Use Business Cases as an Opening and Closing Tool

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Long-term business partnerships are created by delivering on your promises with successful execution of a customer’s project, both during implementation and through ongoing support. When working with a new prospect with whom you have no track record, the two best ways to showcase your ability to deliver a project’s operational and financial objectives is through references and developing a joint project business case. I outlined how to acquire and use references back in the April 2019 issue, answering the question, “Where have you already done this and what were the results?” Now, let’s discuss how to solicit, construct, and deliver a business case that will result in a signed contract.

After qualifying a prospect, an opening strategy to deepen engagement is to offer to do a joint business case. Use it as a show of good faith of your investment in the prospect and your ability to deliver results with the project. A comprehensive business case is made up of three parts: a current state assessment, a future state design, and the financial and operational comparison showing the benefits of the proposed project.

APPROACHES TO PROVIDING BUSINESS CASES

A comprehensive business case that includes assessments and technology road maps are chargeable consulting engagements. It is important to convey your experience in doing successful business cases and the cost of this type of analysis to showcase the value and persuade the prospect to dedicate resources to the analysis. You can determine your business case approach and whether to charge based on your sales strategy:

  • An unsolicited case may allow you to entice a prospect to work with you on a subsequent joint business case and show commitment to earning the prospect’s business. But it is seldom the vehicle that gets you the business, as it doesn’t have the prospect’s seal of approval—their direct involvement.
  • If the prospect is initially reluctant to engage, you can offer an indicative business case using industry data and minimal resources to show the value of the analysis and gain commitment for a broader joint business case.
  • You can agree to provide the business case for a fee if the prospect does not implement your solution within six months to one year.
  • You can agree to provide a comprehensive business case at no charge (though nothing’s free!) based on the prospect agreeing to participate fully (providing resources, access, and data) through the executing of a business case project statement of work (SOW), signed by the decision maker. This SOW will outline their agreement to sign a contract with you if the business case meets or exceeds jointly agreed upon key performance indicators (e.g., ROI after X months, X% annual cost savings, reduction in current resources, expanded capabilities, and so on).

Whether chargeable or not, it is always advisable to create a SOW outlining deliverables and signed by both parties. This formalizes the project and helps elevate its visibility and importance to the prospect. Additionally, I show the true cost of the business case along with a $0 charge to drive home the value of what you are providing.

TWO CRITICAL FACTORS LINKED TO SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS CASES

Most successful business cases hinge on the existence of two elements. First, prospects must have a commitment to transparency on cost and operational process data.

Successful business cases are driven by the most accurate, mutually verifiable data available. This data comes from the following:

  • observations and prospect feedback during assessments;
  • prospect documentation of processes, resources, and previous improvements; and
  • costs and capacity data.

It is vital that the business case project be presented to and approved by the executive decision maker and that you have consistent access to this executive during the project—not just during milestone meetings and presentations but as a final stop for help if you are not getting the data necessary to complete the project. Business cases can often uncover unflattering operational information that some may not want shared, and you may need assistance getting meetings with all of the project’s constituents.

Second, there must be an inside advocate, preferably managing the business case project or on the team. The presence of an inside advocate is immensely important to the success of the project, as critical as the availability of data. This may be someone you know well, or a new person assigned to the project who you now must work with. Regardless, this person’s knowledge of the company and support for the project is essential to its success.

This resource can contribute insights into the prospect’s underlying needs and motivations and assist in tailoring the business case to the company’s decision methodology and culture. That type of knowledge is invaluable, so make a win for you also a win for your advocate. Understand what a win for them looks like and commit to making that happen as an equal goal of the process. That goal may be professional or personal, but ensure that your advocate knows you are supporting it even as you’re requesting his support. This kind of mutual support builds trust and motivates action.

Business cases are a powerful tool for taking subjectivity out of decisions and closing business if constructed astutely. In the November issue, I will go into more depth on the contents and messaging of a successful business case. 

Paul Harney (pharney@itsoli.com) is director of sales and marketing for I.T. Solutions, an IT practitioner consultancy focusing on helping organizations solve their planning and delivery challenges across IT’s delivery value chain. It provides architecture/cloud migration assessments and road maps, application/infrastructure implementations, project management/business analysis as a service (PM/BAaaS), and technical/functional centers of excellence (COE).

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