Marketing Director at HNI
“Change the Game" is our tagline and woven into our DNA – and the people that we typically engage with play the role of change agents in their organizations. They thrive on new ideas and want to pursue projects to make the company better.
But when you have a great idea that you know will make an impact – how do you sell it and get buy in? Here are some tips for success when making a business case.
Get Your Story Straight
A solid business case is a must for any ask involving internal resources, operating funds, or capital investments. Key elements of a well thought out project request include:
- The wicked problem you're setting out to solve
- The business impact of your proposed solution (the reason why you would embark on a new initiative in the first place)
- Key stakeholders
- Timeframe and deadlines
- Budget (both hard dollars and team time)
- Measures of success
- Alternatives to pursuing the project
Think Through Who You Need to Get Onboard
Proactively think through how you will get buy-in from ANYONE who has the power to influence the outcome of your efforts.
A financial guru has different concerns than an HR director. A safety manager is going to care about different things that the person responsible for maximizing production and organizational efficiency.
The success of a project depends on those with the power to formally approve/reject it, but also on the people involved in implementation and adoption. Failure to engage the boots on the ground as well as leadership can prove to be a project killer.
The best pitches speak to all relevant parties and are two steps ahead of any objections that may arise.
Paint a Picture of Where You’re Going
Sure, you have to convey the time, money, and resources to execute on a project when making a business case. But don’t start there.
When you have the opportunity to make your case, lead with a compelling vision of the “future state” benefits that you will realize once you get ‘r done.
What will it look like? What will it feel like? What are the hard and soft benefits that you will reap? Invite your team to get excited about this with you.
For every cup of vision, you need two of realism. Delivering on what you commit to is critical.
It’s better to overstate the resources you need and then wow people when you complete the project than to dangle a carrot that you can’t quite reach.
Quantify the Value
Money talks, and so do hard numbers. Even for the “softest” of initiatives, you can find a way to add data to the mix to strengthen your case.
At a recent company meeting, we talked through some ROI calculations for the things we’ve done for clients. The conversation started with comments like “I’m an advisor for my clients, how can you quantify my advice?” and “I drop everything I’m doing to help this client, what is that worth?”
But the more we talked it through, the more quantifiable data points we came up with. By lowering mod scores, we’ve lowered the premiums of many of our clients. By implementing a “scorecard” system for our of our transportation clients, we increased productivity by 20%. By avoiding an HR compliance risk, we kept the client out of a situation where they could have received six figure fines from the DOL.
These are the kind of numbers that will make your CFO smile. Even if they are “guesstimates,” including as much hard data as possible shows that you are focused on results.
Build a Complete Case, but Include a Cheat Sheet
Thinking through the details in critical, but there are some individuals that may not be able to stomach the full analysis. For the quick starts and big picture folks, include an executive summary that’s easy to digest.
Give it a Dry Run
We are big believers in the value of “low risk practice” or rehearsing an important pitch before a formal presentation or making a business case. Our sales teams do low risk practice with internal staff before a big proposal, and our advisory teams do the same for an important meeting or presentation.
Find someone unrelated to the project and give your “schpiel” a whirl. It could be a trusted colleague, a spouse, or even the Voice Recorder on your iPhone. There is tremendous value in running through your message OUT LOUD in advance. (Running through it in your head doesn’t count!)
Package It In a Way that They Can’t Turn It Down
Make sure what you ultimately present in support of your project is polished. The format depends on the situation, but a well-organized document, power point decks, or short video can often work well.
Include an executive summary or “cheat sheet” for the quick starts that won’t want to digest the whole pacakage.
…but Don’t Let it Get You Down If They Do Turn it Down
Your plan may get shot down, no matter how well you've thought it out and framed your business case.
It’s happened to all of us. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on being a gamechanger!
Got a project you’re angling to pitch? Any other tips for fellow change agents looking to inspire a new initiative? Share your thoughts in the comments!