Like any marketer, business leader or entrepreneur knows, you have to spend money to make money — but it’s never a good idea to start funneling money into your business activities without an in-depth understanding of why, how and where you’re spending that money.
Before you can get anywhere with your budget, you need to build an effective business case, solicit buy-in from whoever signs the dotted line and make a plan for moving forward.
What Is a Business Case?
A business case outlines the details of your proposed business initiative, including the timeline to completion, the resources needed, the indicators of success and the potential value to be gained. Often presented in a written document or verbal presentation, a business case is used to justify the expense of the project and persuade business leaders to sign off on it.
Whether you’re creating a business case for a trade show marketing initiative, a new software investment, an agency partnership or something else, building and presenting a solid business case to your C-suite is key to successfully planning, implementing and overseeing the project from beginning to end.
Luckily, every effective business case has a few things in common, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here are five steps to building a business case for your budget.
How Do You Build a Business Case for Your Budget?
1. Begin with the “why.”
Inevitably, your business leader will want to know: Why should they invest in the project you’re proposing? And “just because” is never going to be a good enough answer to that question.
In that way, a business case is not too different from a typical sales pitch. By taking a value-first approach and focusing on the business benefit of your proposal, you’ll be more likely to gain approval for your budget. Use sales methods like the challenger sale to inform the structure and positioning of your proposal.
Identify the business problem you’re trying to solve and outline the goals you hope to accomplish with your project. Mapping the project to concrete monetary benefits will resonate the most, but any tangible, positive outcome you can associate with the project is a critical component of your business case.
For example, if you’re proposing an increased budget for trade show events, you might want to outline the number of leads, opportunities and, eventually, closed sales you expect to generate from the event. If you can prove that a $5,000 event budget spend will lead to at least one $10,000 retainer account, your C-suite will have a hard time ignoring that potential ROI.
2. Next, outline the “hows.”
Once you understand why you’re proposing a new budget, you need to explore how. There could be multiple paths to take to achieve the business goals you’ve outlined, so be prepared to discuss those different options with your decision-maker.
For example, say you’re making the business case to invest in a video hosting platform. There is a wide range of options for video hosting, from Vidyard to Youtube to Wistia, so you need to be able to present a set of solutions for your decision-maker to choose from.
3. Include the pros and cons of each “how.”
Every “how” will have its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so do your research and be able to speak to the pros and cons of each solution you propose.
For example, in the case of video hosting platforms, YouTube is likely the cheapest option. However, its benefits and features are severely limited compared to Vidyard. The pros and cons of each solution might look a little bit different depending on the goals you’re hoping to achieve.
Make sure you include both qualitative and quantitative pros and cons:
- Quantitative pros/cons include tangible features such as the monetary cost of each solution, the number of leads or opportunities it will generate for your sales team and the potential long-term ROI it will have for your business. These numbers should be fairly easy to come by using tools like ROI calculators, funnel gap analyses and industry benchmarks.
- Qualitative pros/cons include intangible features that you can’t quite put a number on. Examples of intangible benefits include strengthening your brand, building trust with your audience by demonstrating your expertise, saving time for your team and building connections with other leaders in the industry. If you’re able to map these intangibles to quantitative benefits (i.e., a stronger brand will lead to X more leads per year), do so. Any ranges or quantitative predictions you include will ground the intangible benefits and make them that much more attractive to your business leader.
By the time you present your business case to your decision-maker, you’ll likely have one solution in mind that you’re vying for. It’s OK to recommend that solution, but it’s important that you enter this conversation with an open mind. Your leadership team will have valid questions and concerns about each solution, and soliciting their input will help ensure you achieve the best outcome for your business.
Finally, when you’re building out the pros and cons, try to anticipate the primary objections that might come up and be able to speak to them. Ask yourself: What could cause this project to fail and how do we mitigate those risks?
4. Propose a budget and delineate exactly where the money will go.
Hopefully, by this point in the proposal, your decision-maker will have already bought into the potential business value that could be gained from your idea. That’s one of the key components of most sales methodologies: By the time you’ve convinced the prospect of the value of your solution, the actual cost should almost feel like an afterthought.
But you can’t get approval on value alone, so it’s time to dive into the nitty-gritty of the cost.
Use your existing budget (if you have one) as a starting point. Think about what you’ll need to add, remove or adjust in order to achieve your goals. For example, New Breed sends a handful of marketers and salespeople to the INBOUND conference every year. Because we have historical data on the general cost, ROI and outcome of this investment, we can easily predict the required budget and the expected return.
On the other hand, your project might be entirely new, so you won’t have an existing budget to build upon. If that’s the case, focus on the highest-value activities involved in your proposal and discuss the ROI you’d need to make the investment worth it. Industry benchmarks and examples from other companies are a great starting point for predicting the ROI of a new initiative.
Pro Tip: Calculate your marketing budget and your sales budget at the same time.
Ideally, your marketing and sales teams should work closely together. If you’re making the business case for a marketing or sales activity, software or project, build your budget around the expense and ROI that spans both teams.
For example, both sales and marketing professionals can benefit from software like HubSpot, Drift and Vidyard. Therefore, the cost and value-add of these types of solutions can map back to both teams, and you need to consider that in your budget. The greater the impact across the company, the more compelling your business case will be.
5. Draft the timeline and resources needed for each solution.
For each “how” you include in your proposal, draft a tentative outline of the project scope. This outline will not only help your decision-maker feel more comfortable in signing off on the budget but also act as a guideline for your team in planning and overseeing the project moving forward.
Be able to answer:
- How much time, effort and resources will be required to complete this project?
- What are the major deliverables of the project?
- Who will be responsible for completing the project?
- What are the limitations and potential risks of the project? What is our plan for dealing with those risks if they come up?
- How will we track and measure the success of the project?
- When will each activity take place? When can we expect to complete the project?
Building a Strong Business Case is the First Step to Achieving Your Goals
Proposing a new project or investment to your leadership team can be an intimidating process, but a well-researched, well-structured and well-thought-out business case will give you a leg to stand on. When you use these five steps as a checklist for building your proposal, you’ll be able to arm yourself with everything you need to succeed.
Guido is Head of Product and Growth Strategy for New Breed. He specializes in running in-depth demand generation programs internally while assisting account managers in running them for our clients.