June 19, 2023
Every IT leader is expected to be an innovator, yet innovation almost always comes at a cost. If an important new initiative is accompanied by a high price-tag, it will almost certainly require approval by top management. That's when things can get sticky.
The best way to sell a promising IT initiative to top management is by highlighting its measurable value, says Sourya Biswas, technical director, risk management and governance, with IT security company NCC Group. Then align that value with specific business needs.
Vrinda Khurjekar, a senior director at technology consulting firm Searce, agrees. “By focusing on a few impactful business questions, you can demonstrate the value and relevance of the IT initiative,” she explains. “This approach allows for early success and a smoother implementation process.”
Begin by describing the initiative's impact and value proposition versus the bottom line, says Chris Pickard, executive vice president at technology services firm CAI. Upper management will likely be focused on the total cost of ownership -- the expenses related to acquiring, deploying, and operating the proposed solution -- to determine the ROI, he notes. “But if you can explain the near- and long-term benefits for the enterprise with real success stories, that will resonate with management faster than coming from a spending or savings perspective.”
A good way to win top management support is by emphasizing how the technology will help improve productivity. “Highlight the benefits and positive impact it will have on day-to-day tasks and overall performance,” Khurjekar says.
Storytelling often plays a key role in driving technology adoption in large organizations, Khurjekar observes. “By showcasing the various stages of impact and user adoption you can create a positive narrative around the technology,” she explains. Such engagement and positive reinforcement builds trust and belief in the technology's value, ultimately creating evangelists within the organization who will encourage others to adopt and embrace it.
Meanwhile, outcome-based conversations with key management colleagues will help get the message out quickly and gain crucial support. Tailor your message carefully. You'll risk losing top-level executives if your elevator pitch isn't succinct and tailored to what they most care about. “You have less than five minutes to capture an executive’s attention and say what you need in the first few points, otherwise the rest of the meeting won’t matter,” Pickard warns. “Make the point clear and get to it fast.”
Coping with Rejection
It's important not to lose hope if the proposal is rejected. If an enterprise lacks a culture of innovation or digitization, it may be necessary to concentrate efforts on selling the idea to a single decision-maker, someone who can champion the proposal. “Find someone within the organization who understands the potential benefits and is willing to advocate for the idea,” Khurjekar suggests.
To bolster the likelihood of success, Khurjekar also advises finding a trusted external stakeholder, such as a customer, vendor, or industry colleague, who will support the proposal. Their perspective can provide valuable insights and credibility, she says. “Particularly compelling is the customer's point of view, showcasing how the technology would directly benefit them and enhance their satisfaction with your company's services or products.”
Although it's natural to be deeply invested in your idea, don't let emotions overwhelm you if the proposal is initially rejected. “All feedback [from management decision-makers] should be eagerly received,” Biswas says. Recover, reconfigure, and try again, he advises. “By seeking advice, one can often turn objectors into advocates who will themselves offer solutions that overcome their own objections,” he explains.
When deciding which departments and managers will be most qualified to roll out the initiative, Khurjekar recommends starting with a small group of reliable team members. “These stakeholders should have the ability to create measurable value and act as advocates for the technology's success,” she says. “This focused approach allows for successful proof-of-concept wins, builds momentum, demonstrates return on investment, and paves the way for scaling the technology effectively.”
Perhaps the worst thing to do when pitching an initiative is to focus on the change it will generate. “It's an established fact that people are resistant to change.” Biswas states. “The core message should always be around value, and this is true for broader employees as well as senior management.”
Move quickly once final approval has been granted. Don't delay initiative planning and deployment in pursuit of scope or perfection. “It's better to start with a minimum viable product, or an initial version of the technology, and iterate based on feedback and evolving needs,” Khurjekar advises. “Waiting for a perfect solution can lead to missed opportunities and stagnation.”
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