Pitching an IT project? Benefits sell, details don’t

It makes sense doesn’t it? Which exercise DVD are you going to buy? The one that features 50 different gruelling exercises or the one that promises you’ll drop a dress size in a week?

Harvard Business School professor, Theodore Levitt, once put this beautifully, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Think about that for a second.

Recently, a Project team, a team I work with had identified that replacing desktop PCs with iPads would have a number of benefits. The business is a trade centre and carries a lot of stock that can be accessed by tradespeople by phone, online or (more often than not) in-store. You walk in, ask if they have a part in stock and after checking on their PC the clerk prints off or scribbles down the warehouse location on a Post It note.

Replacing the PCs with tablets would mean the person serving you could be half way to the warehouse while the stock check is carried out. The benefits included freeing up staff, who couldn’t stray too far from their PC station but with an iPad, a member of staff arranging a display outside could greet a customer in the car park and have their order ready almost before the alarm on their van had finished bleeping.

It would not only speed up customer service but also improve stock control and ordering, reduce printing and paper costs (not to mention the maintenance and waste that printing causes), it would make the business look more current — iPads suggest “cutting edge” more than the sound of a dot matrix whirring away.

Two paragraphs of benefits and I’ve hardly scratched the surface. So how come the Project got rejected? You’ve probably guessed …

“We want to buy 20 iPads and some new software.”

The tech guys were excited about what they could do with 20 iPads and some new software … they were going to revolutionise the business. To the board, 20 iPads and some new software sounded like capital expenditure and they’d just made it clear that the business should be saving money not spending it. They sent the IT guys away with a flea in their ear and their tail between their legs.

After licking their wounds, a week later they met the board again but this time explained that they wanted to revolutionise the business. They sold the benefits and the board bought it, excitedly asking … “how?”.

They signed off the purchase of 20 iPads and some new software.

Benefits sell and details don’t.

The main reason why details or the features of an IT Project don’t sell is that sponsors, board members and end users simply don’t care about them. Think about when you buy a car. OK, you might use a list of features to differentiate between two similar vehicles, but those features in and of themselves won’t be the reason why you drive one off the forecourt and not the other. It will be based on feelings, perceptions and, yes, what benefits the car will deliver.

Sponsors want IT Projects to deliver a specific task or business result. The project is the means to an end.

Explore the notion further.

Do you want a new lightbulb or do you want to see in the dark?

Do you want the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook or do you want to dazzle your friends at your next dinner party?

Do you want a garden table and chairs or do you want to be able to eat al fresco?

Do you want an IT Project or do you want the solution to business challenges, monetisable deliverables and healthier profit margins?

Next time you write a pitch for IT Project funding, concentrate your attention on the hole, not on the drill, remember that’s what you sponsor is looking for!

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