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How to Build a Business Case Your Executives Will Read
It’s 2:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, and you’re sweating the important business case you’re putting together for the new PRM tool. Your manager wants the report on his desk by Friday afternoon. You know the new software will be a massive boost to your growing partner program, but how do you make sure it gets the green light?
What if you haven’t covered everything? What if your budget numbers don’t add up? How can you make a case for the program so that your stakeholders don’t just approve it but also get just as excited as you are?
Fortunately, we’ve got your back. Whether you’re considering a new PRM system like Allbound, or any new sales and marketing solution, you’ll be able to put together a persuasive business case to convince others your project is worth doing.
But before we unpack how you can make your business case stand head and shoulders above the rest, let’s go over the basics of what exactly a business case is and what it’s for.
How to Make a Business Case for New Software
The short and sweet explanation of a business case is that it’s a document, presentation, or argument that defines the core business benefits and risks of a project, with the goal of justifying spending money or effort on that project. A business case details the what and the who of a project and explains the why behind it.
A business case tells a story
While it might sound big and scary, when you break it down, a business case is just a story about your company—a story that:
- tells a tale of pains the company is struggling with
- charts a path through the wilderness to a possible solution
- presents a clear plan for overcoming those struggles
- celebrates the hero of the journey—your solution
Business cases take many forms
The majority of business cases tend to be written reports or documents, either in print or as a PDF. The format is easy to share and fast to read, but creating a persuasive and memorable written report could be a struggle for some writers. “The idea might be great,” writes Nancy Duarte in the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, “but if it’s not communicated well, it won’t get any traction.”
Depending on the kind of story you’re telling in your business case, you may be best served by creating a more engaging presentation, video, or slideshow. Using formats beyond written text can help transform a simple argument into something more tactile, injecting emotional appeal into your story and adding strength to your case. The downside is that you may not have the skills necessary to put something more complex together before that Friday afternoon deadline—so we’re focusing on a more straightforward written business-case template in this post.
Business cases answer one key question
Regardless of which format you choose, your business case needs to answer just one fundamental question for your stakeholders:
Is the project worth doing?
Chances are, you’re rolling out that new software tool or business project because you need to solve a problem. That problem is probably stopping you (or your company) from reaching your business goals, and those goals won’t be realized unless you can deal with the problem.
So to break down the one key question your business case must answer a little further, your business case needs to quickly and persuasively answer four simple questions:
- What is the business goal you’re trying to realize?
- What’s stopping you from reaching that goal?
- How much (or how little) change is needed to overcome the problem?
- Are you sure your proposed solution will solve the problem?
The Components of a Persuasive and Memorable Business Case
Now that you have a good understanding of why a business case is important and when you might need a business case, let’s dig into how to put together a convincing and memorable business-case document. We’ll also give you some helpful examples, using a business case for Allbound to illustrate each point, since PRM software is what we know best.
1. Start With Why
Your business case needs to grab your audience’s attention straight away, so begin by immediately identifying the business need you’re addressing with your chosen software solution. Your report needs to explain in detail what problem your solution solves and how solving that problem fits into the overall business strategy.
Explain the need early in the document, because no matter how convincing the numbers behind your project might be, you won’t find support without a clear and compelling need. Here’s an example:
Our partner program is growing, and we’re seeing a higher return from investing in our channel reps than our direct sales reps. But our partners are struggling to find the right sales materials for their customers, and they hate having to submit new leads manually by email, since they often get misplaced or missed.
2. Eliminate Other Possible Solutions
There’s likely more than one way to solve the business problem you’re addressing, and each of those solutions has its advantages and disadvantages. What makes your chosen solution better than all the others? Showing that you’ve done your homework will help stakeholders trust that you’re making the right decision for the company.
List all the alternative solutions you can come up with. Detail the benefits and risks of each, and explain why the alternative solutions aren’t as feasible as the solution you’ve chosen. Here’s what that might look like for a PRM solution:
Option 1: We could do nothing, which would save money, but our partners and customers would continue to be frustrated.
Option 2: We could continue hiring more channel reps, although this would be significantly more expensive and less scalable than a dedicated partner-management tool.
Option 3: We could also create our partner-management system out of existing tools, but any money saved would be outweighed by the increase in maintenance cost and integration headaches.
3. List the Benefits for the Business
How will your company benefit from implementing your chosen solution? Be specific, and be sure to tie each benefit back to the overall business strategy.
Positive outcomes for the business will be either quantitative—such as increasing revenue by 25%—or qualitative—such as improving product awareness with potential leads. Here’s an example of each type of benefit for a PRM tool:
Quantitative: Increase NPS score by five points for customers in the partner program. Reduce time spent managing lead registration by 50%. Increase revenue per partner by 20%.
Qualitative: Improve relationships with new and existing partners. Motivate channel reps with rewards and helpful content.
4. Address the Biggest Risks
Every project, no matter how small, brings with it some level of risk. Your business case should include an assessment of the risks involved in the project, giving stakeholders the best possible information to determine whether to move forward with the project.
