You know your maintenance department needs better software to accomplish its goals, and you’ve even found what you believe is the perfect solution. Only one stage remains, but it’s the most difficult of all: getting executive buy-in on your choice of software.
You’ve put in a lot of work looking at your needs and pain points, researching the offerings currently available, and discussing the issue with other stakeholders on the maintenance team. It was a lot of work, but what you’ve done up until now was the easy part.
Obtaining executive buy-in for maintenance software relies on convincing higher-ups that what you want is the best solution. This can be a tough proposition, especially if you’ve never had to do something like this before. That’s why we’ve put together this easy to follow guide to help make sure that when the time comes, the executives will make the right choice (i.e., the one you want!).
Before we dive any deeper into this topic, we should mention that there’s only one overriding rule to convincing people to see things your way, and that’s to make it about them.
It’s not about what you want. It’s not even about what’s best for the company, although you’ll need to lay out a case for why what you want is the best solution. The easiest way to get people on your side is to show them the benefits that will flow to them personally.
It’s possible to get people to care about issues that don’t impact them directly. It’s also possible to ski through a revolving door. This process isn’t about what’s possible. If you want to truly champion your choice, then you need to go with what has the greatest chance of success.
When it comes to influencing people, the safest bet is always to appeal to their self-interest. This view of human behavior is …
To be fair, people often do act altruistically. They may willingly make sacrifices so others can benefit. You might get buy-in on your choice just by pointing out that the maintenance department is very overworked and dissatisfied. You might get what you want this way … but don’t count on it.
You’re up against powerful forces. Inertia alone often means it’s easier for people to do nothing. There are also other projects in your company that need funding. The people promoting those projects certainly aren’t your enemies, but they can easily become your opponents if there are only limited dollars to go around…and there are always limited dollars to go around.
This is the very first step, but it aligns closely with your final goal: getting the key decision makers on your side. Once you figure out who those people are, you can start determining what their priorities and goals are. This is essential to show them that what you want is really what they want.
You’ll need allies if you want to make sure your choice is the one that moves forward. You can start by determining exactly who has the authority to approve or deny your request. Maybe you have it relatively easy, and the only person you’ll need to convince is your direct manager.
That’s not the case for most organizations. You’ll often need to convince your manager, your manager’s manager, and so on up the chain. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you may even need to convince the folks in the C-suite that your choice is the one to pick.
The next stage is to start gathering supporters. You should start in the maintenance department with the people who will actually use the new solution, but you definitely shouldn’t end there. The more people you can get on your side, the better.
Make sure to check if other departments need to sign off on the purchase as well. Even if the IT and accounting departments don’t have an actual vote, you will do well to make sure that you have allies ready to back you up if needed. Find out what they need, and then figure out how your choice will help them.
Some departments will be your natural allies in your quest. Operations will likely support you if you can show that the new solution will lead to less downtime on your assets. That leads to steadier, more dependable production. In turn, that leads to more accurate delivery schedules, which means greater customer satisfaction. Both of those will appeal to the sales and marketing departments.
The downside is that you will also have natural opponents. They aren’t your enemies, but there are certain departments that must question your plan or they’re not doing their jobs. The most obvious ones are IT, finance, and purchasing.
Questions from purchasing and finance typically revolve around money and the efficient use of the company’s existing resources. You will need to show them that the solution you’re proposing will save cash, assets, or both.
It would be inaccurate to say the IT department doesn’t care about costs, but you won’t get them on your side by showing that the solution will save cash. You’ll need to show them that the tool helps them as well. This could be because it offers increased security or requires fewer IT management resources. Talk to members of the IT department and determine where their greatest pain points are, and tailor your pitch to how the proposed solution can help.
Finally, we come to the executives. In this case, the most important thing to do is to demonstrate how the solution helps move maintenance forward in line with the overall business goals and vision.
Is increased production a top goal for this year? Then you can speak to how the solution will help maintenance keep assets up and running without increasing the budget. Does the C-suite want higher efficiency? Then the same thing applies. Do they want to lower costs? Then speak to that!
You will have to develop many different aspects of your pitch to appeal to different people and departments, but the general tactic is the same in each case. Don’t make it about you. Make it about them.
At this point, you’ve identified who can help move things forward and the people most likely to hold things back. You’ve determined their needs and wants, and given some thought to the questions they’re most likely to answer. The next stage is to start building a case that demonstrates how what you want will help them.
We’re going to harp on this again: getting executive buy-in for software decisions isn’t about you and your team. They may be sympathetic to the fact that the folks in the maintenance department are feeling harried and overworked. They may even offer you a shoulder to cry on. None of that is going to get your chosen solution into your hands.
Your focus must be on showing how your chosen solution aligns with the objectives of the business, how it will help other departments, and finally, how increasing the efficiency of the maintenance department will assist with all of the above.
