Negotiating executive buy-in

If you've attended any of our Technology Tours, you'll know that it doesn't take much to convince you of the benefits of the technologies we discuss at the events. But there is one question that comes up at all the shows - no matter what the technology topic that's being examined: How do I convince my senior executives to fund this project?

I asked that question of technology and management training provider Learning Tree, which has just started its negotiation skills course. Mark Versel, the technical editor of the course, says you need to prepare a business case that details why the company needs the technology and the financial and competitive benefits that it would bring.

"Look at it from their standpoint. What would this technology bring to the business, how does it benefit the business? You should put together a business justification that discusses the benefits, and the cost to the company of having and not having the technology over a five-year period," Versel says.

The business case should detail the financial impact of introducing the technology. This would include information about the cost of the system, the expected payback period, the number of people that would be involved in implementation, the amount of time it would take to implement, the cost of conversion, the amount of training that would be required for both the IT staffers and end users, and the cost of buying the system vs. leasing or outsourcing.

Getting input from other business units about how the technology would specifically benefit them would also greatly help your cause, Versel says. Perhaps one of the business units could sponsor the project.

"Be careful how you present the soft costs - if you say it's user friendly, well so what? Does it need fewer people to support? Does it take less time to support? Put everything in metrics," Versel adds.

Send the business case to the executives to read and invite written questions. This would give you time to prepare your answers rather than trying to field questions at a live meeting. You should present your answers at a live meeting, where you'll be able to add more depth to your business case.

Think about timing the proposal to coincide with when the CFO calls for items to be considered for the following year's budget - any other time would probably be met with a negative response.

Don't think about "what's in it for me?" It should be "what's in it for them?" There should be enough in it for them or else you shouldn't try and sell the idea, Versel says.

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