Convincing your leadership to buy into a technology upgrade can be a difficult challenge. To build a solid case, you need to focus on the business and financial benefits of the investment, while using all your persuasive and listening skills to get them to say yes.
Senior leaders tend to be skeptical of new technology projects, unless facing an immediate crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. When presented with a spending proposal, leadership needs to see a clear and compelling argument that can withstand objections.
In many ways, pitching a technology upgrade is like making a sales presentation to a customer. You need to understand senior leadership’s business strategy, as well as current pain points to show how the IT upgrade is aligned with their thinking.
Tell a Story
Rav Mohapatra, senior manager, program management for GE, uses storytelling techniques when making IT presentations to leadership. “I think customer stories are the feeders for a good strategy, because they provide leadership with insights,” he said in a recent interview. “Building better solutions from user stories can create a positive feedback loop. People have gotten promoted because they used user stories to solve business problems.”
Stories are important when making a pitch because they provide an emotional context to the dry numbers behind any investment. Showing how an IT upgrade can change the lives of employees or customers will go a long way toward obtaining a positive decision. But remember to keep your stories short and tightly focuses, as senior executives have tight constraints on their time.
Understand your audience
As with any sales presentation, the key to getting results begins with understanding your audience. Senior leaders will usually be more comfortable discussing the financial numbers than the list of details of an IT upgrade. Mention your team’s hard work and creative ability, but move quickly into the key benefits: greater revenue, lower costs, better customer service or improved employee productivity.
Next, you need to do your homework about the IT project. What will it cost? Who are the potential vendors? What are the alternatives to implementing this project? These are questions that senior leadership is likely to ask, so get your answers ready right from the start.
If you are making assumptions, be sure to explain your reasoning, as this is another area where you can expect challenges from leadership. And always check and recheck your numbers. If you make a mistake in addition or transpose a decimal point, your presentation will effectively be over!
As part of your homework prior to the meeting, study what other organizations in a similar line of business are doing with their IT. If your three biggest competitors have implemented cloud-based managed solutions, for instance, you can build a better case for taking a similar approach and leaving your legacy on-premises equipment behind.
You should also think about the best timing to make your pitch. If senior leadership is preparing for a quarterly financial report, wait to meet until that deadline has passed. You are more likely to get a positive receptive when the executives are not faced with an urgent task.
Prepare your pitch
Before presenting to leadership in person or in a virtual session, you need to prepare for your pitch. That might include writing a script, and then tearing it down to the bare essentials. You should take the same approach to any visual or audio aids, such as a PowerPoint presentation, photos, testimonials or videos that contribute to your storytelling.
Remember to put the most important elements of your pitch first, then go into the details and conclude with the key points. In general, the shorter the presentation the better, because then you can open things up for discussion.
It’s always a good idea to practice your pitch in advance before family, friends or colleagues. They can hear how well you express yourself and will undoubtedly offer suggestions for improvement.
Making the pitch
To open your presentation, thank senior leadership for their time and attention and immediately highlight your key point – why this IT project is important for the organization, employees and customers.
Speak with confidence, maintain eye contact and keep the presentation moving forward at a reasonable pace so your audience doesn’t tune out. In a virtual session, use a neutral screen background to avoid any visual distractions. Be ready to pause and answer questions, or open it up for discussion afterwards.
Listen carefully to the responses you get from the executives. If something isn’t clear, then ask for a clarification. Don’t be afraid to ask a follow-up question yourself. It shows you have been paying attention to their comments.
After the discussion, senior leadership will probably make one of three decisions: give you the go-ahead with the IT upgrade, turn your proposal down, or consider the proposal at a later date, perhaps with additional information.
In any case, you should be clear about the next steps in the process – especially if you and your team need to begin the project. This might involve preparing an action plan, or gathering data to present to leadership at some point in the future.
Regardless of the outcome, you should thank the senior executives for their time, and let them know that IT will continue to support their strategic goals. Finally, you can also reflect on how well you did in making your pitch, and see how you can make it even better the next time!