August 2, 2017

Five Ways to Gain Buy-In from the C-Suite

Clearhead on 5 Ways to Gain Executive Buy-in

Overcoming inertia requires executive buy-in. Despite the executive head nods to innovation, it’s a challenge to get teams to do something new. Too often innovation takes a back seat to running the business.

After 25 years of selling new ideas inside and outside of big organizations, I’ve found executives who can spearhead innovation are often hesitant to take on the risk. Looking back, I have found there are five non-mutually exclusive reasons that catapult executives to launch innovation and take risks.

If you are looking to cultivate change within your organization, it is worth structuring your recommendation with one or more of these factors in mind:

1. Politics

Anyone familiar with large organizations understands that executives make decisions they hope will propel and protect their own role in the company. Corporate risk can quickly become personal risk after all. Calculated risk, on the other hand, can provide them with the opportunity to distinguish themselves within the ranks. Your pitch should highlight its strategic relevance to the executive and assure them that they are signing on to a winning initiative.

2. Crisis

We have all been in a situation where a downward spiral is approaching fast, yet the company is unwilling or unable to change direction. The impending crisis can often force executives to do something new. Most efforts are too little too late by this point, so where was the urgency 12 months ago?

To head off this tailspin you must shorten the executive’s timeline for crisis realization. This means you need to demonstrate the risks of not adopting your proposal sooner rather than later as well as its net present value to the organization. The success of this strategy relies on your ability to get others to recognize the need to act now and not 12 months from now.

3. ROI Data

The average tenure of a CMO is shorter than other C-suite roles. Why? As a group CMO’s have struggled to consistently demonstrate their effectiveness through ROI. A proposition that has clear ROI and a measurable impact on the P&L is an easy one for an executive to champion.

Naturally this is related to politics. Initiatives founded in ROI data often receive greater budget, which in turn affords the managing executive more budget, a larger team and a bigger platform from which to showcase their success.

4. Customer Data

We are all customers of companies we wish were more customer centric. However, we tend to forget this important perspective when we walk in the door of our own companies. It is all too easy to lose sight of this and focus instead on product or financial centric data when making decisions. Instead, if you can show an overwhelming customer sentiment in support of your proposed program, executives will be more inclined to consider it. This is particularly true if it curtails a possible crisis and provides them with a clear direction in which to proceed.

5. Competition

Actions taken by the competition get executive attention and are one of the most powerful motivations for change. When an executive sees a competitor doing something new, there often must be a response. Take advantage of this motivation by demonstrating what the competition is doing or may do and frame your initiative as a strategic response based on your key problems.

Keep in mind that competitive motivation is not limited to direct competition. Pull examples from other industries if they can add value to your proposition. I once was able to demonstrate the impact of social innovation by referencing how a non-competitive brand of similar stature and product value was using it to drive sales.


Enacting significant change, particularly in a large company, can feel daunting. To make headway you must align your proposed initiative or product with executives’ biggest motivators. Successfully selling your idea relies on your ability to communicate its political value, manage or prevent crisis, drive ROI, meet customer desires and most importantly build competitive advantage. The more your proposition addresses these five key motivators, the higher the likelihood it will win executive buy-in.

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