By Nicola Wright
In this era of digital transformation, businesses have more opportunities to overhaul their processes than ever; here’s how to get the ball rolling on your CRM or ERP implementation with a strong business case.
With an ever-expanding market of business solutions to suit organizations of every size and budget, there’s no shortage of options when it comes time to launch a new platform, and revamp both front- and back-end operations.
Deciding on the right CRM or ERP solution can be challenging enough, but for the majority of businesses, there’ll still be one more major hurdle to clear before they can start thinking about implementation.
No matter how revolutionary or cost-effective the software you’ve set your heart on is, you still need to get buy-in from the key decision-makers in your business before you can do anything about it. Winning over the people who hold the purse strings can be tricky, even if your company has some persistent pain points that everyone agrees need to be addressed.
Implementing a new business software platform is rarely a cake-walk; not only does it require significant investment in licensing, implementation, and training, it can also be time-consuming, and potentially disruptive to day-to-day processes. So how do you convince the head honchos that it’ll be worth it in the long run?
The good news is that talk of digital transformation and its metamorphic benefits is so widespread among the business community that you’d be hard-pressed to find a c-level executive who wasn’t at least familiar with the concept.
That said, before a company forks out on a new business solution, they’ll need to have the what, why, when, and how much laid out clear and plain.
That’s where a strong business case can come in handy.
All business cases are born of a need; this could be the need to engage with your customers on a more personal level, gain deeper insight into your business data, or streamline your processes to make them more efficient. Whatever the reason, if you’ve found a solution that you believe can solve the issue (or issues), it’s likely that you’ll need to convince others in your business to go ahead with it before you can take the next steps.
Bear in mind, these others might not have spent quite as much time as you have buried deep in the technical specifications of your chosen product, so a business case is your chance to flex that knowledge, and really sell the rest of your organization on your proposed solution. A good business case should lay out everything decision-makers need to know about the project you’re suggesting. This includes what the product is, probable timelines for getting it up and running, the people who need to be involved, and, most importantly, how it’s going to align your organization more closely with its long-term strategy and goals.
If you’re putting together a proposal for a CRM or ERP implementation, it’s almost certain that the business case was inspired by a specific problem within your organization that you feel a new solution will solve. The ultimate goal of implementing this solution is to solve this problem, and this goal should be the guiding light of your business case; lead with the need.
The way you build a business case will be primarily the same, no matter what your chosen software. Whether that be a CRM, or an ERP, the shape of your case should remain the same; only the specifics of the software itself and the particular requirements of your business will change.
We’re going to use Dynamics 365—which, incidentally, is both a CRM and an ERP—as an example in our hypothetical business case.
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In a way, a business case is a sales pitch, albeit an internal one, but it should be scientific in its execution; you need to detail why you need this solution, how you decided on your preferred platform, how it will fix your issues, and how you’ll implement it.
When you’re packing so much information in, you need to make sure it’s structured logically and can be digested as easily as possible. A business case doesn’t need to be exhaustive in detail; remember, you’re pitching a solution, so while you want to include as much detail to give readers a full, accurate picture of the benefits it can provide, but you don’t need to offer several, jargon-packed tomes of information.
Hanging your proposal on the tried-and-tested skeleton of the classic business case can help you organize your argument, and ensure it’s presentable. Here’s an example of how to build a classic business case.
The executive summary is pretty much what it says on the tin; a short overview of the business case, outlining the issues faced by your organization, the solution you’re proposing to address it, and how that solution will solve these problems.
Although it’s the first section in the business case, it helps to write this section last; you can’t summarize your argument before you’ve written it in full after all.
In this section, you should outline why you’re putting forth this proposal, and what you want to achieve by implementing your proposed solution.
The SPIN technique is a strategy used by salespeople to help identify a customer’s pain points, and, ultimately, sell them a solution that will fix those problems. This method can come in handy when you’re laying out this section of your business case. The SPIN technique breaks down the pitch into the following steps:
Start by detailing the situation that your organization is in—if you’re creating a business case for Dynamics 365 for Sales, for example, the circumstance might be that your business doesn’t have a serviceable CRM platform to store and track customers.
Then, describe the problem with that situation. Perhaps you’re losing sales because your team can’t properly keep up with customer interactions, are missing out on opportunities, or aren’t able to engage on the personalized level that today’s consumers expect.
Crucially, you should next outline the implication that the problem has on your business, and the possible consequences of not addressing the issue. In this case, it’s a simple one; not being able to cash in on opportunities means fewer sales, decreased customer loyalty, and lost revenue.
Finally, communicate the need created by this problem. What’s required to solve this pain point?