What might prevent the project from being carried out as planned? What are the consequences for the business if those risks occur? How do you intend to mitigate or manage those risks? Are there any less-obvious risks, like opportunity costs of not accepting other projects? For example:
One risk we’re taking by rolling out a new partner-management platform is assuming that the new tool will increase our partner-program revenue. We risk undertaking a long rollout and an equally long training process before we can start seeing the benefits of the new tool, although our research shows that it’s reasonable to expect a fast rollout and an immediate increase in revenue.
5. Know Your Budget Numbers
Most likely, the first question you hear from stakeholders will be about money. The benefits of your project need to outweigh the cost of carrying out the project, or else it isn’t worth doing. Your business case, then, needs to detail your best estimate of how much money and labor hours you’ll need for the project.
What are the direct costs (like software licenses) and indirect costs (like labor hours) required to carry out the project? How is the company going to fund the project? Can the funds be shifted from elsewhere in the company budget?
To fund the PRM project, we’ll shift funds that were previously allocated to hiring additional direct-sales reps. While this means delaying the expansion of the sales team, once deployed, the PRM tool will make our channel reps more efficient, giving the company a better return on this investment.
6. Know How You’ll Measure Success for the Project
Before you start any software project, you must know how you’ll determine if the project is successful. This may mean hitting certain milestones during the course of the project, or it may involve tracking key performance indicators before, during, and after the project is carried out.
How will you know your project worked? Make sure your business case explains what metrics you will be tracking to ensure that the project is successful and that you see a positive return on your investment. Here’s an example for a PRM project:
To ensure that the PRM tool is a success, we’ll track the following metrics:
– Number of partners onboarded per month
– Average revenue per partner, per month
– Average revenue per channel rep, per month
– Number of new deals registered per month
We expect to see a significant increase in each of these metrics within the first quarter of the PRM platform being deployed.
7. Bring Everything Together With a Summary
Once you’ve got all of your details sorted, it’s essential to bring the most critical information together into a single-page executive summary. While you should write this last, it should come first in your business case.
The executive summary may be the only section some of your stakeholders end up reading, so it needs to be punchy. Make your executive summary engaging and easy to understand by breaking the information into bullet points, and using nontechnical language.
Be sure to cover these basics:
- The problem
- The proposed solution
- The costs involved
- The potential return
- The time frame for the project
- The people required for the project
Aim for a maximum of one to two sentences per section; if stakeholders want to dig in further, they can refer to the rest of the business case.
Level Up Your Business Case
Once you’ve covered all the basics in your business case, it’s time to add the finishing touches that’ll take it from everyday to exceptional.
8. Tell an Emotional Story
While the facts and figures behind your business case are essential, great writers know that the best way to hook an audience is through storytelling. Your “project story” needn’t be complicated—the key is to bring together what problem the business is facing (the villain), what’s at stake (the problem), and who the hero of the story is (your solution).
Stories help us learn and retain information, especially when they relate directly to real (or fictional) customers. The more you can inject emotion and human connection into your business case, the more persuasive and memorable your case will be. Tell the story of how the business will be improved once your new solution is in place and how your customers will benefit; you can even reference real customer feedback in your story.
Here’s an example for a PRM tool:
Six months ago, Stanley’s Sprockets was one of our best referral partners. But recently, the number of new customers referred by Stanley’s Sprockets has dropped dramatically. We spoke with Stanley, owner and CEO of Stanley’s Sprockets, and he told us he has been struggling to keep pace with the new features we’ve been adding to the product and doesn’t feel comfortable selling our product to customers anymore.
What if we could help Stanley feel confident selling our product again? What if he could quickly find all the information he needs, without having to reach out to us every time? He might start referring more people to our company than ever before.
9. Don’t Forget Design
Unique visuals and straightforward slides can do wonders for convincing a skeptical audience. But hard-to-read slides full of unnecessary details or overused stock images can quickly lose your stakeholders’ attention and trust.
Instead of relying on your written report for your business case, consider taking advantage of different formats, such as slides, infographics, or video. Does a colorful pie chart represent your argument better than bullet points? Can you record an interview with real customers to help add emotional appeal? Choosing the right medium for the story and information you’re trying to convey will go a long way toward the success of your business case.
10. Take Advantage of Early Feedback
This one may not work if your report is due tomorrow, but it’s a handy tip for making sure your business case covers the right ground. Each stakeholder will have their own set of concerns and questions they’d like to see addressed in your report. Consider giving these stakeholders an early preview of the contents of your business case, and ask for their input. You can then use their feedback to improve your case, which will help them feel invested in your success. You can also research similar projects your company has already executed, making sure you can address any issues or roadblocks encountered in the past.
You’re Ready to Build Your Business Case
Whether you’re considering a new PRM system like Allbound, or any new sales and marketing software, you’ll now be able to put together a persuasive, memorable, and successful business case to convince others that your project is worth doing. Hopefully these 10 tips help make sure you’ll never again be stuck sweating that business case on a Thursday afternoon. Good luck.