We’re all used to the idea of selling products and services to customers. Every business ultimately has to do this to generate revenue, survive, and thrive.
But some of your company’s most important sales jobs happen within the org chart. Someone has to convince the various stakeholders to spend money on projects to make the business better or faster or, hopefully, more profitable.
This is especially true with business application software projects. These expenditures are often significant, and everyone needs to be convinced that the investment is wise and the ROI calculations are sound.
Here's the problem, though—everyone in your organization will not be convinced in the same way.
One of the trickiest parts of building your business case is that different leaders in your organization are looking for different things. Your CEO wants something transformational; your CIO wants something secure and reliable. Your CFO wants rock-solid numbers; your department manager wants a tool employees can use without any glitches.
If you cater your business case to one kind of user, you’ll end up with lopsided support. This may kill the project, if the people supporting you can’t actually push go. It can also put you at risk, because if your pet project struggles, those who didn’t feel in the loop may be likely to point the finger of blame.
So you need to craft selling points for different roles across your organization, showing them how proposed business application software will make their work lives easier, whether you’re giving them more time in their day or more favorable KPI performance.
But how do you do it? We’re glad you asked. Here are some role-specific selling points that can help you build unshakeable support for an internal software project from the C-level to the day-to-day user of the business application.
People in your organization may not precisely fit these profiles, but in our experience working with dozens of clients, these categories are generally true.
Most CEOs are big-picture thinkers and visionaries. Many don’t care so much about the details as they do about impact. For this reason, CEOs gravitate to the idea of transformation. Something that will make a big change will pique their interest.
So when you got to the CEO, make a case about how business will change. Show big-picture numbers about ROI, efficiency, or customer satisfaction. This will get the CEO’s attention and earn your idea a longer look.
The operations specialists are more brass tacks. So when it comes to software, they want to know the basics: How is it actually better? How will it eliminate errors and speed up work? What risks will it remove? How long of a life cycle will it have?
Your pitch to the COO needs to show an attention to detail. The good news is this: If operational improvements are the goal, the COO will often work with you to develop a compelling case for the rest of the C-level. After all, better operations will make him or her look good.
The finance guy will want to see numbers. What costs will you reduce? What missing revenue will you capture or accelerate? How will spending one dollar net the company three or five or more?
Your business case needs to have financials that add up. You need to present a cost/benefit analysis with numbers over the first three years of the software’s life. (By the way, this is something that Worthwhile helps our clients do during the initial Examine phase of our process.)
The CIO or CTO will want to get into the nuts and bolts of the technology on your project. What platform are you using? Why did you choose it? Is it open source? How many in-house resources know this language? How easy will it be to update and upgrade?
It’s wise to get the CIO on board early. Talk with him or her about the goal of the software project, and use his or her expertise in selecting the development language or platform. Getting this buy-in early will build confidence, and it will help you avoid an intense requirements-gathering phase that would sideline the project for weeks or months.
IT and Data Management
Like the CIO, IT leaders think technology. But IT leaders are more likely to focus on tactics—hosting, security, database management, and more. Until they’re satisfied, they can slow a project with extensive rounds of questions and/or requirements lists that drive up scope, costs, and timelines.
As with CIOs, you will want to consult IT early to help them feel ownership of a project. Find out what they need from the beginning, and use those requirements to formulate your software plan. This will let you leverage IT expertise to create a better strategy, while allaying IT concerns from day one.
Marketing leaders think of customers first. This means they may be reluctant to support an internal software project unless there’s a direct line to customer impact.
It’s up to you to draw that connection. Usually, customers feel the brunt of lethargic internal software via slow response times, inaccurate information, and even dissatisfied employees. Show how your software proposal affects these kinds of issues, and you’ll find fans in the marketing department—even if the customer will never actually use the business application for themselves.
While marketing people think of customers first, salespeople think of closing first. They want to drive conversions and think far more about top-line revenue than about ROI and net profit.
So talk to the sales team about how you will help them make sales easier. Will the new software be easier to access from the field? Will it help them answer potential customers more quickly, while they’re on the phone, instead of having to call or email back? These kinds of factors will get the sales people excited—and a motivated sales person can help to sell internally just as well as externally.
Human resources teams want engaged, satisfied employees. Bad software undermines these goals. So talk to HR about how your internal business application will make life better for employees. Create KPI around employee engagement or decreased employee complaints. Having these metrics will let HR measure how the software is helping it do its work well.
If your business has a compliance manager, then you should have a major advocate for your software project. Business applications can help record version history and create an audit trail. It can also be configured to enforce and document adherence to external standards from PCI to ISO to HIPAA.
Meet with your compliance officer early on to find out what unique needs your company has. Then, follow up to show how your planned internal software will enable that compliance. Those conversations will make supporting your project an easy win for the compliance expert in your organization.
Managers are much closer to the ground than the C-level, and so their concerns live more in the real world. They want employees to be able to do their work without complaining, and they don’t want to be interrupted by questions or problems that keep popping up over and over again.
These managers need to know that new software will work. How fast will it be? What is the uptime? Will it work on all the computers and devices employees currently use? They also want to know how long they’ll have to spend training (and re-training) employees. Show them how the business application will improve their lives in these areas, and you’ll find open minds when it comes to supporting your project.
The end user of a business application wants to avoid frustration. They probably have had the feeling of wanting to smash their work computer in a million pieces, and they want to have that feel as rarely as possible.
So help them see how the new software will make their lives easier. Show them that the burden of training on a new system—a real cost to them—will be worth it. Listen to them and watch them work so that you know what their big problems are, and then show them how the new business application will address those problems.
Business application software improvements can bring immense value to your business—value that touches every department and role. A canned sales pitch with four bullet points will never show everybody in your company how much difference an improvement in software can make.
So take the time to cater your internal sales pitch to each user. This will help you win more supporters, and will also help to ensure that you’re thinking through the full extent of what your software project needs to do to make your whole business better.