How to Sell a Rocket to a Guy Looking to Buy a Rocket

By: Guest | September 19, 2011 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Peter Fleming.

Or – How to get clients to commit to the innovation they say they want.

A dream client (or your employer) comes to you and says “we need innovation, the sky’s the limit on creativity.”
You pour your heart and soul into crafting the perfect design/campaign/strategy that exudes an effortless balance of chic boldness and bombastic elegance.
You throw on your dressiest black t-shirt and your unbridled excitement, then skip over to the client’s office to do your little dance.
And then…
The client says “I don’t know, it’s kinda ‘out there’ don’t you think?” or the dreaded “Maybe we could dial it back a bit?”
Broken and diminished, you slink back to your office to sand off the sharp parts and beat down the bold.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I’d like to share some tactics that are key to empowering clients to embrace innovation and welcome un-convention.

Designing the Rocket

Nail down that goalpost

Get a success statement upfront. What does the ideal outcome look like? What is this project supposed to accomplish or exemplify or embody or inspire? Then, when you present the finished product you can start with how your innovation passes cleanly through that predetermined goalpost.

Give them a taste

Show them the kind of innovation you plan on delivering and gauge their reaction. Does it scare them? Any signs of squeamishness revealed at this early stage will be amplified when the stakes are higher. This doesn’t mean you have to cut bait and give up. It simply means you have some more work to do in the persuasion and expectation management departments.

Check and re-check your trajectory

I like to tack up a token of inspiration nearby as a reminder of what I am aiming for. It might be a picture or a blurb of copy, or one huge word printed out at 120 point in the center of a florescent yellow piece of paper. Then, every once in a while, especially if I find myself on a tangent, I hold my work up to this token and see if it still fits.

Building The Rocket

Add a pinch of familiar

Along with your new, ground-breaking, game-changing, earth-shattering innovations, add a little bit of something that the client can relate to. If you’re pitching a hovercraft, point out that the accelerator is still on the right and the brake on the left.

Put something in their hand

Everyday good ideas wither because people can’t grasp them. Every day mediocre ideas flourish because people can at least “get” them. There’s no substitute for tangible. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a prototype has got to be like 5,428 (give or take).

Find that guy/gal

Finding someone inside the company that has a propensity for early adoption and/or a predilection to the type of innovation that you are targeting is huge. Nurture that relationship. The value of having an inside-(wo)man that will champion on your behalf behind the closed doors simply cannot be overstated.

Launching the Rocket

Be excited

Obvious, for sure, but too often under-emphasized. Your energy, good or bad, is contagious. It’s hard to tell a girl whose doing backflips while yodeling that her idea sucks.

Be prepared to persuade…I mean really prepared…like it’s your job!

Be ready to point out flaws in the status quo and then paint a pretty picture of the future with your solution paving the way to riches and fulfillment. Of course you will never be able to predict every single curveball that ‘could’ be thrown your way, but you sure can give it your best shot.

Push hard, but not too hard, but hard

This tactic is the stickiest of wickets and only becomes well-honed through experience. You need to make the client realize that they hired you for your expertise and that you feel passionately about this solution. Have three angles ready for each point you want to make so that if one fails, you can hot-swap it for another.


Clients will forever ask for work that “pushes the envelope” or is “out of the box,” but when the creative starts flowing, the true colors start showing. So go out there and push that envelope all the way outside that box, but be prepared to deal with the back-peddling and cold feet. And when you do it right and it produces results, it’ll be that much easier to do the next time – not to mention it will feel GREAT!

May your rocket sales be plentiful.

Peter Fleming is the director of innovation & experience at allwebcafe, an agile, diverse team of big thinkers who like to help businesses thrive online. When he’s not strategizing or awesomizing he likes to create things. Learn more about him.

  • Great stuff, Peter (and yes, @ginidietrich , I”m first again…but just because I got lucky with the timing!)

    I’ve had this happen to me on so many occasions where I work with a client, I see the light go on, I see the excitement building, and then when it comes time to execute, they are nowhere to be found. Suddenly they don’t seem to “get it” anymore.

    I especially love the middle section about building the rocket. The point about keeping it “familiar” is key. Try to give them something they already understand and build from there. And also finding that guy or gal on the inside who can grab hold and make it their own and be your internal advocate. So important.

  • VAForums

    RT @ginidietrich How to Sell a Rocket to a Guy Who Wants a Rocket by @thingcreator

  • @KenMueller@ginidietrich

    Like Ken says, keeping it familiar is key. But you can also introduce new ideas within the process and make something new feel familiar. I have known so many creative people who don’t involve the client in the creative process, then wonder why the whole thing catches the client off guard (and not in a good way). Involving the client in your processes, and keep them posted along the way is not only a sign of respect to the client, it can help improve your final product.

