Ideas on trial
How tech marketers benefit from thinking like a lawyer
Technology marketers are often some of the most forward-thinking people in their organizations, willing to take a risk or try something new to get better outcomes. They can be powerful agents for change—if they’re allowed to be.
In most cases, marketers must first sell their creative ideas to management before they have any chance of making them a reality. This need to sell-in can be an uphill battle—some fight it well and go on to implement game-changing new programs, but many get stymied. The good news? It can be won so long as marketers are willing to approach it differently.
One method is how an attorney might tackle a case. While we are not intimately knowledgeable about an attorney’s training, we have worked with great ones and are diehard fans of great TV lawyers: Tom’s Cruise’s character in the movie A Few Good Men (“I want the truth!”) Jack McCoy in Law & Order, and Ally McBeal, to name a few.
The defense never rests
Whenever go-getting tech marketers try to make a significant change, it’s as if their ideas are on trial. People can be very resistant to change (even in the most agile or forward-thinking of companies). When a new idea is heard before a jury of their peers, it’s easy for the judge to give it the death sentence, with no appeal—unless a strong case is made.
We don’t think marketers need to go to law school to be good at getting the green light for their creativity and ambition, but we do believe more tech marketers could take a page out of the lawyer’s book to successfully make their case to the gatekeepers.
Attorneys are trained to be effective advocates for their clients. Modeling some of their behaviors and methods can help you be an effective advocate for your end goal.
Set your ideas free
One marketing client of ours, who also happens to be an attorney, showed us that a lawyerly approach can be very effective for tech marketers trying to push novel approaches through the system.
This client had an idea to use a new creative visual storytelling method to educate the field. It was a radical departure for the company, and he knew it might not be an easy sell. So, he set out to build an airtight case that would convince the “judges” (his managers) that his idea deserved to be heard and implemented.
This marketer had a big vision — he was passionate about change and relentless in his pursuit of it. But he also backed up his energy with objective information and used data about the educational value of visual storytelling. Not only was he able to demonstrate that this was a better way to sell he also built metric systems into the product to measure its success in real time.
All of this created a convincing case, and his project is catching fire within the organization.
Build your case
Research and preparation are crucial for any attorney who wants to win a case in court. The same is true for marketers proposing fresh thinking, or even radical ideas. You need to create a compelling case for why—and how—your proposal will be good for the organization.
You know your idea is a great one, but can you prove it? Do the research to come up with metrics that back up your claims. That data may not even be available in your own company or industry, but if it’s relevant, it’s fair game.
If you can test the idea in the context of your organization, even better. Doing whatever you can to take a proposal from the theoretical to something that works in real life can only help your case. Give your managers plenty of objective reasons to say “yes.”
Chances are, you won’t be able to pull off change alone. Look around you. Who could also benefit from your idea? Whose input would be valuable? And who might present obstacles unless you work to get them on your side?
Allies can include your immediate boss, someone on the same level, people in different departments such as branding or engineering, those in the field, leadership, and more.
While you are drumming up support for your idea, listen to the needs and feedback from potential allies. By incorporating their ideas into your proposal, you will create stronger allies and a stronger overall proposal.
Finally, don’t try to take shortcuts such as going around people in your organization who should be part of the process — that is the opposite of making allies and can get you sent to jail.
Defending your case
When it comes time to present your proposal, you need to be ready to defend it, just like lawyers defend their clients. Your ideas will be cross-examined, and you need to be prepared if your idea is to sway the jury and win the day. Articulate the problem you are trying to solve and clarify how resolving it will directly affect a KPI for the business. Get specific.
Just like a successful trial lawyer, your case needs to be based on evidence, but you can change hearts and minds with the way you argue your case. Passion, communication, and perseverance all have their part — and these elements have been known to sway verdicts.
Know your judge and jury
Part of defending your case is anticipating questions and resistance and being ready with a narrative that not only answers these questions but clearly outlines the benefits of your idea. Play devil’s advocate and think about all the objections that might be raised — and strategize about how you will overcome them.
Ultimately, someone is responsible for making the decision that will affect the future of your project. This could be a single judge who has power over whether your project lives or dies or a jury of several different stakeholders.
Just as an attorney directs his or her arguments to the decision makers in a courtroom, you must present your case with the judge in mind. How will the change make things better for them? What do they need to know in order to decide in your favor?
Don’t give up
Change often doesn’t come easy, but you have to keep at it. Have the discipline to keep reinforcing your “why.” If you feel like you’ve beat that drum too much, that is the point when people are probably actually starting to get it. So, don’t give up!