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Denise Robitaille


Selling the Solution

Getting your way

Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 - 23:00

Years ago, when my kids were in middle school, I volunteered as a coach for the Future Problem Solvers, a competitive academic program designed to help young people develop the creative thinking skills they will need as tomorrow’s leaders.

While the bulk of the time was spent teaching students problem-solving methodology, almost one third of the time was devoted to solution-selling techniques. We can expend a great deal of time and effort on wondrous ideas, but if we can’t get buy-in from decision makers, we toil in vain.

This leads us back to the fundamentals found in ISO 9004:2000—the quality management principles. More precisely, it directs us to the seventh of these principles: “Factual approach to decision making.” The standard states, “Effective decisions are based on the analysis of data and information.”

Often individuals bemoan the lack of senior management support for improvement initiatives. They grouse that management only pays lip service to the ISO standards system and that there is no real endorsement of the quality management system model as a practical and effective component of the organization. The pathetic whine goes, “They just won’t listen.”

The question I’d ask is: “Have you given them anything worthwhile to hear?” Managers don’t want to hear that they have to allocate resources for corrective action or that they need to accommodate internal audits schedules or that they have to qualify suppliers because “ISO says so.” They want to know what benefits are derived from these processes. They are required to justify expenditure of resources. It’s part of the mandate that accompanies their executive-level positions. They need to have a good reason for saying yes. “ISO says so” doesn’t make the grade as a justifiable reason for authorizing anything.

This takes us back to the link between a factual approach to decision making and solution selling. ISO 9001 requires organizations to analyze data (section 8.4). Effective implementation of this requirement means that information is more readily available for the decision-making process. Improvements in data-selection and -collection processes further refine this organizational asset, increasing its relevance and usefulness.

So, what kind of information will spark managerial support? While there may be several more than those listed below, I think that these are universal concerns:

  • Safety (loss of life, bodily harm, liability related to both)
  • Loss of money (waste, rework/repair costs, inefficiencies, etc.)
  • Loss of customers (decreased market share, lost orders, diminished opportunity to quote new projects, devaluation of brand name/logo, etc.).

Therefore, when you approach top management seeking support, it’s crucial to provide them with the information that demonstrates objectively the linkage between your initiative and the concerns that consume their attention. It isn’t up to them to decipher the information that you’ve presented so they can discern the value of your project. The onus lies with the process owner, the initiator, to present the data in the most compelling fashion—the process owner must sell the solution.

Here’s a typical example of how this tactic would be deployed for a corrective action.

The situation revolves around a customer return. The facts are as follows:

1) This is the first time this customer has returned this product. However, two other customers have returned products for similar defects in the last three months.
2) Costs associated with returns are as follows:

Repair costs:


  • Raw material


  • Labor (average 20 hrs @ $30)


  • Machinery time (average 10 hrs @ $50)


Administrative costs for processing return


Overtime to keep other order deliveries on time




Total actual cost for three returned orders



3) This cost doesn’t include the potential cost due to the loss of reputation, which could lead to loss of future orders or market share. (This is something that can be calculated and projected based upon reliable financial models.)

Taking into account only the actual monetary loss, we know that this problem is costing the organization more than $10,000. We also know that there’s evidence of previous occurrence and that there is no reason to believe that the situation will remedy itself without intervention. That’s the first part of the factual approach to decision making. You’ve provided management with the justification to take action. You have begun the solution-selling process.

The next step is to amass the information that demonstrates you’ve developed your plan responsibly. You must ensure that the plan clearly describes what will be done, what resources—including people—will be required, when the action is to be taken and how much it will cost. You must show that you’ve gotten approval to borrow people from other departments, that you’ve gotten authorization from individuals (such as production managers and design engineers) to take action that will affect their schedules, that you have calculated the hours necessary and devised a plan that addresses any constraints. Your plan is based on facts, not on wishful thinking. The information is complete and unambiguous, anticipating questions or concerns that a decision maker might have. An executive manager can review your plan and find within it all the information needed to make a responsible decision to approve.

The last part of the project is to establish the metrics you will use to measure the effectiveness of the action taken. How will you know if the plan worked? How successful was it in solving the problem and in mitigating the negative effect on the bottom line? These are the facts that management will need to decide what further action to take.

The same methodology can be used to justify an internal audit program. What do we learn from the audits? What actions are taken? What benefits are derived from the actions? For a supplier monitoring program, the costs savings may include streamlined warehousing, decreased incoming inspection or improved delivery—all of which have direct effect on the bottom line.

The tools are right at hand. If you want management buy-in, show them something they want to buy.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.