Find out who the decision makers are
Business cases often present a solution to a problem. But they’re like solving a Rubik’s cube: Every time you find a solution, you may realise something else needs to shift and be amended to continue towards your final goal. Sometimes your business case can seem foolproof but solutions to problems often need a second look from the perspective of your audience.
The first step to solving this puzzle is understanding who among the audience is really calling the shots. Next, you will need to talk to their concerns.
For instance, you may think that the head of the department is going to be the one you need to pitch to to gain buy-in. However, in reality, it may be the senior manager who’s been tasked with the responsibility for this particular decision.
Without prior research it will be hit or miss as to whether or not you’re directing the presentation, and your key selling messages to the right person or people. So understanding your audience is critical.
Knowing your audience
Shaping your ideas according to the decision makers you’re presenting your business case to is the key to winning. If presenting an internal case, try and align your business case with your boss’s department goals or the goals of your board so they can clearly see the benefits. If you’re pitching to investors, research their current portfolio and their investment philosophy or approach. It can also be useful to find out what pitches they’ve rejected in the past – so you don’t become one of them!
Stakeholders simply won’t engage if they don’t think you’ve identified a genuine business need.
If you can discuss your ideas with a few stakeholders beforehand and incorporate their feedback into your business case, all the better. If you can’t do that, work with people that are regarded as well-respected subject matter experts by your audience – having their endorsement or buy-in will help convince decision makers further.
Say you want to present a business case to your sales and finance heads that the company’s website requires a redesign. Focus on areas where the current site isn’t delivering and how it’s actually costing the business sales. This could be due to the fact the website isn’t user-friendly, ranks poorly on search engines like Google, or the design is too cluttered to enable a smooth conversion. In order to have the finance department spend money on your business case, you need to show them how your idea will earn more back.
The bottom line is that the more you know the motivators and drivers of your decision makers the more you can tailor your pitch for them and so increase the chances of your success.
Perfecting the pitch
Deciding the actual decision or outcome you want to drive is the very first step to constructing a perfect pitch. Once you’ve locked-on your target it’s easier to build a focussed narrative, which we’ve discussed below:
The Need-Solution-Impact approach
The Need-Solution-Impact approach is a good starting point to streamline your thoughts and help build a strong narrative for the pitch. Here’s how this approach works:
- Lead with a need: In most cases this translates to: ‘Identify your problem’. What are the issues you’re looking to address? Is there a market opportunity your company has overlooked or do competitors manage to execute certain ideas better? For example, Airbnb honed in on what travellers were searching for, but couldn’t find. They wanted affordable accommodation while immersing themselves in the culture of the place they were visiting. Couchsurfing.com wasn’t really cutting it and Airbnb could see the gap in the market.
- State the solution: Investigate the need and then develop a clear, logical, watertight argument with your business case. To do this you will need to objectively validate your solution – get a colleague or friend to share their thoughts on it. For instance, Airbnb’s solution was clear: Develop a website where people could book a room with a local as well as offer locals an easy and safe way to open their homes to travellers (plus, earn income in the process).
- End with an impact: Just as important as stating the solution is conveying what end impact it will have. Ideally you should be able to state this as an ROI – even if you make certain assumptions to do this. Let’s go back to AirBnB: When the AirBnB platform launched, the impact was that people could now save money while travelling, earn money while hosting travelers in their home, and exchange insider knowledge about the destination.
Know your sector or organisational needs, understand what isn’t being provided, design a way to solve or improve that and you’ll get your foot in the door.
Use emotions to power decisions
To truly illustrate the impact your business idea could have, emotion can work wonders. Telling a story, rather than only presenting slides laden with facts and figures, will engage your audience. You can certainly make an impact with projections and forecasts, but it’s the emotional narrative that will make your pitch memorable (and less dry!).
Some ways to weave in emotions into your business case are by using actual customer feedback to highlight pain points or talk about the positive emotions your internal or external customers would feel if your business case was approved.
You can even consider using pictures and video clips if it makes your case stronger. Putting a face to the issue you’re representing will bring your business case to life.
Demonstrating that you’ve taken the time to talk to customers alongside your market research will also make your audience trust your opinion more.
Don’t be afraid to discuss risks
With great risk comes great reward. There are always risks with investment, which is why you shouldn’t shy away from discussing what’s at stake. But avoid delving too deep into every possible risk scenario. You can highlight the most important ones to alleviate any fears and move on.
You can pre-empt their concerns in a myriad of ways. Try attending other pitch meetings which have your audience members in attendance. Take note of the objections and questions they ask – you’ll be able to see the issues and topics they find important. Also, study their backgrounds – analyse what their interests are, what they’ve invested in and how your business skills can help them reach a particular goal.
Addressing any elephants in the room and being prepared with questions relating to risk factors is also an effective way to prove to your audience that you’ve truly researched your business case.
Remember, however, that there may be too many hypothetical questions you can’t predict or answer, and that these can take away from your overall presentation. You can always offer to answer these questions after the presentation.
Bonus tips on being better at business case presentations
Once you’ve identified how your business case will provide a solution to a problem, and have presented all the facts, figures and supporting evidence, it comes down to you.
How you present (don’t read straight from the slides!), how enthusiastic you are, and how you handle questions your audience ask will signify the preparation you’ve undertaken and the conviction you have for the idea.
In addition, these 3 factors can make the difference between success or failure:
- Always have an elevator pitch ready – you never know if decision makers will run out of time to listen.
- Be prepared and know your product or service, industry and the competition and try to remain calm because confidence helps convince your audience.
- Practice makes perfect. Present your business case to colleagues beforehand and get them to ask you questions – they may point out gaps in your presentation or knowledge you may have missed. This will also help you prepare for the questions your actual audience will pose.
We can help you effectively pitch your next business case
secondnature coaches business professionals how to pitch to win and how to persuade and influence an audience. No matter what your business case or idea is – just remember that your audience is buying into you as much as your solution. So put your best foot forward!
Written By Belinda Huckle
Founder and Managing DirectorRead Bio
Belinda is the founder and managing director of secondnature. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.
She believes in a training approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.
Belinda is currently helping to transform the presentation skills of people in organisations such as BBC Worldwide, DHL, ESRI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Pfizer, Roche, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.