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Make Your Business Case an Offer They Can’t Refuse

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Back in the July/August issue, I kicked off a discussion of how to solicit, construct, and deliver a business case that will result in a signed contract (“Use Business Cases as an Opening and Closing Tool”). As I noted there, the most important sales elements of a business case are (1) getting customer agreement on the key performance indicators (KPIs), such as cost savings or increased capacity, that are required to move forward; and (2) obtaining a commitment for a desired action, such as a product trial or a meeting with executives, if those KPIs are met.

The important thing is that the KPIs have to be achievable. The business case will be an exercise in futility if meeting the KPIs isn’t feasible.

It’s all part of making your business case as strong as it can be. A vice president of strategic sourcing once told me a business case needed to be compelling—i.e., it needed to have a powerful and irresistible effect, demanding acute attention or respect. This was great advice. Make your business case so strong an argument for your offer that no one can deny its overall value. So how do you do that?

A comprehensive business case is made up of three parts, which we’ll examine here in turn:

  • Current state analysis
  • Future state design
  • Financial and operational benefits

CURRENT STATE ANALYSIS

A compelling business case starts with a comprehensive current state assessment. The goal is to paint an accurate picture of the current environment, showcasing what is working well and what needs improvement. To get this information, talk with as many stakeholders as you can—users (especially power users), system maintainers, budget owners, and those who utilize the deliverables of the system. Ask questions to uncover the problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions of the current environment to capture areas that inhibit personnel from effectively doing their jobs.

For areas that are not meeting the customers’ requirements, explore the implications or effects of these problems. Request definitive data (hours of lost productivity, excess cost to work around problems, customer relationships issues as result of problems, etc.) whenever possible. Any problem is only as bad as its effect on business operations, and any time you can quantify those implications, it highlights the issue and why it needs to be resolved.

Also important: Ask what an optimal system would look like and how that system would help employees do their jobs. There are no better individuals to help you design a new system or determine what features matter most and articulate the benefits than the individuals using and maintaining the current system.

Use quotes wherever possible. They have immeasurable impact as they are “straight from the horse’s mouth.” Attribute the quotes to specific individuals with their permission, or as a generic comment—e.g., “a marketing manager said, ‘The current system is slow and unable to meet our demands at month/quarter end and causes significant overtime to meet our deadlines.’”

FUTURE STATE DESIGN

To show customers you are acting on their behalf, present a complete solution that surpasses their current system. Don’t include any items outside the scope or budget in your proposal. This can be interpreted as taking advantage and can lead to being viewed as a greedy salesperson.

One way of differentiating your solution is to provide a side-by-side comparison of the current and future state technologies and processes. Demonstrate how your solution will resolve the concerns identified in the current state analysis. Show add-on capabilities that address capacity, functionality, and integration needs, ones that will support future growth. Finally, highlight innovative aspects of your solution to forestall the decision to do nothing.

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL BENEFITS

Here we turn to the financial and operational benefits of your solution, which is where you provide evidence that you have met or exceeded the agreed-to KPIs in the business case. Tie these KPIs to corporate/departmental initiatives where applicable to showcase the broader value of your solution.

Show definitive evidence of benefits such as cost savings, increased capacity, reduced time to revenue, improved uptime, and process optimization based on data gathered in the current state analysis, and bolster your case by making the argument for future benefits that cannot be currently measured, like increased customer and employee retention/satisfaction, higher Net Promoter Scores, and increased share of wallet.

If you did not achieve all of your KPI benchmarks, emphasize the value of your solution holistically to overcome specific areas where you missed. Focus on the areas of achievement and the benefits with the most immediate impact. If your solution provides sufficient overall value, you can still confidently represent success and request they honor your next step.

Business cases are an excellent vehicle to build credibility when opening a customer relationship as well as a persuasive tool to close a sale. Showing a customer you are willing to invest resources to demonstrate your value and learn their business develops trust and provides your company an unparalleled opportunity to build relationships. Use business cases to get connected with your customers, and you and they will reap the rewards. 

Paul Harney (pharney@itsoli.com) is director of sales and marketing for I.T. Solutions, a professional services firm delivering strategy, transformation, and technology solutions. Its core consultants are IT practitioners with experience in the corporate and consulting worlds strategizing and implementing solutions from vendors such as Oracle, Microsoft, Salesforce, and ServiceNow.

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