How to sell your boss on the power of analytics
Buy-in and payback and ROI – oh, my!
One would be hard-pressed to recall any major business intelligence and analytics conferences where keynote speakers and breakout presenters were not asked – frequently, repeatedly and quasi-desperately:
- How do I sell BI/analytics projects to my senior managers?
- How do I get executive buy-in?
- How do I calculate the ROI on the projects I am proposing?
Researchers at the IT Leadership Academy were fascinated by the paradox of high-payback, reasonable-risk BI/analytics projects that were put on the back burner in many otherwise thought-to-be-clever enterprises. We undertook a quick analysis in an attempt to understand what is going on here.
Understanding how money happens
Some readers may recall the famous interchange between bank robber Willy Sutton and the policeman who captured him.
“Why do you rob banks, Willy?” asked the policeman.
“Cause that’s where the money is.”
In many cases, the people asking for BI funding do not really know where the money is or how projects get funded. All organizations have a BUYING PROCESS – sometimes very formalized, sometimes more mood-based – detailing how money happens and how projects get funded.
Very few BI/analytical professionals undertake more than a perfunctory analysis of these processes, deeming, I suppose, such bureaucratic procedures unworthy of their time or attention. This is a BIG mistake. A sidebar finding from the research was that most buying processes in most enterprises would benefit significantly if subjected to rigorous BI scrutiny. In the future, we predict BI applications in IT project governance will generate very high payback.
Those wishing to “sell” BI projects to senior managers would be well-advised to familiarize themselves with the organizational norms of funding. At GE Capital Solutions, for instance, there has been a preference to fund small “popcorn stands,” or little businesses that will help the organization learn about bigger opportunities. At a major film studio, the BI project sponsor adopted the same language that show-biz people use to greenlight creative endeavors.
Understanding mindsets and mental models
In 2000, the CIO Posse – a group of transitioning and just-retired CIOs – was formed to offer the services of CIO tribal elders to vendor sales organizations seeking to improve their sales at the top of the house. The goal was to get vendor sales personnel inside the heads of potential buyers. To sell something, you must really understand how the person who is buying that thing thinks.1
Step one toward project success is the recognition that on every issue, at any given point in time, multiple mental models may be at work. The analytical community can no longer merely observe, passively consume or merely relate to the mental models swirling around enterprises about what BI and high-end analytical resources can do.
You will need to inventory the multiple mental models at work in your areas of engagement. You will need to intervene and remediate mental models toxic to BI’s ability to add value. Mental models are important. They can be dysfunctional. They should be monitored and managed – and in many cases upgraded.
An exercise to try at work
A fascinating exercise is to assemble your BI and analytics teams and have them draw a one-page picture of the universe that faces the executives who have been asked to fund the initiative. Next, arrange a lunch with those executives and ask them to draw their own one-page picture of the universe facing them. The differences in those “maps” will be important. The conversation about those differences will be helpful in achieving the shared mind that leads to project approval.
As you are inventorying mental models, it is a good idea to get a feel for the general mental model at work in the environment. Historians tell us that science proceeds by alternating between periods of normal science, during which investigators do research within a commonly accepted paradigm, and crises, during which investigators seek a new paradigm because of problems with the old one. The tone of your pitch should reflect the prevailing gestalt. You should know whether the executives you seek to work with are in an order-shattering mindset, an order-affirming mindset or an order-creating mode.2
As a futurist, I believe most switched-on organizations have to understand that the world has changed, that existing modes of information management are not good enough and that new practices need to be deployed. As an on-the-ground worker in a living, breathing and frequently reluctant-to-change organism, you will need to fit your message into the mental model at work in your enterprise. Good luck!
Thornton May, Executive Director and Dean at the IT Leadership Academy, is one of the premier visionaries in the IT industry. www.itleadershipacademy.com.