If you’re selling a big idea, you need to be having conversations with a big thinker.

Earlier this week, I talked to expert Thomas P.M. Barnett about how to get a buyer to understand a changing market and buy big ideas.

During the same conversation, I also asked him for advice on getting in front of the right decision maker. If you’re selling a big idea, how do you know if you’re talking to a big thinker? Here is what he suggests.

Don’t Waste Time on the Unconvinced

You can’t drag people from understanding to action. A customer isn’t actually at the last mile if you’re the one dragging her to the finish line.

I believe the last mile is covered very rapidly by individuals who understand what you’re talking about and then come to you on that basis. Don’t think Eisenhower moving a vague, long front in Europe during World War II; think instead of MacArthur in the Pacific or MacArthur in Korea, with the Inchon landing. You thrust forward wherever you break through.

Go With What Works

I make the same kind of argument about trying to convince very large-scale communities, like the defense department or major corporations or industries. Run with what works: Sell to the people who believe in you and are willing to take the chances and make the experience happen.

Wikistrat is my ninth start-up, so I’ve been through this process a few times. You have to go with what works. The power of example is compelling, so model the ideas that you want someone to understand. If you can get out in front of people with your ideas and your execution, you’ll attract the people who need to be pulled in.

Pain Will Drive Action

More generally, when I make these kinds of large-scale urgency arguments, the cynic in me says: With enough pain, the decision point will come, OK? And so you look at it in terms of how many pain points have to occur for the actor in question to make the mental shift required to accept what you’re talking about.

Then you just have to display a certain amount of patience. Pushing the unconvinced into a convinced status is just too frustrating. People burn themselves out trying to blow the whistle or make change happen from within.  But I really believe in the outside the insurgent, guerrilla operation.  That’s why I like start-ups.

You don’t tilt against windmills, as they say. You really run with what presents itself and then let events unfold–and you have to display that sort of strategic patience.

Click for more information on Barnett’s company, Wikistrat, and for the full audio recording.

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