Selling the case for IT Service Management

If you don’t ‘sell’ the case for IT Service Management you’ll never get anywhere (and, BTW, it’s not that bad)

For many of us a technical folks, selling is a “bad word” — even something distasteful. It conjures up images of the slick salesperson, with questionable ethics (and an even worse suit); a person that would say anything to make a sale. I don’t buy into the stereotype of the slick salesperson. It’s been my experience that really successful salespeople are consultative, trustworthy and add value to their clients. If your motivations are honorable, “selling” becomes an important tool to get across the benefits of your IT service management (ITSM) program in a way that resonates with your sponsor.

I’ll go one step further and say that there is a little salesperson in each of us. I personally believe that salesmanship is part of the human condition. From the day we are born, every one of us is engaged in the subtle interplay of persuasion. It’s part of how we get things done.

I think that anybody who has kids would definitely agree that we are all salespeople at heart. Which parent hasn’t heard anything like “Dad, if I can have the new baseball glove, I promise to take out the garbage every day.” or “Mom, all the other parents let their daughters wear makeup, why can’t I?”

So why is the ability to “sell” the value of ITSM so important? IT pros tend to live in the world of details, logic and facts. Each of us could probably cite a dozen ways in which ITSM will benefit our company so we are perplexed when others “just don’t get it”. It’s not that the others can’t see the value of ITSM but it’s up to us to frame the value proposition in terms that are important to them. In other words, we need to persuade them that ITSM is relevant to their needs.

Professor Robert Cialdini is a leading authority on the power of persuasion. In his February 2001 Scientific American article The Science of Persuasion, he identified six principles that can assist you in building a case and gaining commitment for your proposals — including ITSM.

The examples I cited earlier are well-studied aspects of persuasion. The first example of “the baseball glove” falls under a principle called Reciprocity in which one is obligated to return a favor. The second example of “what the other parents are doing” falls under a principle called Consensus in which people have been shown to follow the lead of others.

(There was, of course, my mom’s answer: “If everyone jumped in the lake would you?”)

Professor Cialdini’s six principles were formed through careful study and observation. In essence, by studying how people are wired. The six principles are:

  • Reciprocity – people feel obligated to return a favor.
  • Scarcity – people want things that are hard to get.
  • Authority – people tend to follow the experts.
  • Commitment – people live up to their promises.
  • Consensus – people follow other peoples lead.
  • Liking – people will do things for people they like and respect.

So how does all this apply to building the business case for ITSM? I have been in ITSM for over 30 years. During my career, I have presented numerous business cases for internal projects. As the co-founder and CEO of an ITSM consulting company, I have presented numerous proposals to clients and prospects.

It is my experience that “the secret to a winning business case is understanding the needs and drivers of your audience and then framing your proposal in terms they can relate to.” I am not talking about trying to “trick” someone into buying something that they don’t need. That is unethical and frankly, it’s completely transparent to an intelligent person.

If you believe in what you are selling, and you are confident it will benefit the recipient, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with employing the art of persuasion. I would go as far as saying that it is your responsibility.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know your bosses, or your senior managements’performance objectives? Do you know what they have to achieve in order to receive their bonus? If you don’t know, I highly recommend you ask them. Then follow-up by asking what you can do to help them achieve it.

As a business owner, I am ecstatic when my employees align themselves with my needs. It means we are all marching in the same direction. And trust me, if you align yourself with your management’s objectives, it will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

So what are their objectives? Have they been mandated to reduce cost? Are they on the hook for availability? Are they mandated to improve service levels?

Building your business case on soft benefits such as “it will make IT more customer focused” will not resonate with an executive who is under extreme pressure to reduce costs. However, a business case that is based on consolidating service desks into a single ITSM tool, with the elimination of duplicate license costs and expensive upgrade costs, may have some appeal to an executive who is driven by cost reduction. And you know what? It can still result in making IT more customer focused.

That is a very important point. As an ITSM professional, you know dozens of reasons why ITSM will benefit your company. But none will come to pass if you can’t sell the value of your program. And just because you sell it on some specific benefits, that doesn’t mean you won’t achieve all the others.

Over my three decades in the business, I have met literally thousands of people involved in ITSM. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have heard them say such things as “Management just doesn’t get it”, or “I know this will benefit our company but I will never be able to get my management on board”.

Rubbish I say. The fault isn’t with management, it’s with the messenger.

A key role of management is to effectively allocate resources (people, technology, knowledge and other assets) in a manner that helps the company achieve its strategic and tactical goals. A good manager will never waste time or energy on something that doesn’t support the company’s stated direction. But let’s face it. Managers are extremely busy people. Most are juggling 1001 different things each and every day. And just because you are very focused on ITSM, that doesn’t mean they are. It’s your job to explain it in a way that resonates with them; in a way that makes decisions regarding resource allocation easier.

