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How to Sell A Novel Research Idea

Sales and research collide in this article, to help explain both excelling in your personal career and becoming a better insights professional with three lessons.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Joseph Chen will be speaking at IIeX North America 2019 in Austin, TX. If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more. 


Have you ever faced rejection from your boss or business partners when you proposed a new research methodology?   I have experienced this scenario many times during my consumer insights career. I always wonder what went wrong that led to the rejection.  Is it because of the methodology? Is it how I approached it? What about my passion for the business? Can people see that? Or is it because I don’t know how to sell an idea?

Sales or business development has always been a “black box” for me.  I have never understood what salespeople do but I do know the successful ones do very well financially.

A few years ago, I declared a personal mission to work in sales so I could learn about how I can build my influencing and sales skills.  I thought I had nothing to lose since I have a partner who supports me in doing what I am passionate about. I also thought I was still young enough in my career journey that a career change would be a good thing.

After spending two years in a sales role for a tech research company, I realized there was no magic to selling.  It is a skill set that you build over the years and it is not a profession that requires technical skills per se. However, this is a profession that is built based on an abundance of soft skills.

I am no expert in sales but there are three things that I have learned in my short journey that has elevated my influencing skills in my current consumer insights role:

1. Show Your Passion

To be successful, you must love what you do.   I hear this phrase all the time but I often glance over it as I find it so vague and difficult to action.  This is, in fact, not a skill set that you can build as it comes from within and naturally when you really care about something.  People often tell me that I have a lot of energy and my passion is contagious. Over the years, I began to understand what showing your passion means.  I truly believe you must believe in the product you are selling. If you don’t believe in the brand or the company purpose, I think it’s important to find something that will ignite your passion.  There was one point in my career when I was working for a major corporation and I realized the product/service that they were selling was against my personal beliefs. Obviously, I didn’t last very long with the company.  

2. Build Your Relationship

I think a part of the success that I had in my sales career is due to the network that I built over the years on the client side.  I have a personal interest in meeting new people and I believe in giving back to the community that helped me with my career advancement.  I also believe that what goes around comes around. I don’t discriminate when I meet new people. On a weekly basis, I receive around 10 to 20 LinkedIn connections and private messages, I accept and I respond to every message.  Many of the people I met were graduate students or new immigrants who were seeking advice on getting into market research or other client-side researchers who were looking for new opportunities. I would have coffee meetings and evening or weekend calls to help them make connections. Many of these connections eventually became my clients when I went into sales.  This experience made me realize how important it is to build your network and I have carried this experience with me to Mondelez.

3. Do Your Homework

I can’t stress enough about the importance of doing research to understand the business you are working on, to understand your audience and to understand the methodology that you are proposing.  When you do your homework, you will eventually build credibility, trust, and connection. You will be able to “speak the same language” as your audience. This allows you to tailor your communication and approach to selling a new methodology or project with your business partners.  In my two years in sales, I worked with some very successful salespeople. I find the successful ones are the ones that ask a lot of questions with a sense of curiosity. They try to understand everything about the potential prospect before making a pitch.

I have leveraged these learnings when I had to sell a new research approach to my internal business team in Canada and get alignment from the global team at Mondelez.  We got a “green light” to move forward with the project and we are now activating the learning on everything that we do from communication activation.

I am still not an expert in selling but I know I am now more skilled in getting others to come on board with me.  I hope some of these tips will enable others to succeed in their consumer insights career journey.

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Joseph Chen

Joseph Chen

Insights Lead, Mondelēz International