Selling Your Workflow Automation Ideas Internally

By Cindy Cook DeRuyter | Published September 16, 2019

"Ideas Won't Keep. Something Must Be Done About Them."– Alfred North Whitehead

making the business case for workflow automationManagers and business analysts frequently have great ideas for implementing change in their organizations, however, they often struggle with how to obtain upper-level buy-in for their workflow automation ideas. Implementing a software solution that will automate business processes, creating efficiencies, and improving productivity and effectiveness is a win for almost any organization. However, getting senior leadership buy-in can be difficult when executives don’t understand the need for, or benefits of, such a solution, instead of only seeing a dollar figure.

If you want to implement change, you may be hesitant to speak up for fear of being dismissed, so you may raise an idea in a conceptual form, rather than at a strategic level. Ironically, senior leaders may dismiss a vague idea out of hand because they cannot connect the dots between the idea of the solution itself and how it will actually add value to the company.

In this article, we’ll present some of the most common questions we encounter from analysts and managers who need some help convincing higher-ups that change is actually good. We’ll also present suggestions on how to overcome some common challenges that can come with selling ideas internally.

How do I sell my ideas up the chain of command?

workflow ideaHow successful you are at selling your ideas to your organization’s senior leaders will depend on a number of factors, including the company’s culture, how the topic is broached and explored, whether the executives you’re dealing with have a personal stake in making a change, etc.

To engage decision-makers, you’ll need to clearly identify that there is a problem today and that your proposed solution can address it. Be prepared to show – and defend – how the business would benefit by implementing a new tool. What does the business stand to gain? While your persuasive arguments should focus on the positives, it can also be helpful to bring up the potential downside of not adopting the new system or implementing your new ideas. This may involve opportunity cost, loss of competitive advantage, regulatory risks, etc. To be successful, you need to do more than describing how wonderful the solution you are proposing is; you need to show how it will benefit your organization.

How do I build a consensus?

If you only need up-line approval from one person in your organization, consider yourself lucky. In most companies, there will be a team of decision-makers, and you’ll need to build a consensus among them to get approval for your idea. However, your chances of success will likely also go up if you’re able to successfully build consensus at the middle-management level too.

Identifying and getting the support of allies in other parts of your organization can help demonstrate the wider appeal of implementing your idea. Maybe that’s a series of 1:1 meetings with key people outside of your department; maybe it’s an internal marketing campaign of sorts, sharing information with them piece by piece.

However, you choose to engage and persuade allies, doing so can increase your chances of success. When you have a larger pool of people who can advocate for why your idea makes sense and can benefit the company, you are more likely to gain support at the upper levels of the firm.

Be prepared for a potentially long haul. Building a consensus may mean repeating your ideas many times over a period in different, subtle ways (think of it as a "whisper campaign"). But this can work amazingly well. Once you start hearing other people hint at the same idea you'll know you're making progress.

How do I approach the topic of Return on Investment for my idea?

When your idea or recommendation comes with what higher-ups might view as a sizable price tag out of context, it’s up to you to provide that context, to help them see the value in what you’re proposing (or the potential downsides if it's not accepted). If multiple departments or divisions in your organization could benefit from the change, sharing that information can help you build needed consensus.

Return on investment from a software solution generally won’t necessarily be obvious or easy to quantify, but it’s there all the same. Highlight how the system’s automated processes can eliminate time-consuming manual work today, and how workflows will improve productivity and efficiency for users.

For more on determining ROI for your workflow automation idea:

Download our Workflow ROI Workbook

There is also an enormous financial benefit to be gained by having a system in place that removes much of the potential for errors, delays, and noncompliance. In most cases, there are real costs associated with these issues. For instance:

  • What is the cost of a mistake on a vendor agreement?
  • What is the cost of a three-week delay for approval?
  • What is the cost of violating a regulatory requirement?

When you incorporate this information into your pitch, you're more likely to get the green light to proceed.

What are some mistakes to avoid when selling my ideas?

First, put some thought into how you’re going to suggest a change. While you may be eager to take action, you may be more successful when you tailor your pitch. If you were applying for a new job, you’d tailor your cover letter, resume, and interview responses based on what you know about the company, right? Take the same approach when pitching ideas up-stream. Familiarize yourself with your audience beforehand, and use what you learn to make your pitch relevant to them.

Understand organizational norms. Knowing whether you should prepare and make a formal presentation complete with slides and handouts, or whether key stakeholders prefer a more informal approach, can help you put your best foot forward.

Finally, be aware of – and temper – your own emotional responses when pitching ideas, so you don’t come across as a complainer. It’s OK to be passionate about your idea, but you don’t want to come across as anxious. You should also be sensitive to situations where an executive may feel defensive. For example, if you’re proposing a new system to replace one that one of the executives you’re pitching to was personally responsible for implementing, you’ll need to be careful. Emphasizing why the proposed new system better meets the organization’s needs would likely be a better approach than making disparaging remarks about the existing system.

Who knows, eventually you may want to build an idea management workflow to invite others to sell their ideas!

For more tips on helping to sell your ideas to your company's senior leaders, contact us online today, or call (888) 536-9629.


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Cindy Cook DeRuyter

Cindy Cook DeRuyter is an attorney in private practice and a freelance writer in St. Paul, MN. Prior to taking her practice full-time in 2015, Cindy spent more than 19 years in Investment Adviser and Broker-Dealer compliance and operations roles for firms including RSM Wealth Management, Nuveen Investments, US Bancorp Asset Management and Thrivent Financial.