges over and over again.
In response to these challenges, they developed a new sales methodology that combines service design, content design, user research, and humanity. They don’t teach people how to sell, they build services and positioning that sell themselves.
Dana joined us for a Butter Spotlight to share how you can apply their sales methods to get more client buy-in for your ideas (including using Butter!).
A lot of my work is convincing people to try new things.
For example, for the last seven months, I’ve been convincing our clients to use Butter instead of more familiar alternatives like Zoom.
So far, I have 100% buy-in.
At Publicover&Co, we’ve developed a sales-inspired methodology for convincing people to use new tools, methods, or ideas. Our method works on people ranging from the stodgiest, most corporate clients down to the most unconventional, start-up, and avant-garde folks you can imagine.
In this guide, I’ll teach you:
- How to build trust with your clients
- How to anticipate objections
- How to get approval for new tools, methods, and ideas with the elevator to buy-in
Ding! Let’s step on the elevator!
What is buy-in?
We often see the word “buy-in” used synonymously with “permission”.
But when you’re looking for buy-in, what you really want is approval for the way you want to do things and the trust that you can do it.
If you have permission but not trust, you don’t have buy-in.
Why do you need buy-in?
If you only have partial buy-in, you can only deliver partial results.
In 2016, I ran one of my first design sprints for a corporate client. It was meant to be run over four consecutive days with seven people focused on one solution. (Y’know. The standard way.)
Instead (brace yourself), the sprint ran for 13 weeks on WebEx with as many as 21 participants at a time (rarely the same group every time). We worked on three solutions at once and did zero validations. It was an absolute nightmare.
What went wrong?
I didn’t have the client’s full buy-in, so I couldn’t defer to my own leadership and experience. They bought into a loose idea of a design sprint but didn’t trust the process or methods. I did things the client’s way instead of the way I knew was best.
If your client wanted you to build a car, but they wanted to remove the steering wheel, the battery, and the tires, would the car still drive? No way.
Without their buy-in, your work won’t work.
How to win your client’s trust
When we’re in the business of servicing clients, we often end up in the business of negotiation. We tell clients what they want to hear because we want their business.
But when you’re selling your services, you’re selling yourself as the expert. The client is paying for you to do things your way. When you compromise, you sell yourself short.
To sell yourself as the expert, you need your client’s trust. To get it, your clients need to see three things:
- Case studies: they need to know you’ve done this before
- Proven success: client’s don’t want to be your guinea pig
- A super specific-to-them example: clients want to see proven success in their specific industry—not a related industry
But what if I don’t have case studies?
If you don’t have proven success yet, you can test your idea or method somewhere else to get your first case study. You can test with:
- Your own team - At Publicover & Co., we have a protected calendar slot on Thursday mornings where we test new things in a safe space. We’ve generated a lot of ideas and tools we can use with clients there.
- Online communities - There are people talking about what you do all day long, and there are probably Slack groups and communities built specifically for your specific industry! For example, the Butter Community gives you a great opportunity to learn and grow when it comes to anything facilitation. Most likely, there are similar groups for your industry and topics related to your business.
- Innovation groups - Also in the Butter Community, there’s a Sparring Arena where you can find someone to jump on a Butter session with you and work a new idea through or workshop a new tool. Ask around in the communities for people who’d be willing to spar with you!
By testing your ideas first, you can approach your client with confidence that your process works (plus, you get to iron out the kinks in a low-pressure setting).
Take the elevator to buy-in
Even if you’ve won your client’s trust, sometimes it’s unrealistic to expect a “yes” to new ideas—especially if it’s a big departure from your client’s comfort zone.
🔥 Hot tip: Instead of asking one big question where the answer is probably “no,” try asking 100 small questions whose answers are “yes.”
This is called the elevator to buy-in.
Imagine a skyscraper, where you want to get to the penthouse. This is the dream floor, where you’ve gotten full buy-in for your big idea.