You don’t necessarily need to align with all of the company’s objectives. Just pick a few that you can see would be helped by the new solution and speak to that. However, you must make sure that your pitch isn’t contradictory to the business goals. If a current goal is to use “right size” production, then showing how you can increase production with the best maintenance practices isn’t going to be very appealing.
Regardless of the objectives set by management, there are two things businesses can always use more of, and that’s time and money. You need to demonstrate that the new tool will save one or the other (ideally both).
You lined up the numbers in the last stage and that will be more than sufficient to convince some people. However, some people find storytelling more compelling. This doesn’t mean that they don’t find the raw numbers convincing, but this process is not just about being right. A large part of it is getting people excited about the new solution, and for that, you’re going to need a bit of storytelling.
Find some recent failures that would have been prevented if the new solution had been in place. This is probably going to be a painful process for you. You’ll need to dig into failures into your department, and some of them may even be personal failures.
It may feel like even bringing these events up will prejudice your audience against you, but that isn’t the case. There is tremendous power in admitting to mistakes, especially if you do so while presenting solutions that will prevent the same mistakes from being made in the future.
Concentrate on examples that will show how the new solution saves time, money, or both. We’ve repeatedly said that it’s not about you, and that remains the case even while you’re talking about how your proposed software will make the maintenance department more efficient. Don’t talk about how it will help you avoid getting burned out. Instead, discuss how many hours of labour it will save the company.
So far we’ve just discussed tangible benefits that can be backed up with hard numbers (even when you’re telling a story). This doesn’t mean you should ignore the intangible benefits completely. More efficient maintenance tends to increase worker safety, but it may hard to quantify. You can still mention this. Think about other intangible benefits as well. If you can see a way that your new solution will, down the line, lead to increased customer satisfaction, then make sure to include it.
It’s easy to go too far with the intangible benefits, though. Be wary of making too many claims you cannot prove. Make sure the bulk of your business case relies on what you can prove.
You can lean heavily on your preferred vendor for this stage. They should be willing and able to provide you with a rough guide of how the implementation should rollout. You can then modify this document to suit the particular needs of your organization.
At its most basic, your implementation plan must cover how and when the needed work will be performed, the people and budget needed, a list of the people, departments, and functions that will be impacted, an assessment of the risks involved, and what you’ll measure to show the implementation was successful.
Of all of these, risk assessment may present the most challenges. You may be tempted to skip this stage. After all, you’re trying to convince others that your choice is the right choice, and telling them about every single risk would seem to contradict your goal. That’s not really the case, though.
Presenting the risks openly, honestly, and thoroughly will help you to obtain executive buy-in for your chosen software. It’s better for you to present the risks (ideally with a plan to avoid or minimize them) than it is for your audience to come up with them on their own.
Start by jotting down a list of all the possible risks you can think of. Depend on Murphy’s Law for this step. If something can go wrong, assume that it will go wrong.
Reach out to your allies on your team and ask them to come up with similar lists. Do not show them yours first. They may come up with risks that you hadn’t considered.
Once you have what you feel is a complete list, assign each entry two scores from one to 10. The first score is how probable you think the risk is, and the second is how big an impact it could have. Multiply these scores together to get a total risk score.
Next, come up with contingency plans to mitigate each of those risks. Start with the entry with the highest total risk and work your way down the list.
Now it’s time to assemble all of your research into a coherent whole. There’s a fine line to tread here. The proposal should be complete, but you also need to make sure it isn’t so long and detailed that your audience gets lost. Aim for about two pages. You can always prepare supplementary documents that go into greater depth on particular issues.
Here’s a quick checklist you can use to make sure your proposal covers the necessary points:
You should also include any potential impacts to maintenance and operations while the software is being implemented. If key people are being pulled off their day-to-day maintenance activities, then your plan must include how this will affect the business and how you intend to minimize any disruptions.
In addition, have a list prepared of all the objections to your plan that you can think of. Your risk assessment will be of great value to you here. For each objection, come up with a rebuttal that addresses the issue.
You do not necessarily want to present all of these objections when you’re making your pitch. Your audience will likely do that for you. You need to have this list so you’re ready to overcome their objections.
Proposing a new solution is a form of “issue selling.” This type of sales pitch is less about products and more about ideas. The term was introduced by Jane Dutton and Susan Ashford over 20 years ago, and significant research has been conducted on the best tactics since that time.
Ashford summarized many of the findings in an article written for Harvard Business Review, co-written with James Detert. We strongly recommend reading this article, Get the Boss to Buy In, before you start on your own journey.
Prometheus Group has numerous resources available to help you win hearts and minds at your company. Please make sure to contact us here for more information on how we can help you craft a winning pitch.