You had made a solid case for your IT project, convincing you and your team that the C-suite would be putty in your hands. The appointment to pitch had been in the diary for weeks and you had rehearsed in front of the bathroom mirror to the point that you could recite it in your sleep.
Nothing could go wrong.
Except, two minutes in, you already start to feel that you are losing the room. Then you catch the COO glance at the clock on the wall, the CRO furtively checks her smart phone for emails and the CFO smiles that smile and you know it’s all over. You cut straight to the key data that you were saving for the grand finale — but it’s too late.
You ever been here?
There are many statistics about how many IT projects fail and many internet posts suggesting why. After hearing the above story from a friend, I have been wondering how many worthwhile IT projects never even get greenlighted and why?
I suppose accurate statistics would be hard to find, after all, what doesn’t get started rarely gets documented and measured. As a guide, though, multiply the number of projects that you yourself have not successfully pitched by the number of project teams that you imagine there are on the planet (Project Management Institute estimates that there are 16.5 million project managers in the world) and you probably have a very big number indeed floating across your mind.
These can’t all have been terrible projects, can they?
Of course, you can play the blame game, abdicate responsibility, the C-suite just don’t get it, the CIO has her own agenda, the company isn’t forward thinking enough!
You’re better than that though. If a commissioned IT project were to fail on your watch or show signs of veering, of course, you wouldn’t look to point the finger of blame elsewhere. You’d know that by taking responsibility, by taking ownership of the challenge, by learning from your mistakes and missteps, you would be more likely to enjoy successful outcomes in the future. It’s time to apply this thinking to your pitch.
The truth is, the failure probably lies at your door and the quality of your pitch.
And that’s OK. You’re a great project leader or CIO — you never said you were a great salesperson. Now, though, is the time to steal some skills and techniques from our colleagues in commercial and apply them to your next pitch.
Here are five possible shortcuts to a greenlight:
1. Nail the first 90 seconds
The first minute and a half of your pitch can be crucial. I’ve known projects to get commissioned this quick based on the passion for a business change initiative.
I’ve also known projects to flounder just as quickly.
You can have all the data in the world to back up your case but if you don’t grab their interest early on you could have lost before you even get to deliver it.
Apply elevator pitch, movie trailer thinking to the first 90 seconds of your pitch to hook them in.
2. Pitch the business benefits first
One way to nail the first 90 seconds is to ensure that you’re pitching the business benefits first.
You may be terribly excited about a cloud migration or replacing desktops with tablets but chances are these aren’t the things that will move your CEO or CFO to sign off on your mission.
Hard to believe, I know, but some people just don’t get tech the way you do. It’s OK, the transport manager can’t understand why no one loves his fleet of vans the way he does — we’re all different.
Your proposed project will already be aligned to business strategy — or you wouldn’t be pitching it — so why lead with anything other than business case?!
Tell them how much your project will save, how much more efficient it will make your operation, how much better the customer experience will be.
3. Talk the same language
Have you ever switched on a local music radio station on holiday abroad? How much of the bit between the songs could you follow? For instance, you’re in Denmark and the DJ says something like, “Godmorgen, det er klokken 8 og du lytter til morgenmad show. Kommer op efter nyheden, musik fra Abba og din chance for at vinde en ferie, men først Madonna.”
If you concentrated hard, you might pick up something about Abba and Madonna, but you’d not know anything about the chance to win the holiday!
Many IT project pitches fail because of similar language problems. I mean, everyone is speaking English, but if you’re a CIO waxing lyrically about ITIL, gold plating and RACI charts, you sometimes may as well be talking Danish.
Put your listener first: always talk in terms that are readily understood by the people receiving your pitch.
4. Be passionate and authentic
Passion is infectious. Passion is what separates the best pitchers from the majority of mediocre IT project proposers.
With passion, you will motivate, inspire, engage and electrify your audience. Without passion, you might as well have just sent them an email.
Passion with authenticity is a potent mix — it’s easier to buy into. So, figure out what your authentic connection to the proposed project is, identify the fire that it has ignited in your belly and find the best way to communicate that. Be real.
One CIO I know ditched dry PowerPoint presentations in favor of eye contact and spoken words to create powerful pictures. She said, “When you ask the waiter to describe a meal from the menu, he doesn’t fire up a PowerPoint presentation. He makes your mouth water. When you look into the eye of your CEO and tell him his company is hemorrhaging money through inefficient IT you make his mouth water. You grab his attention a million times better than even the most animated slideshow.”
5. Stakeholder testimonials bring the business change you envisage to life
I’m amazed how well this works. I’m equally amazed how infrequently this simple trick is used.
If your IT project addresses a major end user issue that is costing your business, like PCs that take forever to boot up, who better to sell the frustration and the value of your solution to the C-suite than the person who lives the problem every day.
The slow booting PC case is a real-life example, by the way. What swung it for the project wasn’t the data or the project teams vision of a better future or the benefits of state of the art tech — it was an unrehearsed, off-the-cuff comment from a customer facing member of staff who said that he couldn’t properly deal with any customer inquiry until fifteen minutes into his shift. You could see the CFO’s brains ticking over: 15 minutes … 5 days a week … 10 team members … twelve and half hours a week wasted waiting for PCs to boot up … across 52 weeks … he couldn’t sign off quick enough.
These are just five ways to a better IT project pitch.
If you have a sales division your company will have invested a small fortune training them to be the best pitchers in your business, go and knock on their door and sponge up some of their knowledge. If they share some amazing insights with you, share them with the rest of us.
I look forward to hearing about the business change driven by your next greenlighted IT project.