One of the biggest “red herrings” when it comes to building the business case for ITSM is the question of return on investment (ROI). ROI is a financial term in the formula used to derive the monetary gain of a particular capital investment. It is usually expressed as a percentage. For example, I predict a return of 15% of our investment of $2 million.

In most IT shops (there are exceptions), ROI has become synonymous with benefits. It is extremely hard to measure the financial benefits of an ITSM program because most IT departments do a terrible job of establishing a baseline of existing costs. That’s also a key reason many outsourcing initiatives go sour (but I’ll leave that for a future article).

Do you know the fully loaded cost to implement a change, resolve an incident or to take an application from design through to production? If not, how are you going to calculate the ROI of any ITSM related improvement? That is why I recommend avoiding ROI as the basis of your business case and focusing instead on the needs and drivers of your sponsor. You shouldn’t even begin building the case until you understand what those needs and drivers are.

Your manager may continue to ask for the ROI of ITSM but it’s up to you to do your homework and find out what the real drivers are.

If your company publishes a strategic plan, you should read it. If your company publishes goals for the year, you need to become very familiar with them. If your boss has specific performance goals by which he or she is measured, you need to know what they are.

Once you understand the real drivers, you need to build the case using a very structured and logical approach. The key is to tie the case back to the needs and drivers of your sponsor. I suggest the following outline:

  • Executive Summary – Identify the problem you are trying to solve (remember the sponsor’s drivers), your approach for addressing the problem, the benefits that will be derived, what you will lose if you don’t proceed and of course, the cost of proceeding. This is basically a concise two-page summary of your entire business case so write it last.
  • Project Timeline – A detailed work breakdown structure, project Gantt chart, dependencies and milestones.
  • Approach & Deliverables – A step by step description of all activities and talks along with the specific deliverables for each task.
  • Resources & Cost – A breakdown of all costs including an estimate of people’s time, outside consulting, training, software, as well as any other material costs.
  • Benefits Analysis – This is where you get to explain the detailed benefits that will be derived and the risk of not proceeding. Tie the benefits directly back to your sponsor’s drivers.

The other thing I highly recommend is pre-selling your proposal. Think of it as lobbying (another distasteful word to many) to get the support of all the stakeholders. You can’t implement ITSM on your own, so you definitely need to build a support network ahead of time.

This is another area where Dr. Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion can be very helpful. Leverage the principle of Reciprocity by promising something in return for supporting your proposal, or by offering help to other influential people.

Use the principle of Scarcity to communicate what your sponsor and stakeholders will lose if they don’t take you up on your business case. For example, “If we don’t move quickly we will lose our one chance to roll out this new business service on time and within budget”.

Referencing outside experts and providing samples of detailed ITSM success stories are examples of using the principle of Authority.

A trial close, such as “If I can deliver a 25% reduction in ITSM software costs would you support me in this proposal?” is one way of exercising the principle of Commitment.

Build on the principle of Consensus by giving examples of how other companies, especially ones in your own industry, are benefiting from the implementation of ITSM.

Finally, solicit the support of people who are well liked and respected by management, along with your own good reputation, when presenting the case to your sponsors. This is how you can exploit the principle of Liking.

So let me take a moment to summarize.

First off, I am in no way downplaying the importance of having a logical and fact based approach to ITSM. Marketing will never replace substance. However, even the best plan will do nobody any good if you can’t get approval for it. That is where selling comes in.

Getting approval to proceed means understanding the drivers of your sponsors and framing your case in terms that resonate with them.

Construct a business case that is structured and logical. Be concise in the executive summary but support it with lots of facts and details.

IT is also extremely important that you enlist the help of other stakeholders to help you sell it. The more support you have, the easier it will be.

So now that I have freely shared some of my experience with you, I would like to get your commitment to join the hundreds of individuals that have achieved the elusive goal of selling the case for ITSM and maybe one day I can count on you to return the favor. Persuasive enough?

David Mainville

David Mainville

David Mainville, CEO and co-founder of Navvia, is a passionate advocate of Service Management and a frequent presenter, blogger and well known member of the ITSM community. With over 35 years of experience, David has held progressively senior technical and management roles allowing him to “connect the dots” between the Business and IT. At Navvia, David leads the charge to bring innovative ITSM solutions to market focusing on Product Development, Marketing and Operations.

• Posted by David Mainville on Nov 07, 2012
• Filed under Articles
• Tagged with

Share this post