Stories about Software


Selling Your Boss On That Shiny New Tool

Editorial Note: this was a post originally written for the SmartBear blog.  You can read the original here, at their site.  Check out the other authors over there, too.

Have you ever attended a trade show or conference that left you feeling like the proverbial kid in a candy store?  You had delectable food, met really smart people, attended eye-opening talks, and took tons and tons of notes.  The only complaint you had, in fact, was that you were forced to choose between multiple awesome sessions that were happening at once.  You were practically glowing as you said your goodbyes and headed back to your normal job, prepared to dazzle your coworkers with all of the new techniques that you knew would be real difference makers.

But even if they didn’t necessarily buy into everything to the extent that you did, there was that one tool that was just such a no brainer that it would sell itself once you explained it. But it didn’t. There’s nothing quite like having your proposal flatly and unenthusiastically rejected to shock you out of the post-conference glow and throw you right back into the daily grind. You were so convinced that people would see the incredible benefits that you find the actual results inconceivable: your coworkers shrug indifferently and your manager says, “We’re doing fine right now, so we really don’t need to introduce anything new.”  Is this situation avoidable?

I wish I could tell you that I had a bulletproof pitch that would never be rejected. Persuasion skills like that would be nothing short of a super power.  But while there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed in selling your manager on a tool, you can certainly improve your odds.  The way to do this is by making a business case for the tool.


What is a Business Case?

Put simply, a business case is an argument in favor of a business taking some form of action such as, let’s say, buying the tool that you want it to buy.  Making a business case is as simple as lobbying for something, but making a good business case is a bit trickier.  Table stakes for making a good business case include showing that your proposal is in the company’s best interests and demonstrating that it will result in cost savings or added revenue.

In that vein, let’s consider some things that are not good business cases.

  • Don’t tell your manager that you should adopt a method because it’s a “best practice.”
  • Don’t tell her that you should acquire a new tool “because every modern company uses something like this.”
  • Don’t say that it’s embarrassing that you’re still doing things the old way.

All of these claims are, perhaps, understandable; they may even be right.  But what aren’t they? Business cases. To management types, these arguments are not compelling ones.

In order to be compelling, you need to start thinking in terms of dollars and cents for the company.  You need to start thinking about the bottom line.

Cutting Costs

When it comes to tools, often the easiest way to make a business case is to make an argument that the tool will somehow save money.  Tools are frequently intended to automate existing tasks or otherwise make them more efficient.  In general, this results in savings. But you’ll want to argue specifics.

The most common form this argument takes is “this tool will save me time.”  The company pays you a salary, and you know what that salary is. So you can estimate your weekly time savings, multiply it by your salary, and make the case that this is the savings for the company.  If it offsets the cost of the tool, it’s a financial no-brainer.

Another angle is opportunity cost, which is the idea that doing one thing necessarily means that you can’t do another.  So if you’re offered $20 to spend an hour filling out a survey and you choose to watch TV instead, the opportunity cost of you watching TV would be $20.  In this fashion, you can argue that the time savings you realize via your new tool will allow you to do a project that’s always been on the backburner.

And finally, there are more forms of cost than just time that a tool might eliminate.

  • Will the tool help improve the quality of the product, saving you the cost of a PR firm to smooth over the bugs?
  • Will the tool stop you from relying on an overseas firm to handle things manually and therefore save your company a monthly expense?

Maybe it will reduce the need for travel or will save on fees.  Spend some time thinking through all of the ramifications of using the tool, and look for ways that it will save the company money.

Increasing Revenue

Every business has revenues and costs, and revenue minus cost is profit.  Therefore, the other way to make a business case for something is to argue that it increases revenue.  This isn’t as common when it comes to tools that employees use, but it can happen.

Does the tool you’re using improve the quality of a product to the point where you could sell a version for more money?  Would adopting the tool allow you to reach a new segment of your customer base or define an entirely new kind of offering?  Will the tool aid you in boosting sales?  If any of these things are true, use them to make your case!

Prove It

Reasoning out arguments for cost savings or revenue increase is an excellent first step for making your business case, but your work isn’t done.  These arguments may sway your manager, but they’ll be a lot more persuasive if you can offer some form of proof.  Seek out case studies done at other companies to present as evidence of time and salary saved.  Download a trial of the tool and run some experiments.  The more compelling the evidence you present, the harder it will be for a manager to turn you down.

As you go through this exercise, there is always the chance that you discover adoption of the tool won’t actually help the company’s bottom line once you factor in its cost.  That may be disappointing, but if it happens, you’ll know that your excitement about the tool is about its coolness factor and not about the benefit for your company.  Doing this analysis yourself instead of forcing your boss to do it will be appreciated in the long run.

But don’t be daunted.  If the tool appeals to you on a visceral level at the conference, it’s likely something that will benefit your company.  You know your job and the nature of your work, so you likely have an intuitive feel for what makes sense.  So when you get back from the conference, keep calm, build your business case, and make it hard for a budget-conscious manager to do anything but get excited along with you.