The Happy Engineer Podcast

169: The 4 Keys to Selling Your Ideas to Upper Management

Engineering managers, you need to pitch ideas and influence senior leaders to be successful.  Have you ever felt frustrated when your brilliant ideas at work weren’t taken seriously?

In this episode, I dive into the crucial skills of selling ideas effectively within the engineering field, a skill often overlooked but immensely valuable for career advancement.

We often have brilliant ideas that could significantly benefit our companies, but without the right influence and persuasion tactics, these ideas don’t get traction. I share insights from a recent coaching session where we addressed these challenges, focusing on increasing both the intrinsic and perceived value of your proposals to upper management.

Drawing from real-world examples and sales principles, I outline strategic approaches to enhance your persuasiveness and ensure your innovative ideas get the support they deserve.

So press play and let’s chat about transforming your technical skills into influential salesmanship!

As you listen… Tap to DOWNLOAD my free Workbook: Engineering Career Accelerator™️ Scorecard … foundational insights you can check, score, and apply immediately to stand out and excel at work.

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The Happy Engineer Podcast

Accelerate Your Career: The Power of Selling Ideas in Engineering Leadership



LISTEN TO EPISODE 169: The 4 Keys to Selling Your Ideas to Upper Management

Previous Episode 168:What Every Engineer Ought to Know About Middle Management with Jason Gallaugher 


Top Takeaways on Influence and Persuasion for Engineering Managers…

Are you an engineer struggling to sell your ideas to upper management? In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, we dive into the crucial skill of selling your ideas in engineering and how it can make or break your career progression.

Here are the top three insights:

1. Understand the difference between intrinsic value and perceived value when pitching your ideas.

2. Maximize the magnitude of the result and the perceived likelihood of success, while minimizing the time delay and perceived sacrifice.

3. Leverage the power of sales principles to effectively communicate the value of your ideas and accelerate your engineering career growth.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, listen to this entire episode.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are in your career for new products, new ways we could expand and grow in our teams, new internal processes, new fill in the blank. You could have the best idea that could be the most profitable for your company of anybody in the entire org chart. But if you’re not able to get buy in, To sell those ideas, to win over upper management and the executive team to support and fund and staff and be on board with the idea, then your career is going to stagnate.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:33] And honestly, it’s just not as much fun. You’re not going to be able to do the work that you love and you feel like you’re not reaching your full potential. I was in a coaching session with a group of lifestyle engineers, the people who are in our coaching program just the other day. And Kasi asked a question right along these lines.

[00:00:52] He said, Hey, I’m really struggling to get my idea supported by upper management. I have. All the evidence I’ve shared, all the data, the ROI seems really clear. I’m the technical expert in this area. It’s a product line that I own. And yet upper management won’t support my idea. It’s as if I am completely lacking in influence to get them to listen to me, to follow my guidance and my direction.

[00:01:23] And I’m the one who knows, but nothing is moving forward and it’s incredibly frustrating. Kasi is not the only person who’s been banging his head against the wall, trying to get upper management to listen to him. I said, look, Kasi, let’s get really clear on what you’re trying to do.

[00:01:45] When you want to influence upper management, what we’re saying is we want through our actions. To get these other people to take an action. We want to get them to do what we want them to do, right? That’s the whole point of influence. And what we’re really saying there is we need to sell them our idea, getting someone else to take an action that we want them to take that we believe is for their benefit.

[00:02:19] In this case, the upper management buying into your idea. Because we honestly believe it’s what’s best for the company that is selling them the idea. And so if we want to master the art of influence and sales, we’re not going to find the answer in the domain of engineering. We’re going to find the answer in the domain of sales.

[00:02:46] And this is something very few engineering leaders pay attention to your development in your career. Especially once you become an engineering manager, director, executive, the development that you’re missing is not in the technical acumen, it’s in these other domains that the skills are required in order for you to continue to move up.

[00:03:07] So in this case, the domain of sales. How do we get great at selling our ideas? And what I want to walk through with you, these four keys. To driving influence and perceived value of your ideas, your, your offers, the offers that you’re making to the organization and to upper management are the same four that I’ve shared with engineering leaders who are part of our community here at the oasis of courage.

[00:03:37] And it’s been transformational when you wrap your head around these little shifts that can create big leverage. When you communicate differently and understand the art of sales in your engineering career. The first piece that I shared with Kasi and the team that day, I want you to understand is that intrinsic value is different from perceived value.

[00:04:01] When your idea is being pitched, remember, you understand deeply, because it’s your idea, the intrinsic value. Maybe you’ve even done it before at another company in your last job. You’ve actually done the thing. You’ve accomplished it. You know exactly what the value is. That’s the intrinsic or real value of the product, of the idea, of fill in the blank, the project you’re pitching.

[00:04:30] Well, when you’re buying something, you don’t Have awareness of the intrinsic value. You see, you don’t get to experience the real value of the product until after you buy it. Think about buying ice cream. When you see the ice cream in the freezer, it has an intrinsic and real value of tasting good and filling your stomach and giving you that rush of sugar in your bloodstream.