Once you’ve covered the beleaguered present, you should outline your plans for the dazzling future. What do you plan to achieve? In your vision, what does your organization look like once you’ve overcome these problems?
It might be that you want to be able to centralize your business data, so that your sales, service, and marketing teams are all on the same page, and always have access to unified, up-to-date customer information so they can provide a better service.
Perhaps your objective is to be able to deliver personalized, automated marketing messaging to boost customer loyalty. Whatever you hope to attain, whatever your post-implementation business utopia is, try and boil your goals down into quantifiable targets; your vision will be much easier to sell if there are tangible bullseyes involved that can benefit the business in a practical way.
Laying out some objectives at this stage will allow you to better measure the success of the project further down the line, and enable you to make any necessary changes to your strategy to help you meet your goals. Delineate your hopes for your project outcome, and describe how you’re going to make these hopes a reality; decision-makers want to hear about plans, not dreams.
The SMART goal guide can help you piece these objectives together; objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
At this stage, you’re going to go from why to what and how.
In the first part of this section, you should present Dynamics 365 as your proposed solution and give an overview of the platform; explain what it is, what it does, and why you’ve chosen it.
In the second part, you should go into more detail about the specific features and capabilities of Dynamics 365 that led you to choose it, and more importantly, how these abilities will help your organization align itself more closely with its business strategy.
It can be helpful to pull up your company’s mission statement or targets, and map out exactly how its capabilities will contribute to the achievement of these ambitions.
Say one of your business targets for the year is to increase cross-sales by 15%, for example. In this section, you can outline how Dynamics 365 for Sales’ Product Relationship feature helps boost sales by assigning associated items to a product listing.
This feature will recommend further purchases directly related to items the customer is already interested in, whether a customer is using your website, or speaking directly to a sales agent. By highlighting relevant products, you are presented with easy, and in many cases automated, opportunities to up the value of your customers’ purchase, while building customer trust by cross-selling things they may well actually need.
If your organization wants to cut down the time it takes to resolve customer queries, you would use this part of the business plan to explain how Dynamics 365 for Customer Service offers AI-infused chatbots and customer self-service portals. These capabilities help customers find the information they need quickly, freeing up your agents to deal with matters that require closer attention, and helping customer queries get resolved more quickly.
Generating greater profit is more often than not the bottom-line goal for most business software implementations, and in most cases, decision-makers will want to know how this is going to be achieved.
The potential financial return that your solution is likely to produce can be outlined in detail in the cost analysis section, but be sure to give an overview of how your new platform will attain this return in this section.
ROI might be generated in a straightforward way like increasing your total number of sales, or in a more roundabout way such as cutting waste, or reducing staff turnover, but however you frame it, don’t forget to include so-called soft benefits too.
Soft benefits are far more difficult to hang a numerical value on, but are still important to account for. Good business software can bring a great many soft benefits with it, for example, more accurate planning and forecasting, higher employee satisfaction and decreased turnover, better customer satisfaction, and improved legal and regulatory compliance.
These indirect, qualitative advantages will help improve your organization in myriad ways, making it a better organization to work for and do business with; undoubtedly worth factoring in since they can enhance the overall value of your business immeasurably.
Decision-makers will want to know that you’ve considered all the angles before landing on your proposed solution, so this section is your chance to detail some of the possible alternatives to your proposed solution.
Make a summary of some of the other solutions you’ve considered, outlining their benefits, why they made the shortlist, and the reason you ultimately decided they weren’t quite the ideal fit for your organization.
Of course, as far as top brass are concerned, not moving forward with any solution at all is also an option, and without proper analysis, this can seem like the more straightforward and most cost-effective. In this section, you should also address this alternative—doing nothing—and detail the long-term cost and consequences of not taking action. Again, if you’re making a proposal at all, there must be issues within your organization that you hope this implementation will solve, so take the opportunity presented here to make doing nothing less appealing.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a balanced, unbiased proposal without taking into account the potential pitfalls, so you need to confront any risks, and detail any constraints that might affect the project. Head off any objections or concerns the reader of your business case might raise straight out of the gate, because you can be sure that the top dogs will be thinking about them.
Tackle any possible snags up front, both the apparent and obscure. When it comes to implementing business management software, there are many potential stumbling blocks, though you can overcome a good deal of these with proper planning.
One of the most obvious risks when it comes to implementing software is that the program might not deliver the way you hoped, and does not end up solving the problems you expected it to, leaving you in the hole with nothing to show for it. This is often due to vendors who promise too much, or oversell the product.
There’s also a danger that your staff won’t take to it. User adoption is often the root cause of a failed implementation, and if the software isn’t being used properly at the back-end, it can have a knock-on effect for customers.