To get to the top floor, you can’t take shortcuts. The elevator is the shortcut. You have to take it one floor (or one small ask) at a time.
For example, if your big dream is to run a design sprint, you have to first reduce your ask down to the tiniest possible MVP—the tiniest version that’s still closely related to what you want to do.
To get buy-in for running a design sprint for the first time, I ran a 5-minute brainstorm. It was just a little note and vote as part of a larger meeting.
This helped me show a new method of working—onboarding people to the tiniest possible version of my idea. Once that ran successfully, it was easier to get buy-in for my next slightly bigger idea, eventually leading all the way to a full design sprint.
How to sell any new idea or method
Here are three tips for selling yourself successfully, no matter what type of idea you’re selling.
1. Anticipate their objections
People are always impressed by competence and preparation. Before you pitch an idea to your clients or your team, anticipate any objections you may get and prepare responses.
If they ask a question and you already have an answer for them, you’ll show them that you’ve already thought this through—instantly earning their trust.
🧠 Tip: Don’t pitch these objections by bringing them up to your client. Just have these answers locked and loaded in case your client raises an objection.
2. Understand their challenges
Think of it from a user research standpoint. What’s hard for them? What could your new ideas or methods solve? How can you help them?
To do this, I fill out an empathy canvas for people I’m trying to negotiate with.
Listing examples of the things my clients say, think, do, or feel allows me to frame my ask in a way that’s empathetic to their needs.
3. Show a clear benefit for them
What’s in it for them? What happens as a result of you selling these new ideas, or of them trying your new methods?
For example, since I’m a B2B provider, my clients have clients. So I tailor my pitch to explain how our idea will make them look good in front of their clients.
By taking this approach, you’re giving them empathy. You’re putting yourself in their shoes and making their life easier.
4. Ask the right way
How you ask for buy-in matters. Here are a few tips for pitching your idea the right way.
🏠 Don’t give a real estate tour - Most people pitch ideas like a real estate agent giving a tour of a house. “This is the kitchen. The living room is on the left. Upstairs, you’ll find three bedrooms.” They’re just describing the thing.
Instead, get people excited with a story!
Don’t say: “Butter is a really cool tool. You can chat in it. You have breakout rooms. You can have music. You can set timers.”
Do say: “I used Butter for my latest design sprint and it totally changed the energy of the sessions. We got twice as much done in a week!”
🤔 Don’t present alternatives - Ask for the specific thing you want. If you present an either/or option, you give them an easy way to reject your idea.
Rather than presenting alternatives, let their questions lead to other options, and then prepare a response for why that option won’t work, or prepare a smaller MVP of your idea.
Don’t say: “Can I run my next standup in Butter? We can also use Teams if that’s easier…” you’re giving them an easy out.
Do say: “Given that we can’t run our standup in Butter, here’s an agenda for a 5-minute Butter meeting we can try instead.”
✍️ Have a clear plan - Think things through before you make your ask. How will you use the tool? What do you expect the results to be? What might go wrong?
⏰ Timing matters - If you know your client has a stressful week, or you’ve already made a big ask of them recently, consider waiting for a better time to introduce your idea.
😉 Hear “no” as “not right now” - If you get a no, it could be because of timing, messaging mismatch, or a manager issue. The next time you ask, you’ll know more and you’ll get further. It’s likely if you wait a few weeks or months, everything will change and you’ll get the answer you want.
Now start pitching your ideas!
By following these methods, you’ll get more buy-in for pitching any idea (including getting your clients to use Butter!).
If you want to give Butter a try for yourself—which I highly recommend—start your free trial here.
For more insights from Dana on how to win more B2B clients, you can follow her on LinkedIn, grab a freebie from her website, check out her book: Empathy At Scale, or subscribe to The Go-Getters, the podcast she co-hosts with Ross Chapman.
📒 RELATED READING: 11 ways to get more facilitation clients