John O' Gorman

Think Business Case Not Sales Proposal

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Would you be surprised to know that many large organizations require a business case for purchases of as little as €20,000? Probably not.

As one salesperson told us recently; ‘I have seen more business cases in the past year than I have in the previous 19 years’.

With budgets being squeezed in response to the economic slowdown, projects and purchases must increasingly compete for scarce organizational resources. That means the business case is more important than the salespeople’s proposal.

The Salesperson as Business Case Facilitator.
The emergence of the business case as the prime factor in organizational spend decisions presents advantages for those sellers who can demonstrate the business justification for their solution.

In particular, if the vendor wants to win the sale, he, or she must play assist in the preparation of a credible and compelling business case. Furthermore, it means that the traditional features and benefits message is no longer adequate.
What your solution does and how it does it, including the technology involved, is the stuff of traditional sales presentations, but not a business cases.


The reality is that buying decisions are made when the salesperson is not in the room, by a skeptical audience that the sales person may not have met, based on information which the salesperson has had little, if any input to. That means traditional feature led sales pitch is very much out of touch.

The Compelling Business Case.
Whether your sales goes ahead will depend on a ‘to the point’ value equation, that reflects not only costs, benefits and risk, but also how the project will contribute to the achievement of broader organizational goals and strategies. That is the new reality of the business case sale.

A compelling business case is not just important in getting the sale, it is also essential to ensuring successful implementation, or delivery as well as to building a long term client relationship. That is because of its increasing role in guiding, tracking and managing project success.

A Review of Business Case Best Practice.
In order to guide you in your new role as business case facilitator to your prospect we have reviewed the work of 9 of the leading experts in this space – the list is at the end.

Specifically, this article presents an overview of the key advice from specialist books written for buyers on how to develop a business case and sell their projects internally.

The Business Case and Success.
The business case is not just a means of optimizing the allocation of scare organisational resources among competing projects. It is also an important means of ensuring project, as well as organisational success. 


Let us take IT projects as an example. Everybody knows that most IT projects run in to problems – the Standish and other figures are familiar to us all. However, the cause of those problems is often misdiagnosed.

Indeed, most of the experts suggest that the number one reason for the failure of IT projects is a poor business case, or no business case at all. That is not just failures in terms of delivering on time and within budget, but more fundamentally for IT to impact on business success.

For example cost overruns are often not the result of overspending, but of underestimation of costs at the planning and budgeting stage. Indeed, the problems with most projects can be traced back to their inception and planning. The business case has an important role to play in making sure projects get started, but also stay on track.

Business Case Quality Issues. 


Some of the experts suggest that expenses claims are subjected to more scrutiny than are business cases for the purchase of multi-million pound IT systems.

All too often it is a bureaucratic, as opposed to a strategic exercise. As a result, where business cases are prepared they are often created simply to justify a desired choice of action, as opposed to presenting management with the information required to evaluate, select, manage and track projects in terms of their impact on the organizational success.

Whether it is an external purchase, or an in-house solution, the development of a robust business case is essential. All too often however this gets neglected, with a misguided focus on the how (the features and the technology) as opposed to the why (the business case).

12 Telltale Signs of Poor Business Cases

1.Lack of skills, discipline, or more importantly objectivity

2.Absence of cross functional involvement
3.Failure to engage with stakeholders and their needs, creating buy-in in the process
4.Failure to adequately define scope and requirements
5.Does present a menu of alternatives and options, in the context of business drivers and constraints
6.Lack of feasibility study type information and scientific validation, or data
7.Failure to address how the project fits with the organization’s strategy, past decisions, etc.
8.Failure to conduct an accurate, robust, and credible cost – benefit analysis, underscored by clear and realistic assumptions
9.An overly simplistic analysis of project related risk, or implementation issues (governance, control, etc.)
10.Business case is prepared and presented; it is not used throughout the project lifecycle
11.Does not follow an agreed structure and process for completion / agreement
12.Weak investment analysis
Business Case – Document, or Process?
Underpinning many of these problems is the fact that the fact that the business case is often seen as a document, rather than a process. This is particularly the case in the absence of corporate standards with regard to:
·How a business case should be completed
·What it should contain
·Who should be involved
·How it will be evaluated
·What templates are to be followed, etc.
The single most important factor in terms of business case preparation is the process involved, in that any business case is only as good as the process by which it is prepared. Also the process of business case preparation is iterative, evolving to reflect changing needs and requirements.

The Full Life cycle Business Case.
All too often a business case document is hastily prepared and then once the project is given the green light it is put aside. However, a business case should be a living document, that:

·Guides implementation
·Tracks progress
·Manages change requirements
·Enables management to assess if projects are delivering as expected and if corrective action is required.
Business Case – Attractiveness and Achieve ability.






A business case is concerned with 2 dimensions of a project – attractiveness and achievability. So it is not enough to include just a cost and benefits justification. 

The business case must also address how achievable it is, including for example a register of risk, as well as details of implementation, governance and control.

When it comes to the economic analysis, it is important to realize that people often have a genuine difficulty with numbers and in particular in working with spreadsheets. That is not withstand the challenges that may be presented in terms of the monetization of benefits, particularly in the case of less tangible ones.

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