Brian Gardner

I was recently asked the question - how does one sell a new idea to a Board of Directors?

Well, as a start, I would suggest we do it carefully!

But, in reality, there are many nuances to this question, and, irrespective of the nuances, it's not an easy question to answer.

Why? Well, it really does depend on what we're trying to sell, why, what the risk implications are combined with the risk appetite of the company and the Board, the familiarity of the Directors with the 'new idea', and, perhaps most importantly, how much 'we', as the person / people selling the 'new idea', are trusted.

My assertion is that, while you can tick the boxes on all of the above, and even have an impeccably argued and persuasive business case, if it's new, unknown, but a decision is needed quickly, it really comes down to whether you are trusted or not.

 Which brings us to the Trust Equation (as developed by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford). Have you seen it? Have you considered it as part of the selling process? Have you thought how you stack up in this equation?

Maister, Green and Galford proposed this equation primarily in the context of a Consultant / client relationship – but I think the equation is appropriate wherever there is an element of 'selling' and whether or not the 'seller' is heard primarily based on the perception of whether they can be trusted.

n essence the Trust Equation determines that the level of 'Trustworthyness' (T) of a person is equal to the sum of Credibility (C = it speaks to words and credentials), Reliability (R = how others perceive the consistency of our actions, and our actions' connection with our words (integrity)) and Initimacy (I= how secure or safe someone feels feels sharing with us, a reflection of how well you are able to build a meaningful connection with people, irrespective of whether you see yourself as an extrovert, introvert, or a combination of the two), divided by Self-Orientation (S = relates to our caring, and is revealed in our focus – is it about myself or others?).

 Most of us lead with the first two factors - credibility and reliability. These are quantifiable, and "rational", but tend to be overrated. Potential clients aren't comfortable "confessing" that they have feelings, intuitions, instincts and chemistry. They don't want to reject someone based on "we just didn't have a good feeling for you". But most humans buy from the heart, and justify it from the head.

That means the Intimacy and the Self-Orientation factors are very powerful in selling.

Rational thinking (including C and R) are about defining benefits and payoffs. But any expected value must be discounted by the client's confidence that they'll get the results promised. The I and S factors speak to this. Can I collaborate and be honest with this person - and he with me? Do they actually care about myself and this organisation, or are we just means to their ends? 

The trust equation reflects the human balance of mind and heart. Together, it creates powerful economics. 

Many con-men are credible, and sharks are reliably shark-like. But if we get a sense that the 'seller' understands and appreciates us - and that they seem to have our better interests at heart - then we allow their intelligence and dependability to be of service to us. A mis-matched motive will undo ALL of the previously hard won trust earned by building a reputation of credibility, reliability and intimacy.

 If the Board sees you as having your own agenda, your own self-interest at heart, and the motive is not clear and transparent, then you are unlikely to get the idea sold.

So what can you do to increase the above-line factors – reliability, credibility and intimacy?

And the below-the line factor of self-orientation?