Selling Your Modest Idea

If you have a business idea, you’ll need to learn to sell. And if you’re working for someone else, you’ll need to learn to sell your ideas.

The short version of how selling works? Benefits must outweigh costs.

Let’s say you want to introduce modest JS practices (more vanilla JS, less reliance on outside dependencies). Here would be the benefits and the costs:

  • Benefits: Short-term benefits like employee engagement, employee happiness. Long-term benefits like a more maintainable code-base, less risk of refactoring from deprecations in your dependencies.
  • Costs: How much of a productivity hit you’ll have to absorb over the next few sprints to adjust? What’s the likelihood that you can attain the same test coverage.

But those are actually just two “forces” in the decision-making process.

A popular product-framing idea has been going around. It’s called the Jobs-To-Be-Done theory of buyer behaviour. In short, people don’t buy products or ideas, they hire the product or idea for a job. And that job can take surprising forms. A person hired those two ebooks for accountability, not for the knowledge. Another person hired expensive winter boots from a company that thought more about winter than they would have to, so he could focus on thinking about work rather than winter. At the core, the Jobs-To-Be-Done idea stresses that purchasers just want to make progress.

Diagram of the Four Forces of Progress

One of the ideas behind Jobs-To-Be-Done is the idea of The Forces of Progress. In their pursuit of progress, there are four forces at play in the mind of the purchaser, when presented with solutions to consider hiring. Let’s start with the two forces which resemble benefits and costs. Force #2 is The Attraction to the Solution (the benefits are in here, but so are the person’s aspirations). #3 is the Anxieties about the Solution (which includes the costs, but also includes other mental pushbacks about your idea).

And then there’s #1 the Struggle of the Moment. That one is the propulsion force that pushes someone off their chair and into action. This is where timing comes in. Without a struggle being felt, there isn’t a context for the solution you’re proposing. Having an extinguisher is more appealing when there’s a fire.

Lastly, force #4 is the person’s Habits of the Present. Those are all the other things a person will do instead of hiring an idea or a product. Their mish-mashed, cobbled-together, imperfect-but-working solution to their struggle. Unless your idea is welcomed by a struggle, and beats the comfort of the person’s present habits, your solution won’t have a solid ground on which to grab and move, even if the benefits outweigh the costs.

So be ready to detect when the struggle is felt, and know that you’re competing against what the person already does and uses. Be patient, and consider starting small (just one part of the app is built using global event handlers and lightweight DOM manipulation, for example).

Also know that if you’re being insistent, you might be perceived as being the struggle to hire a solution for. Just make sure you’re useful, and you won’t be the first one fired.

After all, people just want to make progress, and that’s what selling is about.