Five Actions That Will Help You Sell That Complicated Project

Let’s face it. You wouldn’t be a project manager if you fancied yourself a sales person. Indeed most project managers — particularly those who came up through the ranks of top project contributors and technical experts — hate all the “dog and pony show” stuff that’s involved in selling their projects.

But the truth is there is simply no one who is in a better position to draw clear connecting lines between your team’s amazing technical abilities and the value these bring to your organization through your project. What’s more, as your project unfolds, you are going to need the enthusiastic support of senior management to help you get the money, people, facilities, equipment, and engaged participation of SMEs that will bring success. So it’s up to you and the specific actions you take to build the sale and generate that much-needed senior management enthusiasm.

So where do you begin? Here are 5 actions that can help you sell your project to senior management:

1. Prove that you understand the business problem that is solved by your project.

Specifically, you need to explain (or better yet, demonstrate with evidence, ROI figures, etc.) how your deliverables will reduce your organization’s pain, increase efficiency, save money, and have a tangible impact on making things better.

2. Show how each deliverable will add value.

Specifically, you need to make the connection between each item you will be creating and how it contributes to the value of the finished solution. (And no… you can’t assume they can see these connections, just because they are obvious to you!)  So you should quickly walk through your deliverables list and help the sponsor see how each is essential to the quality of the overall solution. This should include interim or draft deliverables like flow charts, scripts, first drafts, and so on. If possible, show models, mock-ups, demos, or anything that can make it real and generate that spark of enthusiasm that will keep your sponsor working on your behalf in the potentially difficult days ahead.

3. Connect the entire work process (including review/approval cycles) to quality.

In plain language, show how the work process is as lean as it can be, yet provides essential checks & balances (expert and managerial review, collaborative participation, etc.) that ensure quality. If appropriate, show how your work process is in sync with industry or competitors’ “best practices.”

4. Show how each member of your project team provides unique value.

Shine a light on the amazing expertise you’ve assembled and how each member of your team will make a unique contribution to the quality of the finished product. This is particularly important for team members who will eventually be asking the sponsor for access to key resources and other support as the project unfolds. It will really help if, when the team member knocks on that door to ask for help or feedback, that she will be doing so as a valuable “pre-sold” part of the project team.

5. Distinguish your project from apparently similar, but less complex or less valuable projects.

What’s this mean? Simply this: Sponsors see and approve lots of projects. And before long they begin to see patterns in the ways that different kinds of projects unfold. Eventually they develop expectations about work processes and schedules that lead to similar types of deliverables.

Given these expectations, the more experienced and hard-nosed senior managers will almost always want to know your answer to this challenge: “I’ve seen similar project teams create similar outcomes using processes that were far less complicated.  So why are you guys taking so long and going through so many cycles to achieve the same sorts of outcomes as Project XYZ?”

If you want to win the sale (and your sponsor’s enthusiastic support) while hanging onto your best practices, you will need to have a good answer to this challenge!

Pulling It All Together: A Video Example

The video presentation in the link below, though it admittedly includes some ancient clip art, is a still-relevant example of how my team frequently answered sponsor challenges in order to sell our instructional development projects.

A little background: Most of our potential sponsors had substantial experience working with writers who created sales brochures, press releases, reports, etc.  So many of these sponsors expected the process of developing training to be equivalent to the process of developing any written document. So, inevitably, such sponsors asked us these questions: “Why is your work process so complicated?… Why do you guys take so long?” This video shows how we answered these questions — and how I tried to implement the 5 actions outlined above.

 (Go to video: Instructional Design Versus Message Design at Vimeo —


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