5 Tips for Building a Business Case

By Kristen Hayer

Everyone wants something from the CEO, but your project…it’s the initiative to end all initiatives.  It will bring in revenue beyond everyone’s wildest dreams (or make customers happier, or make your team happier, or…)  You excitedly share your idea with your company’s senior leader, and she says, “Sounds great.  Throw some numbers together and let’s talk again.”  You know this is executive code for “write up a business case”, but you’re not sure how to go about it. 

A solid business case can be the difference between getting the resources to make your initiative a success, or seeing your killer idea pushed to the back burner indefinitely.  Here are 5 tips to help you build a business case that gets the CEO’s attention.

Speak the CEO’s Language

The primary task of a CEO is to keep the company running and growing in the right direction and to do that they speak the language of revenue and expenses.  In order to catch the attention of your chief officer, you need to boil down your initiative to how it impacts one or both of those key metrics.  In customer success it can be tempting to position everything in terms of how it impacts customers, but the CEO will want to know how your project helps the bottom line.

TIP:  Protecting and increasing revenue almost always makes for a stronger business case than reducing expenses.

Back It Up with Data

“We haven’t done this before.  Where am I supposed to get the data from?”  Trust me, you need data.  That said, you don’t have to have perfect data in order to make a solid case for your initiative.  If you don’t have specific information readily available, get creative and make use of:

  • Historical Data – Have you done a similar initiative in the past with a different product or on a different team?  Consider using that data to support your case.
  • Competitor Data – Has one of your competitors done something similar?  See if you can uncover details about their program in their press releases or website.
  • Market Data – Has an analyst or industry thought leader developed metrics related to your initiative?  Use their models and formulas to back up your concept.

Know How You’ll Implement

It’s one thing to have an idea, and another to have a plan.  Your CEO will want to know that if you get resources, you'll know what to do with them.  Typically, you will not need a detailed plan at this point, but you will need to provide project steps at a high level (think less than a page).  If you get the green light you will absolutely need a more thorough blueprint, but don’t waste time on that until you know your idea is moving forward.  Be sure your action plan includes major steps in the project, any resources you’ll need, and a projected timeline.

Set Expectations for Results

This is the fun part:  What do you expect to come out of your initiative?  Be sure to position this first in terms of revenue increases and expense reduction.  If you’re not sure how to build a projection model, consider enlisting the help of your finance team (Bonus: if they help you build it they will be more likely to support it!)  Once you’ve covered the basics, it is OK to talk about some of the halo effects you expect to see, like improved customer engagement or a happier customer success team.  After demonstrating that you can achieve key metrics, those other benefits will seem like icing on the cake to your chief officer.

Ask For What You Need

This last part is critical and often missed – you have to close the deal.  Ask for what you need in order to get your initiative off the ground.  Your request should be direct, specific, and include any timing parameters.  Consider the what (money, a new location), who (new team members, another group’s time) and when (this quarter, after another initiative wraps up) factors of what you need to pull off your plan.

One last thought:  Although your business case should be thorough, it doesn’t need to be lengthy.  Some of the best business cases are short and to the point.  As Albert Einstein said:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Need help creating a business case for customer success in your company?  The Success League is a consulting firm that works with success leaders who want to unlock the retention and revenue potential in their team.  We partner with customer success professionals to gather and present customer data in a way that allows them to drive true change in their organization.  www.TheSuccessLeague.io