[00:05:02] You don’t get that part until you eat it. You have to buy the ice cream first. Then you experience the intrinsic value. Before you buy, it’s about the perceived value. And if you’ve never bought ice cream before, if it’s your very first time, then your perception of what that value is is influenced only by what people tell you.

[00:05:30] Buy what? The marketing and the sales person shares with you. It’s not until you taste it that you understand now in the ice cream example, that’s why they give free tastes so that you can understand more clearly. What is the real value versus the perceived value? But a lot of times in our careers, we don’t have that opportunity to give a free taste to an executive of a project that we want to staff and work on.

[00:05:57] So how do we. Increase the perceived value of our idea so we can get the buy in to then go create the real value. And what we get stuck on is our own internal awareness or belief in the real value. But you are not selling that you’re selling the perceived value. And these four keys are going to help you to increase 10 and a hundred X your ability to influence people.

[00:06:26] On perceived value and get people to support you. The first is how much they want it. It’s the obvious one, the outcome itself, how big, how dreamy, how awesome, how exciting is the offer is the outcome. If you do this project, it will create this result. How big is that result? The bigger, the result that you’re promising, the more exciting and the more perceived value that we create.

[00:07:06] That one is obvious. If you have a project, that’s going to save the company 1 million or a project idea that will save the company 100 million, of course, that executive will be more excited about a project that saves 100 million, this one is obvious, but don’t forget. to do everything you can to clearly communicate how awesome the result will be when they support your idea, when they buy in to the thing that you’re pitching.

[00:07:37] That’s an easy one. Now, the second thing in a multiplying factor with that result is the likelihood in my mind that that result will actually happen. The second key is the perceived likelihood of the result coming true. So if I say I have a 1 million cost savings, but it is guaranteed, it is a 100 percent certainty, we know we can do it.

[00:08:09] Or I have a 100 million savings project, but it is very uncertain. We only have a 1 percent chance that it might work. Now, statistically speaking, those are equal projects. But in human psychology, we’re going to take that million dollar guaranteed bet in many instances because that perceived likelihood of success on the 100 million project is so low.

[00:08:43] Think about that. As you’re pitching ideas, as you’re selling. improvements in projects to upper management. What are you doing to increase their confidence, their perceived likelihood that you will succeed? Can you reference back to projects that were similar that have succeeded? Can you? Look across the industry at a competitor who has already succeeded in doing it.

[00:09:10] And so there’s an example of success that you can draw from. Can you look to a different industry? This has been successful somewhere else. Can you leverage fundamental physics and the core truths of the engineering and technology that you’re building and say, it’s already a given that this will work.

[00:09:28] We just need to Move through and execute. Maybe you lean on the credibility and reputation of yourself and your team. We’ve solved other challenges before just as big or bigger than this one. what can you communicate that will increase the perceived likelihood of achieving the outcome and the result that you’re promising.

[00:09:53] These two factors, our goal when we’re influencing, when we’re pitching our ideas to upper management, our goal is to maximize both communicate a big outcome and communicate big confidence that that outcome will occur. Those are the first two. And frankly, they’re the easiest to, in most cases, For us to focus on and improve.

[00:10:19] The next two are ones that people don’t pay nearly as much attention to in engineering and in our career paths. But if you look into the world of sales, you’ll see them everywhere. Just scroll social media and look, you’re going to see how people lean on and leverage these two. The first is the time delay.

[00:10:39] The, the I need to wait until I receive. The value that you’re promising. Most engineers want to pad the timeline. I know, I know I, I did it too. We want to sandbag a little bit. We don’t want to over promise on a timeline because that can be a career, you know, black spot as well. I get it.

[00:11:07] But if you go with a 1 million cost savings project that you’ll complete in 30 days. Versus a 1 million cost savings project that won’t be completed for nine months. It’s obvious which one is more exciting, which one is more desirable. The perceived value of fast timelines is extraordinary. People value time far more than money.

[00:11:36] I think about the coaching programs that we offer here at the Oasis of Courage. If I told you I can help you get 100 percent clarity and 100 percent confidence in what you want for your career path and how you will get to that next promotion, but it’s going to take us 24 months to do it. Or if I told you I’m going to help you achieve a hundred percent.

[00:12:02] Clarity in what you want for your career path and 100 percent confidence in how you will get there, the strategies, the skillsets, the mindsets in order to make that happen. And we’re going to accomplish that certainty in 90 days. Which one would you want to do? Okay. That’s why we worked really hard to create a 90 day blueprint program that delivers that because it doesn’t matter if I can get you the same result in two years.

[00:12:30] You don’t want to wait. Now’s the time you want that result. A 90 day promise is far more valuable than a two year promise. Bring that back into your own career. What are you pitching and how can you create tighter timelines? Here’s a little hint. A lot of times big initiatives do have long timelines. So how can you communicate some small wins or some early leverage that you can get in that first pitch?

[00:13:00] Six months. So if you’re pitching a six year big mega project overhaul strategy of the product architecture, that’s going to involve massive capital investment and huge teams and years of development, that’s great, but can you include in this pitch and your communication, how the milestones you’ll hit along the way.

