There are many times in our professional careers when we need to convince others to go along with our course of action. It could be convincing our superiors to follow our strategy, compelling your employees to take on a new project or persuading a vendor to make changes. During my own professional career, I have been on both sides of this equation: I have been convincing and I have been convinced. During these experiences, one thing was constant—the need to carefully construct a meaningful business case. So, how do you get started? In this post, I will discuss the five components for making a strong case and a set of questions to help you get there.
Before you begin to construct the case, you must know exactly what you are looking to accomplish and what you are up against. But how do you find this out? There are five key questions that can help drive this discovery process:
- What exactly do you want? Don’t assume this is obvious. Instead, be very specific in your mind about what you want to accomplish.
- Why does it make sense? Make sure that you understand in your own mind the justification for changing. If you can’t get it straight now, maybe it’s not the right initiative.
- What becomes possible with the change? Imagine the possibilities and think big. What can be accomplished if you follow this course of action? What are the implications for business success? Your ability to paint this picture will be crucial for your efforts.
- How big of a stretch is it for your audience? Try to put yourself in their shoes — how hard will this be for them to get you involved? Is this a small adjustment or are you asking them to go against everything they believe in? Knowing this up front will help you plan for their objections down the road.
- How will your audience feel when the change is made? Imagine how they will feel after they go along with your recommendation. Will it be a sense of pain? Relief? Overwhelming joy? Empathizing with your audience by understanding their emotional perspective will help you develop the relationships that will be critical to your success.
Five Components of A Case
Once you have a strong feel for what you are looking to accomplish and what the resistance might be, it’s time to consider the components of a strong case. These five components are important for a successful case and need to be included, but follow the order that fits your unique situation best.
- Your recommendation. In this component, you lay out the course of action that you want your audience to buy-in to. At this point, it is big picture and conceptual because you want your audience to understand the overall concept.
- The possibilities that exist by following your recommendation. Start by describing the near-term advantages of adopting your approach. Describe the immediate benefits, but don’t stop there. Take it a step further and demonstrate longer-term (and maybe loftier) advantages. Show the audience what other things could be possible down the road if they buy into the case. For example, “If we utilize this vendor, we will gain immediate cost savings and have the opportunity to take advantage of their strong ability to innovate." Detailing opportunities for even greater value to our customer in the future may help accelerate adoption.
- The implications of not following your recommendation. It is often important to also demonstrate the downside of not following the recommendation. I’m not suggesting that you describe an apocalyptic scenario (although if that works, by all means), but a good case will show the implications of accepting or rejecting the proposal . To use the example in the previous section, “If we don’t make this vendor change our competition will and we will not only be at a cost disadvantage, but they could also take advantage of the innovation of this vendor and develop a better product than ours.”
- Next Steps. A good case will specifically describe what will happen after acceptance. Describing this to your audience will reduce the chance of both surprises later and a change of heart.
- The ask. Outline exactly what you need from your audience to move forward. While Component #1 is broad and conceptual, this is where you get specific. This component is often where you “close” the audience, get formal approval or buy-in, and get the ball rolling. This is not always at the end, however — it’s important to understand your particular audience. For example, some leaders prefer to know up front what exactly it is that you are trying to get them to agree to.
Reaping the Benefits
Building a convincing case ahead of time has proven over and over again to be a precursor to success. Not only does it provide you with a compelling argument, and the confidence that goes with it, but it also creates a better experience for your audience. Take the time to build your case up front, and you will find achieving agreement becomes a lot easier.
Wade Thomas: Founder at Aim to Win
Wade is the founder and principal of Aim to Win, a consultancy focused on helping companies bring out the potential in their people and organizations. Wade has over 20 years of experience in the leadership and talent management areas and an MBA from Indiana University.