Through my consulting and corporate training career I have worked with several organizations that struggle with innovation, creativity, and implementation of new ideas. Contrary to popular belief, the struggle most often is not with the ability to generate new and creative ideas. The struggle is with the ability to logically think through promising ideas, and then to make a compelling business case to obtain the necessary resources for implementation.
I was recently asked to listen to and evaluate a set of business case presentations by a group of software technologists at a Fortune-500 company. As I heard these bright folks speak and articulate their ideas, some common themes emerged and I coached them through the thinking and articulation process to improve their effectiveness.
Here is a distilled version of my suggestions. While presenting a business case, your idea and presentation must follow three simple guidelines – engage your audience, make your business case credible. and make sure that your stakeholders consider the idea worth pursuing.
Make it Engaging
Most people have multiple demands on their attention, and therefore it is critical for the presentation to grab and hold the attention of the audience. How do you make your presentation engaging?
- Carry on a question-answer dialogue with your audience. The best way to do this is through a top down presentation approach that follows the pyramid method of writing. Think about why a good murder mystery is so engaging. A good murder mystery engages in a question-answer dialogue with the reader.
- A great way to start your presentation is with the elevator pitch – a 30 second to 2 minute pitch that lays out the heart of the case. An elevator pitch usually covers the “what” and the “why” while raising more “why” and “how” questions in the mind of the reader, and priming them to listen to the rest of your pitch. Here’s a great example of an elevator pitch.
Make it Credible
Credibility of the business case stems from the logical flow of arguments that clearly establish the benefits, return on investment, and a high level plan for implementation. How do you bake credibility into your thinking and presentation?
- Do not shy away from numbers. Market size, addressable market, target market, potential revenues, growth rates – numbers like these can make or break your business case. Make reasonable assumptions, and state them. Do not underestimate the importance of research.
- Money, money, money. Quantifying the benefits in terms of additional revenues, lower costs, higher margins, or even lower penalties is critical. This will seem difficult initially, but you must persist and come up with numbers. Ultimately all investments are made by businesses to improve the bottom line. Period. If you can establish a credible link to an improved bottom line, you are well on your way to getting your business case approved.
- Often you must establish the credibility of the team that will get the idea implemented. Past record, special skills, and other such factors can help you establish credibility
Here’s a video where credibility of a business idea is established by demonstrating that there are paying customers, existing revenues, and a clear IP protection.
Make Sure it is Worth Doing
This is a subtle point that is particularly important for an internal pitch – when you are pitching an idea to an internal stakeholder within your company.
Your presentation may be engaging, the pitch may be credible, but does the stakeholder believe that the idea is worth pursuing? There are a few things you must consider to ensure that your pitch is not wasted.
- Understand the goals and priorities of the stakeholder who will fund your idea. They will always consider if your idea is the best way to deploy their funds to meet their goals.
- Tailor your pitch to make sure that you connect the benefits of the idea with the goals and priorities of the stakeholder – essentially demonstrating why they would win by funding it
- De-risk by suggesting pilots or experiments to prove risky concepts. Sometimes stakeholders don’t bite because of the possibility of large (from their perspective!) investments not producing the desired results
Paying attention to these aspects of your business case or start-up idea will greatly improve the chances of receiving approval and funding.