Have you ever had your budget slashed during one of the many rounds of line item revisions? Or been told the project you’ve spent months researching is now on hold due to a “shift in priorities”? It’s a frustrating reality of business.
Whether you’re leading a project in which you own the budget, or you are part of a team charged with bringing forth your best recommendation, your proposal is likely not the only one being considered. In reality, you are often competing for the same bucket of dollars with other colleagues, even if it doesn’t seem obvious on the surface.
So, what do you do to have the best shot at influencing the decision in your favor? Utilize these five tips to build your case and gain buy-in for your plan.
1. Clarify Ownership and Your Internal Decision-making Process
Given the quick pace of business today, being clear on these two pieces is imperative. Even if you think you know the answer, ask the following questions anyway. The responses may surprise you.
- Who owns the ultimate decision on this project? Is it one person? A committee? A team? An internal client your job is to support?
- When I present my final recommendation, what will our internal steps be to make a “go/no-go” decision?
- Are there any other competing projects I should be aware of that would impact the investment we make here?
2. Gain Buy-in for the Desired Outcome First
Take the time to talk with the key influencers, sponsors or end-users and learn what their desired outcome is. This doesn’t mean what they share is where you land, however, knowing their expectations before you put in weeks of work will help you build your case more effectively. Avoid making assumptions. Ask the following questions and listen to to learn.
- In your words, what does success of this project look like?
- What is the problem (or opportunity) we are addressing and the business initiatives we are aligning to?
- Describe the direct impact this will have on your team (or line of business, customers you serve, ability to meet deadlines, etc.).
3. Align Company Initiatives to the Business Impact of this Plan
Don’t overlook the relevant facts and figures that come from being curious. Take the time to make the connection on how this plan aligns to what’s most important to the business today. Not being able to do so will weaken your position. Ask yourself the following:
- How will this plan align to our top company initiatives?
- What about this plan stands out?
- Why is this plan better than some alternative?
4. Leverage Outside Knowledge to Help You Prepare
If your research requires you to gather information from partners or vendors, put them to work for you. It’s their job to earn the right to work with you and it’s up to you to set the clear expectations upfront on how they can be an ideal partner.
- Beyond why their solution is so great, have them include the ‘what-ifs’ on any pitfalls, shortcomings or insight you may not be thinking of but want to know about.
- Ask for three references that include 1 client that started off rocky that they were able to turn around.
- Request a proposal that includes metrics that you can use as support for your case
5. Make Your Case by Telling a Story that Connects All the Parts
Key to making your case is how you tell the story. These may seem obvious, however when lacking, they are the key reason change efforts fail. A muddy story can cause confusion and inertia when not clearly laid out. The below may seem obvious, however when lacking, are the reasons change efforts and new initiatives fail. As you make your case, remember to:
- Highlight where we’ve been, where we are now that has “this topic” up for consideration, and the recommendation on where we need to be.
- Speak the language of what matters to the people in the room that will be contributing to the “go/no-go” call.
- Include what success looks like, the supporting metrics, and how this aligns with the current organizational initiatives.
Don’t shortcut your efforts when making the case. In the end, gaining buy-in is about being better prepared in these five areas than anyone else. It’s about inviting in different perspectives and connecting the dots people otherwise wouldn’t be able to do without your effort. Forwarding along a proposal of dollars and cents isn’t enough. Do your homework, build your case, and make your ask by telling a compelling story that brings everyone along the path you want to take them.