How to Convince Your Clients to Embrace Your Innovative Ideas
Step 1: Offer them something familiar
Andrei Neboian, Dr.
This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur’s Handbook. Follow my writing on Medium.
After selling my tech start-up Xioneer Systems in 2019, I remained on board as the company’s CEO and a part of my job was to develop new products for clients.
I enjoyed this because I loved creating new tech and after making machines, widgets, and software for several years prior to our acquisition, I thought that we also became quite good at it.
For one of our clients, we started the development of an original, innovative, and highly effective product. It was breaking new ground in the industry. And we believed it to be exactly what the client needed.
But we faced a problem: our client was unfamiliar with the tech behind it. After days of talking and arguing about the benefits of making it work for them, they rejected it:
“Andrei, you and your team have put in hard work in this one. But your solution seems too complicated. Instead, we would like you to come up with something… hmm… less fancy.”
Less fancy? We felt our hearts drop. It was frustrating to be hired as a team of experts, only to learn that our client refused our most trusted recommendation.
But you can still empower your client (or your boss) to accept your innovative idea. And here is how we did it.
Familiarity Alleviates the Fear
According to the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, our brain prefers familiar things. People root for the home team, and they are more comfortable investing in businesses that are familiar to them. Equity managers in the US and other countries prefer domestic stock, etc.
Interestingly, familiar things are not necessarily more pleasurable or rewarding. It’s just that our brains see unfamiliar things as alarming and potentially dangerous.
Anything which seems new, innovative, and different triggers our fear of the unknown. Add the fear of failure to the mix, and an innovative idea loses any chance for approval.
But luckily, the sense of familiarity quiets the fear center in our brain.
So we needed to propose something familiar to alleviate our client’s worries: some tech they knew and felt comfortable around.
Offer Two Solutions: an Innovative and a Familiar One
In 2018, Intel and PSB Research showed that most adults are more excited about familiar products than emerging technologies.
So are we more thrilled about computers, tablets, and smartphones than drones, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR)? Apparently yes, because “newer, emerging technologies like AI and 5G are abstract, and harder to grasp, likely leading to anxiety around what they may bring” according to Intel.
Our client wasn’t thrilled about our innovative solution either. So we needed to find some old shoe tech with the aura of familiarity to keep their fear in check.
And we found such tech in one of the client’s “cellar” labs: a relic from a past project. So based on this tech, we offered them a feel-safe solution. But there was a problem: it was by far not as effective as our innovation.
And here comes the good part.
Now, equipped with a plan based on familiar tech, our client was suddenly eager to explore the benefits of the innovative solution too.
And to our surprise, they agreed to develop both solutions side-by-side. And the feel-safe solution became the contingency plan for the innovative solution.
The contingency solution gave the client the safety and assurance they needed. At the same time, the client didn’t want to miss out on the highly effective solution we proposed.
It seemed like a perfect plan.
I know what you’re thinking. Following two solutions seems like chasing two rabbits and not catching any. “To do two things at once is to do neither,” said Publilius Syrus two thousand years ago.
But in our case, the benefits outweighed the risks. There was just more at stake because neither solution on its own was acceptable. The client rejected the innovative solution, but the fail-safe solution was not as effective as the innovation.
The client knew it; we knew it. So chasing two rabbits was a good plan.
Teach Them About Your Innovation Regularly
We secured both solutions in our development schedule. So far, so good.
But there was still a fair chance that at the end of our project, the client would prefer the old-shoe to the innovation. That chance was still there even if the innovation would beat the old shoe in performance.
The fear of the unknown is just too strong of a motivator. And it’s typically stronger than the fear of missing out.
But there was a solution.
Psychologists Chip Heath and Amos Tversky discovered something interesting. They have shown that as consumers gain more experience with a particular product, they start to feel more confident about it and perceive it as less risky.
So if we wanted to resolve any reservations towards our innovation, we had to make sure that our client gained enough experience with it.
Over the following weeks, we used every opportunity to teach our client about the tech. By regularly taking away the veil of the unknown, we were making them more familiar with our tech:
“This week, our prototype performed five times faster without a single failure…”
And then we went on to explain why our product was performing so well compared to the old shoe solution. We exposed our client to the new tech regularly: sometimes even every day.
Weeks passed, and with more experience, the client started to pay more attention to new and unique features of the innovative solution. Their fears began to alleviate, and they began to listen.
Finally, the client was confident enough to demonstrate the innovative product at one of the largest trade shows in the industry. It was a major achievement for the client and for us.
Where to Go From Here
It’s common to deal with clients or bosses who won’t accept innovations. And the best way to approach them is to first listen to their fears and worries. Because far too often, your client or boss will reject a beneficial innovative solution because it’s too unfamiliar.
But don’t worry, we found that the following approach can work well to persuade even a dinosaur towards an innovation.
When offering a novel, original, and innovative solution that will challenge the gut of your client, do the following:
Step 1: Propose a back-up solution that is familiar to them. A familiar solution will relieve some anxiety and will lure them into trying your innovative solution along with the back-up plan.
Step 2: Then, use every opportunity to educate the client about your innovation. Share results, opinions, and let them talk to your experts. And do this regularly to maximize their exposure to innovation. The more you do that, the more they get used to the novel solution you are selling them.
But remember to stay objective. Guide them, don’t fight them.
At the end of the day, your client may develop enough trust in the innovation and drop the contingency solution altogether. In this case, celebrate: your hard work has paid for itself.
Andrei Neboian, Dr.
Product Builder, Personality Developer, Parent | PhD in Management Science | Built & sold a 3d printing startup | Engineer by training | Ex. top-tier consultant. Follow my writing on Medium: https://medium.com/@andreineboian