Thursday, December 1, 2011

From the Article Archive: Selling Your Technical Idea to Management, with Sophie Vandebroek, CTO, Xerox

Question: I have a great technical idea. How should I go about influencing it, and selling it to senior leaders?

Jo Miller answers:

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox’s Chief Technology Officer, at the Grace Hopper Celebration. As we discussed the skills that technical women need to be successful, Sophie seized on the importance of influencing, and explained her philosophy of what it really takes to influence a technical idea and gain buy-in from management.

Her philosophy: if you have a great technical idea that you want to bring to your leaders, don’t just try to explain it to them! You first need to do your homework.

In Sophie’s experience, “it is not good enough to have a bright technical idea”. As a researcher or a technical person, you alone won’t have the necessary credibility to influence all aspects of the business plan that you must produce for management that would ultimately get your technology into the hands of a satisfied customer:

Step 1. Prove your technology will work
“Number one, you have to prove that the idea will work, by building a little prototype or building your code and showing what you can do”, she explained.

Step 2. Partner with people who have credibility
The next critical step is to use your network to accomplish what you can’t do alone.

Sophie said “I have seen too many projects led by great, passionate people fail because they tried to be a lone influence. You have to get all the right people in the boat with you.

There are many technical researchers and engineers who will write their own business plan. But when it comes to areas like financial, marketing, and understanding what the customer really wants, the plan will lack credibility.
“You might be right, but the most important thing is to get those people who have credibility around the business plan and the market, from all the divisions, to say that your idea is really great and set it to your management.”

“You need to bring together the entire human fabric”.

Sophie Vandebroek was interviewed on this topic by Ed Donahue & Ashley Myers at the Grace Hopper Celebration. Watch the interview on YouTube.

Jo Miller is CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching, Inc. Through leadership workshops, coaching programs and webinars, Jo helps women create their roadmap into leadership positions in business.

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