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Making the Business Case Your Best Friend

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 19 Nov, 2015
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The why and how of writing a business case for marketing investment

You’ll need a Business Case for that’ are the words that often strike dread to the hearts of those trying to seek investment in digital initiatives from their FD or CMO. The cynical amongst us suspect it’s delivered with the intent to kill off an idea through forcing us to ‘jump through hoops’ and ‘bureaucracy’.

But as a marketing or Ecommerce manager, the Business Case is actually your best friend! In this post I'll step you through what I have found in my experience is required for an effective business case which will get support from colleagues. If you're an Expert member of Smart Insights, I've also developed a Word template of a Business case for download.

Why have a Business Case?

Packed with solid preparation, a well-researched, well-considered document showing clear ROI, backed by a hard fought sign-off, will be your best friend when the wind of change comes and other business initiatives and opex [operating expenditure] budgets are getting canned all around you.

Because the Business Case, unlike any run-of the mill BAU [business-as-usual] initiative, carries weight. It has tangible, agreed, business benefit hanging on its delivery and therefore canning an approved business case becomes a big deal (and bad form) for any self-respecting FD to be seen to be doing.

That’s not to say the true intent of telling you to write one didn’t absolutely come with the hidden agenda of ‘that’s the end of that idea’. I know because I’ve used it myself when looking at an idea from a colleague, with exactly that intention... After all, there’s usually never a shortage of ideas in a business about what we ‘should’ be doing, just in reality a lack of people prepared to do anything about it and drive their idea through.

The valuable ideas, the ones that truly change businesses for the better need someone to own and defend them. Everyone is too busy working on their own priorities and ideas, so when you have a new one don’t be surprised if the recipient of your idea suspects they’ll never see that final business case document on their desk as you don’t believe in it strongly enough to see it through. That’s life!

Without going into the wrongs of cultures that pro-actively seek to quash rather than support new ideas (I’m not advocating them by the way!), it's important to that this test of your resolve, and that the business case is, after-all, a fair approach. Why should anyone senior support any kind of significant investment if nobody is standing up to fight its corner and see it through?

Being prepared to own and defend a Business Case shows a passion for what someone’s been shouting about all that time. Make that person you!

If for whatever reason of hierarchy or title that person can’t be you, then go find that person to be the face if it and drive forward your idea at a senior level. Think political influence and lobbying, think West Wing!

Why bother? Well, because you care, you are reading SmartInsights posts after-all, and all business success is built on people who care. Plus, not only is the Business Case a necessary evil of getting stuff done, but teaches us the necessary disciplines us Digital Marketers like to bang on about in acting on ‘what we know’ not ‘what we think’.

The Business Case is just an extensive version of using insights to justify action, it’s just the action you are recommending this time might need some significant cash.

Respecting the value of the Business Case and doing it properly will also go a long way to winning the friendship of your FD. They are in a lonely position constantly asked to sign off salary rises, new this, a replacement for that, without much of a solid case for anything to base their decision on. They’ll love you for turning up with a robust approach to decision making, and that can’t harm your career can it!.

So, you’ve risen to ‘the challenge’ in preparing a Business Case. Here’s a few pointers to consider along the way:

How to prepare a Business Case - What's needed for a successful business case

  • Story time

It’s time to start telling, and selling, your story. All investment pitches need one. Your final business case has all the detail but getting it past the approval stage is likely to depend more on your ability to tell a compelling story, than it is on the insights and numbers alone.

So before asking the Approvers to devour a 20,30,50+ page document present it to them using a much shorter deck selling the vision, benefits and of course the risks. As with all messages, understand your audience’s motivations and shape your story accordingly.

  • Use as a vehicle for change

You’ll be surprised how many in the business love a big idea. A well thought-out big idea can be a powerful thing and often presents an in-frequent opportunity to be the perfect catalyst for other significant changes in the business: investment in new skills, people, culture, brand positioning, business processes or even that long-awaited digital consumer-centric marketing strategy perhaps!.

  • Buy-in the do-ers, not just the sign-er-off-ers

Know who the doers are for this project, those guys you’ll have a dependency on, and buy them in first. The business case should ultimately be the justification for a vision. If the guys doing the building/configuring/running of this thing aren’t on the same page as you, the Business Case approval will seem the easy bit.

Engaging stakeholders isn’t a business cliché. It’s critical to what you want to achieve. Call them your ‘work-mates’ and ‘influencers’ if stakeholders sounds too stuffy but projects fail because the wider business and key resource never knew about it, and therefore never provided much needed support.

  • Defend against scope creep, or scope erosion

Watering down, changing the core principle, including lots of random stuff that was the intention – they are all common reasons of why projects never deliver their initial true vision and potential. Therefore remember when writing this Business Case that it's contents and detail may come in very useful further down the line when Cooks are stirring the broth, the ambitious vision starts to be watered down, or the latest poor sales month starts to divert the critical expertise away from the agreed goal.

  • You can’t celebrate what you don’t track

Tackling the ROI your project delivers sounds obvious, but can often get lost in the business of getting on with stuff. Not only is this essential as it's what you said you would deliver, and essential to know exactly where you are when the FD comes asking, but when your project starts delivering ROI you need to shout about it – as shouting about success makes your next business case approval request a whole lot easier!.

  • Measured promises

Be careful in ‘sexing up' your numbers to make this the greatest delivery of benefit ever known in business. The likely true picture is it’s a solid case of delivering incremental benefit to the business.

Shoot too low and your project isn’t worth doing, too high and you either won’t be believed or you’ve just put a giant unnecessary noose around your neck for the next couple of years.

The common mistake is promising too much too soon. Be sober in your projections but also use the LTV principle outlined in the SmartInsight's Lifetime value Model Post.

Don’t kill the idea by only focusing on the benefits in the first quarter or first year, it’s likely your digital investment will deliver benefit over a much longer period of time so be confident in reflecting that.

  • Be the centre of attention

Put you and your team at the centre of the business for a change. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your value. Make sure your Business Case answers some core business objectives or challenges, and outline how your initiative sits within the wider context and vision of your business. If you aren’t already, use this opportunity to make your team absolutely relevant to the future growth of your business.

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