  • Building rockets specific to the clients’ industry is a good part of keeping it familiar. You’ve got to show them that you’re not in the business of manufacturing rockets for just anybody – rather, your rockets are aimed (appropriate visual fully intended) for the clients’ individual realm. They are designed and packaged just for you; not some assembly line byproduct that you might get from Lockhead Martin and the like.

  • Great point about having the inside person, thingcreator . It helps so much when you can clarify from the beginning what the desired effect of your creative efforts will be. A little negotiating finesse never hurt anyone either – I find that no matter what *I hear* someone ask me for, it’s almost never an *exact match* to what they *actually* want. Sometimes it’s that we don’t speak the language, sometimes I’m dreaming into the dialogue. But nailing the desired effect in a follow up conversation (with the example, as you stated) helps save so much time in the long run.

  • thewhalehunters

    Brilliant post–thanks! It highlights the reality that people are afraid to buy. The more outre you are, the more innovative, the higher the level of fear. So all of your points are about how to reduce the fear and make it look familiar. Right on Peter–thanks!

  • ThingCreator

    Thanks or taking the time to comment Ken, I agree that this idea of presenting something familiar along with your exciting(scary) new stuff is one of the key takeaways – especially when dealing with all but the most progressive, early-adopter type clients. It’s important to note that this typically isn’t a compromise on our part – we were going to leave the accelerator on the right side of the hovercraft anyway – but rather a conscious decision to highlight something the client can snuggle-up with.

  • ThingCreator


    Good Point Barrett, “Involving the client” could easily be another section under Building The Rocket.

  • ThingCreator

    Thanks @Tinu This is huge! I might even go out on a limb and say that the majority of successes are in some part attributed to having a rapport established with that key inside individual(s).

    Also, I love your “dreaming into the dialogue” concept so don’t be surprised if it shows up in the next thing I write. Matter of fact, I’m on the phone with my trademark lawyer as we speak.

  • ThingCreator

    Agreed. “Aimed at their realm” in an important distinction. That this is a custom rocket should be instilled from the get-go and reinforced throughout the entire process. Thanks @EmmaofCEM !

  • ThingCreator


    One of my @allwebcafe coworkers ( @amouratt ) has an interesting way of presenting in these pitch meetings. She asks the client if the idea makes their palms sweat – if the answer is “yes” then we have done our job. A large part of helping the client embrace change is to tell them it is going to be a little scary and that that’s OK. That tingle is how they know it’s working!

  • Hi Peter!

    Thanks so much for guest blogging for us today. I love the post – well, I love talking about selling rockets for some reason. That was just fun for me.

    We had a client over a year ago for whom we did this kind of fun innovative stuff, and i really wish we had had these tactics in our pocket. We ended up with design by committee. (and a short term relationship, as well). I agree with @Tinu , having that insider is a good one!!

  • connorkeating79

    As Yuri Mintskovsky’s said ‘You have to know what to sell, whom to sell it to and how to sell it’. That’s the secret to marketing success be it on or off line.

  • ThingCreator

    @Lisa Gerber

    Thank you Lisa!

    I was honored to be invited and humbled by the feedback. There is a truly great community here.

  • ThingCreator

    @Lisa Gerber

    Thank you Lisa!

    I was honored to be invited and humbled by the feedback. There is a truly great community here.

  • >Applause!< This is a great article and I want to thank you for it. The world does not want real "innovation" - most people have to go with innovation that they at least understand. And when there's a specific need, the innovation has to do what it is supposed to. This is what I learned in my many years as a research engineer - first and foremost, understand the customer. It starts with what they say they want but if you want to do something great you have to understand their philosophy and entire approach to their market. There's more artistry to it than anything, something more akin to taking a block of marble and understanding what that block wants to be before you start sculpting. Great stuff, and I wish more people had the guts to write about how "innovation" is rarely appreciated in its raw form.

  • rustyspeidel

    I agree that bridging the gap between old and new with something familiar is critical. Nobody totally transforms all at once, at least not very often. Customers can’t grasp it either. It has to be done in stages.

  • ginidietrich

    Hey Peter! Sorry for the delay in getting to this. First, THANK YOU for the great blog post!

    Secondly, isn’t this frustrating? It happens to us, too. Sometimes I feel like all we’re doing is reporting and hand holding vs. doing work that really matters. But I really love the breakdown of ways to make it work, as well as changing your own thinking to make sure clients are on board throughout the process.

  • Pingback: How to Sell a Rocket to a Guy Looking to Buy a Rocket -()