Today, the need to articulate with absolute clarity the rationale, benefits, cost, and impact of any initiative is as critical as it has ever been. Many professionals present their business case using reams of data-rich slides that serve the purpose of demonstrating just how hard the project sponsor has worked on the initiative but do little to inspire the decision makers to say “yes.”
There is another way!
Assuming you’ve done the groundwork in building a robust case to begin with, the following advice will ensure you deliver it in a way that will secure not only approval but excitement.
Unearth the Urgency
The worst presented business cases are like the comedian who leaves the punchline to the very end, whereas the best lead with the message up front:
Where is the pain?
Here’s how we propose removing it and at what cost.
What can we achieve when the pain is gone?
Of course, not all business cases revolve around pain, as the converse is opportunity. In that case, the questions are very similar:
Where is the opportunity?
Here’s how we propose achieving it and at what cost.
What will it bring us?
Let’s take it from theory to reality.
In my former position as an executive director of a global brand, I once had to present a business case for the purchase of a new sales order processing system that would cost £3M.
This was my opening gambit to the board to “unearth the urgency”:
“This business is losing £8M in sales a year. In five years, we will be out of business, but a state-of-the-art sales order processing system at a cost of £3M will help us to not only reverse the decline but help us to achieve our goal of doubling sales within five years. Let me explain.”
The board was now prepped and ready to listen to my case. It wasn’t a done deal by any stretch of the imagination, but I had achieved my first goal of grabbing their undivided attention.
Present the Story, Not Just the Slides
Your job is to connect with the decision makers and, whilst slides can help, the greatest asset you have is you. The most effective way to connect with them is to tell them stories.
It may be a personal experience you have had with the issue you are presenting, or a customer experience, but whatever it is, it has to make an emotional connection.
In asking for £3M for my sales order processing system, I cited several real-life examples of customers who we had let down through failures in our system and asked the audience to imagine how they would have felt in the same situation. These weren’t isolated cases, as I had the numbers to support the stories.
Give Something to Everyone
Each member of the senior management team will be listening to you with their functional executive hat on, and it’s your job to cater to each of their needs. Remember, though, that the one thing they all have in common is that they have feelings, so make sure that you connect with them emotionally as well as intellectually.
Asking a board of directors to sanction a £3M IT spend is not for the faint-hearted. In my case, I excited the finance director with the speedy ROI, the IT director with the upsides and potential of exploiting the new technology, and the marketing director with product extensions that would be made available to enhance the brand. The HR director loved the idea of the customer service teams being less stressed with a considerable reduction in complaint calls.
Keep It Simple
In short, that means to avoid the jargon and the corporate speak and just tell it as it is.
Apart from patience, the other thing that most executives don’t have an excess of is time, so your priority is to not only get to the point as quickly as possible but to not make your audience work too hard. Executives are recruited for a wealth of attributes, including intellect, knowledge, and experience, but they won’t thank you for having to decipher your data or call for a translator.
Do you remember when Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPod?
Here’s what he said: “iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.”
Even though he wasn’t presenting a business case to the board, there is a lesson in there for all of us.
Let’s face it. If you’re not excited by your proposal, then it’s extremely unlikely that anyone else will be either, regardless of the numbers.
If you’ve done the groundwork and have a potent case to present, then your job is to present it with energy and enthusiasm and inspire your audience to share your vision for its implementation. That energy should be extended to demonstrating:
Getting approval from the board for any new initiative can be an extremely challenging task, especially in the current economic climate, where budgets are being squeezed from every direction. Once you’ve invested the considerable time and energy it takes to build a compelling case, don’t make the mistake that many leaders do in not getting your project accepted because of an ill-prepared delivery.
- What inspired the idea in the first instance
- The superiority of your solution
- Your mastery of the financials and ROI
- Strategic fit to the organization’s mission
- An outstanding execution plan
- An answer to every conceivable objection or question
Having an understanding of what it takes to present a winning case will substantially increase your chances of securing the support you need to cross the winner’s line, and embracing these tips will serve you extremely well.
Maurice De Castro is a former corporate executive of some of the UK’s best loved brands. Maurice believes that the route to success in any organisation lies squarely in its ability to really connect with people. That’s why he left the boardroom to create a business helping leaders to do exactly that. Learn more at www.mindfulpresenter.com
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