[00:13:24] are equally valuable in terms of creating wins. Now, Hey, if we invest in this six year mega project by month six, we will already have this result that we can leverage in this way for a quick win. Now, time delay, how can you tighten up those timelines and have the courage to Make bold promises when it comes to time.

[00:13:52] That’s the third key to perceived value. Time is far more valuable than money. The fourth and final, how hard, how much effort and how much sacrifice is required to get the result. This is both real and psychological. It’s literally how hard will it be? But also how hard does it feel? I’ll give you an example thinking about working out and losing weight Lots of people have seen offers on the internet for different weight loss programs Well the ones that really catch your attention Are the ones that say, lose 20 pounds in 90 days without giving up your favorite foods.

[00:14:52] You see what they’re doing there is they’re relieving some of the pain. If I told you, I can help you lose 20 pounds in 90 days, but you’re going to be fasting every weekend for 48 hours and you’re only allowed to eat. Asparagus, and Brussels sprouts, and spinach, and carrots, and no carbs, and no drinks, and nothing else.

[00:15:15] There’s a lot of pain involved in that process, and the value, the perceived value of the offer is much higher when I help you understand that it’s going to be easier for you to get there. When I think about our coaching, if I told you it’s going to require ten hours a day But we’ll get you the result in 90 days.

[00:15:39] That’s a big sacrifice. It’s not going to work. You’re not going to be able to do that. But when we tell you, Hey, it’s only two to five hours a week for 90 days and we can radically transform your career. Oh, that feels much easier. That’s something that I can do. Put that into your own context. What are the projects that you’re pitching?

[00:16:02] And in the mind of that executive, that decision maker, how can you make it seem easier for them to say yes? How can you minimize the perceived pain of doing this? It’s a really important element to focus on and ask, How can I reduce the perceived effort and the perceived sacrifice in making this happen?

[00:16:30] It’s a tough lever to pull, I understand. But it’s one that you want to pay attention to in how you communicate. Be honest, but don’t over index on how painful it will be, or you are reducing the perceived value. Now, Alex Hormozy wrote a great book called 100 Million Dollar Offers, where he actually Addresses these sales principles.

[00:16:54] And he took these four keys that have been talked about in sales for all of sales eternity. Since people have been selling, they’ve been talking about these ideas, but I love that he framed it into a formula. It’s a simple formula where the perceived value is equal to the magnitude of the result. How big can you make that multiplied by the perceived likelihood of success?

[00:17:19] the website, You could think of it as a percent. Are you a hundred percent sure that you will get the result? Or if you’re 0 percent sure you’ll get the result, you’re never going to buy. If I offer you coaching and you have a 0 percent belief that it will work, it doesn’t matter how big of a result we promised to you.

[00:17:38] You’re not going to buy. It’s the same for that executive. if they have a 0 percent belief that your project will be successful, they will not buy in. So those two are on the other side. Top side of this equation multiplied together and then the denominator is the other two factors looking at that time delay, which we want to shrink, make it as small as possible, and we multiply that time delay by the effort or perceived sacrifice, which we want as small as possible.

[00:18:10] These top two factors maximize these bottom two factors minimize, and I’ll throw an image of that. formula in the show notes so you can check it out. Really simple. Maximize the result. Maximize the perceived likelihood of success. Minimize the time delay to getting the result and minimize the perceived sacrifice to have it.

[00:18:35] Apply this lens. Onto anything that you’re seeking to influence in your career. It could be a big pitch for a big project. It could also be getting someone on your team to put in that little bit of extra energy and effort to finish a project faster. Why should they do that? You can put this same selling lens on it and ask yourself, what is the perceived value of what I’m inviting this person to do?

[00:19:04] infinitely scalable principle. Super. Powerful for you to go take this from the domain of sales and pull this communication philosophy into your engineering leadership and career growth. Because here’s the truth. Nobody does it. Nobody’s thinking this way in engineering. Engineers don’t study sales. They don’t practice sales.

[00:19:27] They don’t read books about sales. They don’t invest time and energy into coaching around sales. And so they’re missing this real world. Go ask yourself how you can leverage this on the biggest, most important thing for you right now. And if you feel stuck on it, then reach out, let’s connect. We have an incredible community of lifestyle engineers here at the Oasis of Courage. We would love to see where you’re stuck, what’s going on. You can join us at happy hour.

[00:19:56] That’s my monthly free coaching event. We do workshops. We do Q and a happy hours, a ton of fun. You can meet my clients. You can meet me and come get some value, uh, around what you’re struggling with in your career right now, or just shoot me an email, Zach at oasisofcourage. com. I love getting notes from you.

[00:20:16] I would love to be able to support you in anything you feel stuck on. So reach out anytime Z A C H. At oasisofcourage. com. Sell your ideas. It’s fun. It’s going to help you accelerate your career. And at the end of the day, it will differentiate you from everyone else in engineering leadership who thinks sales is a dirty word.

[00:20:41] Let’s do this.