There may be other implementation hazards specific to your business too, but whatever perils you point out, be sure to then outline why the benefits outweigh the possible risks, and describe steps that can be taken to minimize them.
Like any scientific document (and any good sales pitch for that matter) a business case should be backed by cold, hard facts. A business case is all about demonstrating how Dynamics 365 will benefit your organization, and decision-makers will want to see how that translates into ROI.
Of course, it can be difficult to make predictions about these kinds of things, but it’s still important to lay out likely costs, and long-term financial benefits, of implementation—recent reports into returns on investment into CRM systems put gains at up to $8.71 for every $1 spent.
Firstly, you’ll need to estimate how much not having a smart and sturdy CRM or ERP is costing your business. Again, this can be tricky to calculate, but necessary; demonstrating lost opportunities in financial terms is often the best way to initiate change.
Try and quantify the cost of your core problem; this might be in terms of low customer loyalty, over-complicated processes, or not having a system that’s accessible in the field. All of these things have an impact on your bottom line, whether that’s sales, how much product you can produce, or how much time you spend “on the bench” when you could be offering services.
If you can calculate the average value of your customer or client, you can begin to outline the worth of the opportunities you’re missing out on. Remember, Dynamics 365 better enables you to develop long-term relationships, so try to think about customers in terms of their lifetime value, rather than as single transactions.
Next, you need to measure up that lost opportunity cost with the cost of your proposed solution. Like any good, long-term investment, a CRM or ERP system is unlikely to start producing a return overnight, and it’ll take time for your team to learn the ropes.
Though you’ll begin seeing the qualitative benefits quickly, it can take months, and often a few years, to reach the point of breaking even. To account for this, it’s a good idea to calculate accomplishable ROI over an extended period, perhaps three or five years.
Don’t stop at the cost of the software licenses, though. To get an accurate ROI you need to factor in additional costs and savings too. Implementing any new business management solution can incur other, unavoidable expenses, so consider the total cost of ownership when outlining costs.
For example, to get the most out of Dynamics 365, users will likely need training. Proper training is essential to fostering user adoption, and helps make sure your solution is being used correctly so it can offer the value it should.
Possible costs you might need to factor in include:
The solution might also help cut overheads in the long-run too; if you’re implementing a cloud-based software, you’ll likely need to fork out much less on hardware and maintenance, as everything is managed at the vendor’s end.
Having a proper plan in place, with a timeline and ETAs for the project’s various stages, will make the whole project seem a lot more achievable to decision-makers. Implementing software, no matter how much easier it’ll make things in the future, can be disruptive, and you’ll need to outline how long the roll-out will take so that you’re able to plan around your circumstances as best you can.
Unless you have significant CRM and ERP experience in-house, you’re probably going to have to work with a partner to get things up and running. Until you get on board with a partner, and they’ve mapped out your implementation plan, it’s unlikely you’ll know exactly how the roll-out will go or how much time you’ll need to set out for it at this stage. That said, you can still roughly outline the process, what steps the business will need to take in the run-up, and when the best time to start the ball rolling will be.
Another key part of outlining your plan is explaining what success for the project actually looks like, and how it will be measured. The KPIs you could propose are innumerable; it all depends on what your initial pain points are and what you’re looking to achieve. They could be attracting new customers, increasing average order value, streamlining your supply chain, or reducing hiring time. The best way to generate these KPIs is to revisit the objectives you laid out earlier, and work out how Dynamics 365 specifically can help you realize them.
Whatever success means to your business, try and outline specific, achievable targets to help evaluate your proposed solution’s performance, and ensure you’re staying on track.
This section is all about the who of the project; who needs to rubber-stamp it, who’ll oversee the execution, and who’ll be accountable for its success.
Here, you should outline which decision-makers from which departments need to give their approval before the project can get off the ground, and who you propose should be in charge of each aspect of the roll-out.
This final section is a chance for you to reiterate the key pain points, restate the benefits of Dynamics 365, and impress the need for urgency.
Set out the next steps required to get your implementation project off the ground; make it clear what you’re going to be doing—for example, looking into implementation partners, or finding a cloud hosting provider—and indicate what you need from decision-makers.
The clearer you are on the next stage of the project, the more likely you are to get the required action from those involved.
For a business case to be successfully convincing, it should be backed up with proprietary business information. You’ll have to do a little digging and some cold hard math to make sure you’ve adequately supported your argument, but we can at least get you off on the right foot with our business case template.
The template will help you structure your case, and ensure you’ve got all the right information in the right places, and can be edited to fit whichever CRM or ERP system you’re building your business case for. As for the maths though, we’re afraid you’re on your own.
The key to an effective roll-out is having an expert on your side. Upload your specifications, and we’ll find the right Dynamics 365 professionals to make your implementation a success.
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