I don’t doubt you know how to build a business case for a Customer Experience initiative or even for a full blown strategy. If not, you no doubt have people you work with who can cover all the main steps. I’m confident you are able to engage all the right folks to get all your costs figured out, both to implement and to operate after implementation. You can articulate the benefits, even quantifying the tangible benefits as well as those softer benefits that cannot be defined in terms of dollars and cents, but are good nonetheless for the company. You created and can show how all the financials, the NPV, the IRR, and so on, are all above targeted levels. If you can’t do these things, we can certainly help you out there, but the focus here is on getting it approved. Our topic here is convincing a senior executive (maybe your boss) or even a panel of executives, to see what you see – that yours is an effort the company must do and that the investment will be well worth it in the long run.
What follows are six tactics to be employed for any business case or proposed effort. Often, the sheer merit of the thing is not enough for people to put aside other initiatives. It’s necessary to help the enterprise understand and get behind what you are proposing in ways that go beyond solidly accounting for all the costs and benefits. So, review these six tactics and make sure you have done them. If you have, make sure you’ve done them completely and effectively. Then, you can be sure you have done whatever you can to get it approved – assuming it’s a good idea and a solid business case to begin with.
1. Let Them Know What Happens If They Pass. Explain what happens if you don’t do your initiative. Be realistic, but paint the picture of how the business is trending and is likely to continue to trend if something isn’t done. There was a reason, a fear perhaps, that led you down this path. Make it real for your audience. Is customer churn growing? Are competitors chipping away at your customer base? What happens to the company if the cost of customer acquisition continues to rise? Figure out what that is and build that out as an alternative (although bad) business case. Depending on how things turn out in your “do nothing” model, often that alone can be enough to get people’s attention. If you aren’t providing your audience with the potential impact of doing nothing, you are doing the entire company a disservice.
2. Demonstrate Plausibility. Now that you have both the initiative business case and a view of what happens if the company does nothing, make sure both scenarios are plausible. That means your projections can be supported by case studies and other research. Don’t confine yourself to your own industry – look beyond it to find what has worked elsewhere, how it is similar to what you are proposing, and the overall outcome. It also means any assumptions you made along the way are clear and make sense. Any business case has assumptions – don’t sweep them under the rug as things you cannot prove. Hold them up as examples of what you have considered and ensured that where assumptions were made, they were conservative and likely to hold true. Third, plausibility means that anything you are proposing applies to your company. That means analyzing your customers, your products, your company’s track record for execution. What you have found in other industries, what case studies you are referencing, and what direction you propose makes sense in terms of your actual situation.
3. Sell Your Solution, Not New Metrics. Put your business case in terms the enterprise can understand. Make sure that the business metrics you use are common, familiar, and real business terms. Don’t try to make up a metric. Not only can you not point to a reliable baseline, but you’ll also find yourself selling the metric rather than your initiative. An IPO is essentially selling a business case – taking a company to the public to get them to buy in to the direction the company has laid out and its expected growth and profitability. Look what happened to Groupon’s IPO (i.e. business case) when they used unfamiliar metrics and methods of calculation in their financials. They found themselves arguing the merits of metrics and methods more than their overall business model. Something they called the Adjusted Consolidated Segment Operating Income wasn’t familiar to and thus didn’t sit well with the SEC. In the end, their reported sales were cut by half and the IPO was delayed for a few months. Overall, the expected value, market capitalization, of Groupon shifted from an expected $20 billion at the time they first delayed the filing to about $13 billion at their IPO in early November 2011 (note: sources are WSJ online articles from Sept. 7, 2011 and Nov. 4, 2011).
4. Actively Campaign (beforehand) with Decision Makers. Like in politics, a candidate cannot win by simply having his name on the ballot on election day. The goal is to have voters’ minds already made up well before they go to the polls. The same is true with your business case. You need to pre-engage your decision-makers and not simply wait for presentation day to lay it all out at once. By pre-engaging the decision-makers, your day to present should be almost a formality of a foregone conclusion: we are doing this project, we just need to see how it all came together so we can feel good about the decision to move forward. Set up one-on-ones, take folks to lunch, work things into other conversations. If you need to convince your boss, find a way to share a case study or some analysis that you plan to use later. That way, there is already familiarity and acceptance of a new idea. You can also use this pre-engagement to course correct. If you share a tidbit from research, a finding in your analysis, or even broach a new topic and meet with resistance, you still have time to figure out how to handle it and move past or around those objections. It’s better to find out early what previous bias your decision-makers are holding than be surprised on the day of your presentation. Realize too, that by doing this, you are building supporters in the room. And don’t be afraid to ask for their support. Simply ask, “When we get in front of the board, can you support this and help me overcome others’ objections?” If the answer is yes, you are on your way. If not, then you’ve opened the door to a deeper conversation and can find out what reservations you will need to address. When done properly, I have seen occasions where the presenter was forced to stand quietly by while the decision makers all tried to convince each other why they had to move forward. It truly was a foregone conclusion and, not only that, but those on the panel who were making the conclusions were excited about getting it started.
5. Build a Coalition of Supporters. Don’t forget to bring along your peers, especially those impacted and those with applicable expertise. Most customer experience efforts are broader than one department. You need to span many touchpoints for consistency and you need enterprise-wide engagement to ensure proper support – besides the obvious groups like customer service, HR may be needed to hire the right operational people, IT has to implement or integrate a solution, Finance needs to be able to understand and account for the results, and so on. Don’t leave these people in the dark. They can wreck your whole plan with a question. Even though they may not make the decisions, they carry influence and can make or break your ability to get approved. If HR says they weren’t involved and don’t know where the salary figures you used for the operational cost of a new group came from, then every figure you used is suddenly in question. You very well may have legitimate details based on benchmarks from similar departments, but if the folks with domain expertise raise a question like this, then you are off the rails. They are stakeholders and experts in how the business operates. They need to be considered and brought along, even if the ultimate decision lies with someone else.
6. Build Confidence That You Can Execute. The last tactic to suggest is making sure your decision-makers are confident in your ability to execute. The business case may be solid, but unless you can show that you can actually go and do it, it won’t get off the ground. Some common concerns are around the fact that your company likely hasn’t done this before or that you still have a day job, so how can you possibly deliver on a new initiative or strategy. At the risk of sounding self-serving, this is where good consultants come in handy. The right ones bring in the ability to instill confidence, develop a realistic and achievable plan, and tailor that plan to your company and the projects you need to implement. They can do this because they’ve done it before and know what it takes to get things done, where the potential pitfalls are, and know that achieving your business objectives goes beyond implementation. Beware of the cookie-cutter approaches and the folks who are pushing only one tool or system. Find consultants who help you find the right approach and select the right tools or systems, while taking on your business objectives as their own. Depending on your company’s capabilities, this may mean handing the whole thing over to them to lead and deliver or it may just mean finding a trusted advisor to guide you through it all.
These six strategies don’t cover everything you can do and I am sure some folks probably have other ideas or other tactics to take. If you do, please feel free to post them below.