Thursday, April 18, 2024

7 Common Pitfalls in Building a Business Case & How to Avoid Them

Throughout my 20-year career in sales, I’ve determined that one tool in my toolbelt has been the most impactful in terms of driving larger, more value-driven deals. The tool? A strong business case. If you are selling six-figure deals or greater, you must be able to demonstrate value clearly, which is exactly what a business case does. However, many sales folks make the same mistakes as they create their business case, which ends up making them ineffective, if not damaging. Here are seven of the most common pitfalls I see, so you can avoid them. 

Relying on an Internal Value Team 

Do you work for a company with a value engineering or value consulting team in-house? This can be great, but I advise against using such a team to build your business case for three reasons. 

First, these teams are typically understaffed and underfunded. That means they are only earmarked for the biggest enterprise deals in the company. If they do work on your deal, you’ll likely be a tiny fish in an enormous pond. Second, these teams are often run by MBAs with no actual sales experience. They have a lot of head knowledge, but you’ll need more than theory to make your business case as solid as it needs to be. 

Third, your development of the business case yourself positions you as a consultant, rather than a salesperson. It gives you the chance to deep dive into your buyer’s business and help them uncover growth levers. This builds trust, which is the foundation of all sales. Why would you turn that kind of power in your deal over to someone else? 

Ignoring Each Buyer’s Needs

When you’re selling to a buying committee, you’re not selling to a single unit. Instead, you have to convince multiple complex veins who have unique personalities, biases, experiences, etc. Any one of these things can derail your deal, if you lose sight of it. 

Your job as the seller is to become the thread that ties all of these people together, the person who drives alignment, agreement and action to be taken in the direction you need it to go to get a deal done. When you do this, you’ll create something that every single person in the buying committee can objectively rally around. 

Not Using the Business Case to Leverage Certain Relationships

There are a lot of stakeholders involved in enterprise sales, and many of them can impede your sales. In particular, folks in the buying committee from procurement, legal or security are likely to be blockers throughout your sales cycle. After all, their job is to look for threats to the business and put up barriers if there is a perceived threat. 

While building a business case does not have a direct impact on these buying committee members, having one in place will help you with them as a deal progresses. As negotiations get deep with these groups, they’ll often push hard on you to accept unfavorable terms and price reductions. A validated business case with your executive sponsor, decisionmaker and champion will help you to leverage them in negotiations with these other groups and get them to use their weight in your favor.

Failing to Have the Right Focus

There are generally two types of business cases you can create: cost-cutting focused or growth-based. Either can be useful, but I find value-creation business cases to be the most impactful. This type tends to energize executives because it allows them to paint a picture of growth based on real insight from their business. Whichever method you choose, make sure you know why you’ve chosen it and how this choice will impact the end result of your business case and its efficacy. 

Not Planting Seeds for the Business Case Early Enough

Once you have decided there is something in a deal worth pursuing, you should be planting the seeds for a business case. In my world, I typically do this within the first one or two discovery calls. If you wait too long, you’ll miss the opportunity to develop key relationships and capture important information that can be used to enrich your business case. 

If you are starting with an executive audience, begin poking at their business, delivering high-level insights and formulating the early stage of your value thesis. You can then test it and flesh it out, leading to a greater ability to uncover deep pain points, and growth levers and begin to collect data points needed to build your business case. 

If you are starting lower in the organization, you’ll need to get to know more people and climb the ladder. If your key stakeholder is a champion, it’s important that you position the business case as a way to help them get buy-in for the solution to improve their life. Simply asking, “Who has this information?” will start to open up the individual to start mapping the organization for you. 

Establishing a Shaky Baseline

Building a business case for your deal starts with establishing a baseline. Depending on who you are working with, it may be difficult to collect the metrics needed to do this but do not skip this step. You’ll need this baseline to stand up when it’s put in front of an executive audience. Nothing derails the presentation of your business case faster than an executive stopping you before you even get started with the question, “Where did you get these numbers?” Spend time collecting inputs and validating them, otherwise, all the effort is for nothing. 

Leaving the Presentation to Chance

Even if you’ve created a winning business case, your presentation still needs to have some polish and be geared toward a couple of discrete audiences. The first is the executive audience, for which you should plan to start with three to five slides that provide an executive summary which is highly value-driven. There is a good chance this is all that will make it into a board meeting if your deal goes up that high, so make it great. The second is your backup, which should include the spreadsheets you used to build your business case, the details of your solution and any other supporting materials. Make sure to practice your presentation and be ready for a variety of scenarios so it can run smoothly, come what may. 

Building a strong business case is critical when you’re selling deals in the six-figure and up range. If you avoid making these common mistakes, it’ll go a long way in making yours even more compelling – and effective. 

Josh Wagner, Co-founder and Managing Partner of In Revenue Capital

Josh Wagner

Josh Wagner is a sales, marketing and channel leader who has spent 20 years selling to and through strategic partners and helping start-ups scale from $0 – $20MM. Today Josh is the Co-Founder and Partner at In Revenue Capital, where he provides GTM operator expertise to support growth-stage founders. Josh believes that ecosystem-led growth is the “cheat code” to revenue, enabling leaders to tap into one-to-many partner relationships to create more scale with fewer resources.


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