As a former salesperson and sales manager, I know how much effort it takes to close a complex sale. Although it took extra work and time to create a business case to prove the ROI of investing in my solution (an ERP system), I always felt the process was well worth it.
There are a few reasons I advocate using a business case as part of the sales process, particularly for long and/or complex sales cycles. One reason is obvious: a business case includes ROI calculations that prove to your customer the financial logic of investing in your solution.
Decision makers in B2B companies want to know how your solution will either make or save them money. The numbers contained in a business case are often the persuading factors that helps your internal stakeholder secure budget approval from his or her finance team.
The Advantage of Customer Dialogues
The second reason I endorse using business cases is because they facilitate an in-depth dialogue between you and your customer. That dialogue can lead to a number of advantages for you.
First, dialogues are a valuable way to build rapport with your customer. The complex sale typically requires salespeople to establish relationships with multiple stakeholders across different teams within an organization. It can take a lot to manage those relationships. The more you can interact with your customer and his/her team, the more you can find out about their business challenges, preferences, and goals. These are all important aspects of creating a strong relationship.
Second, dialogues give you the opportunity to ask questions. Great salespeople ask probing questions for a reason—the more information they have, the better their chances of uncovering and addressing objections that might otherwise stall or spoil the deal. (In that regard, building a business case can be far more effective than delivering a sales demo or presentation.)
Overcoming the Fear-Based Objection
Here’s an example from my own experience. Years ago I spent about six months selling an ERP system to a company in the beverage industry. We conducted multiple demos, built a business case, and brought in other users to demonstrate value. When it came time to talk proposals, I met with the principals and we discussed the ROI of the purchase. Before long, the CFO piped up and said, “I’m just not sure we can justify the expense of this solution right now.”
On one hand, I wasn’t surprised by this objection, because CFOs are primarily concerned with expenses. What surprised me was the realization that I had obviously not yet done enough to instill confidence in the CFO about purchasing my solution.
Because I had established a rapport with the CFO and his team during the sales process, I was able to get him to open up and answer more questions about his concerns. I discovered that he had closely followed a recent story in the news about an ERP implementation failure that had led to some major product supply problems for a high-profile company. His true concern was that his implementation would also fail and somehow tank the company. His objection wasn’t about timing, and it wasn’t primarily about cost. It was about fear.
I knew his perception did not align with reality; but I also knew it was my job to help him feel secure that he was making a wise decision. I arranged for the CFO to talk with another client who had gone through the same process with me. The client had generated similar ROI calculations and gotten excellent results. The CFO’s fear dissipated, and he gained confidence in the numbers we were including in our proposal. A few weeks later, we signed the deal.
Creating a Confident Customer
If the customer is going to make a purchase, he must have complete faith in your ROI estimate. As much as B2B decision makers are influenced by dollars and cents, they’re not immune to emotion. The process of building a business case can help you identify that emotion, examine it, and help the customer create the confidence necessary to move forward.
Does it take more time to build a business case? Yes. Does it add to the already overloaded to-do list of salespeople who are already busy attending meetings, prospecting, updating CRM, and writing proposals? Yes. But, in my experience, the investment of time and energy yields valuable insight that can help you move the deal across the goal line.