The ability to ace a business case is a crucial skill in the toolkit of leaders in today’s world of work; yet it’s something that leaders typically have no exposure to until suddenly it’s a high-stakes, must-not-fail case.
High impact mid-level leaders – the B-Suite – are increasingly leaned upon to think through, engage and draft important business cases that used to be the domain of the C-suite and their finance partner. Yet many of them don’t know where to start, and rarely have a mentor to guide them through it, step by step.
The simple trick to winning a business case is to be deliberate about your approach, and to engage well.
Don’t start by finding a business case template online and starting writing things down – that’s a surefire way to stop you doing your best work! Instead, plan out your approach and engage broadly on it – by the time you come to write it down, half the case will have been won, and your pitch will be tested and strong.
These 5 key steps that will ensure that you build – and land – the perfect business case next time and every time:
Think – Prepare your pitch
Make sure you fully understand, and can clearly articulate:
- Why you’re proposing a change: what fear, pain or opportunity exists for the business that you are proposing to address?
- How would you dimension that? Is there something being measured today, either via financial or efficiency data, user feedback or generally accepted fact?
- Who is going to benefit – both in terms of improvements and in terms of realisable benefits (more on that in step 3)
- What is your solution, and is it directly related to your problem statement?
- TIP: Avoid the best practice trap – ‘because we should / it’s best practice’ will rarely win you a business case
Engage – Pathways of Influence
Now, develop your influence strategy by mapping out who you need to talk to and what element of your pitch you need to present to them. Taking a strategic approach to how you deliberately influence the process is crucial, and something that we often shortcut in our rush to deliver a written business case on time. Even in a small business, this is a critical step of getting to a yes.
- Who are your key decision makers, what process do they need you to follow and what is on their mind right now – you can harness that in your favour.
- Who influences those key decision-makers, and can you get them on side?
- Who are your key beneficiaries, and do they support your case? Use them to practice your pitch – they have a vested interest in your success after all!
Convince – Nail your benefits
Many leaders that I work with can over-complicate the benefits statement.
- Link your benefits directly back to your problem and the metrics that relate to that.
- Soft benefits such as safety, legal or reputational risk can often be as compelling as hard benefits, but not if they don’t match the problem statement.
- If you’re stating hard benefits, then prove how those benefits will be realized.
- TIP: Don’t use specialist metrics – especially if they are not reported on already, it will confuse your stakeholder and undermine your message.
Keep it simple and compelling – the more you add in, the weaker your benefits will appear.
Prove – Share your Implementation Plan
It’s not enough for your stakeholders to agree with the problem statement, and to agree that your benefits will be realised by addressing the root cause – they also want evidence that you can actually deliver this! This is a really important confidence-building tactic that often wins over decision-makers who are still on the fence.
- Can you outline a fast versus cheap option for them to consider, and are there any quick wins or early benefits that could be realised along the way?
- Any gaps or risks to implementation that you need to flag or mitigate?
- What are the specific steps that you will take to execute and the key milestones if you successfully obtain funding?
Deliver – Writing & Presenting
You are finally ready to write and to present!
Every company and investment process is different, and they all have their own templates, so make sure you uncover what you need when you’re researching your pathways of influence.
- Keep it short and concise – your stakeholders are busy
- Keep it simple – don’t lose your point in layers of jargon and complex paragraphs
- Give them options – 1) the risk of doing nothing 2) your preferred option and 3) an acceptable plan B.
Depending on the formality of your organisation, a great business case can be a many paged thing or a compelling conversation – either way, these five steps will help you to approach your pitch logically, consistently and with the support you need to succeed.
Written by Rebecca Houghton.
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