How to persuade your CEO to say "YES" to your IT project

If you met your CEO in an elevator and said, “Hi James, I have this revolutionary idea I can’t wait to tell you about”, and James said, “Oh really? I have 30 seconds, hit me.” Would you be able to pitch it to him?

If your answer is “no” or you’re hesitating, then it means your idea needs further work before you can present it to your CEO. And if you’re thinking, “But I just know it’s a great idea,” then try to put yourself in your CEO’s shoes – they receive endless great ideas daily. You have to stand out.

Plus, 55% of IT projects fail within the first 12 months. This is primarily due to two factors: resource allocation and ensuring these resources are aligned with business goals. Both of these issues can be tackled by partnering with an external digital product development company, like Boldare. In which case, skills deficiency, a lack of experience, and people shortages won’t be a problem.

Most likely, your CEO is aware of the high project failure rate and keeps it in mind whenever deciding whether to proceed with another IT project or not. It doesn’t mean they’re risk-averse; quite the opposite. CEOs realize that business growth always involves risk.

To win your CEO’s acceptance, you have to prove to them that the cost of doing nothing is higher than the cost of implementing your solution. It means mastering your pitch. IBM has discovered that 58% of market-leading CEOs focus on disruptive innovation rather than incremental improvements.

If your project pitch is well-thought through, you have a good chance of succeeding. Spoiler alert your CEO is not interested in how your product is going to work, but what impact it will have on the business.

What does a great pitch look like?

Before we move into discussing how to pitch your idea to a CEO specifically, it’s worth thinking about what makes a great pitch. Here is what you need to consider:

  • Who your target audience is,
  • what they struggle with,
  • how you’re planning to address their problem,
  • how your customers will measure success.

For example, you might target marketers working in the United States and Europe (target market), who have geographically dispersed customers, and therefore they struggle with finding a way to communicate with them more personally (problem). How are you going to help them? By providing a video platform for quick and easy video personalization (solution), which will lead to increased customer engagement and a growing number of happy customers (success).

Overall, your pitch should be short and have a clear message which must cover all of the aspects mentioned above.

CEOs – their top priorities and challenges

While pitching your CEO, it’s necessary to be aware of their priorities and key challenges. The more your IT project aligns with their preferences and goals, the higher the chance you’ll get their approval. Aim for their top three priorities, if your idea doesn’t influence at least one of them, you’re off their agenda.

According to research by Predictive Index, 39% of CEOs say their number one priority is strategy development, followed by talent strategy (30%) and operational execution (16%).

In terms of their biggest challenges, 37% of CEOs mention finding the right talent as their main challenge, followed by building better operational processes (28%) and aligning employees with strategy (28%).

When pitching your idea to the CEO, think about how your project can help them address their challenges.

9 tips to pitching your IT project to your CEO

1. Frame the problem and explain how the product will benefit the company

Focus on the problem first; describe the context, and emphasize the pain points. Try to build a sense of urgency around resolving the challenge. A mistake frequently made is focusing too much on the solution instead of building a strong case for immediate action. And it’s the problem, not the answer that your CEO is most keen on learning about.

Treat your CEO like an internal investor. Investors will only put their money into projects which have a high ROI potential. Your idea probably isn’t the only option available; there will be other projects on the table, so why should they invest in yours?

Explain clearly how your project will benefit the company. Will it lead to improved profits? Will it increase market share, or maybe it will have a positive impact on brand reputation?

Your project can’t be disconnected from the company vision, whatever your idea is, make sure it supports it.

Ben Plomion says: “The CEO is the public face of the company. Thus any pitch in the CEO’s direction had better fit with their ongoing vision. Pro tip: You’ll know you’ve succeeded when a CEO claims your idea as their own, without attribution or irony.”

2. Have an action plan ready

A good pitch requires an action plan. You need to demonstrate to your CEO that you really gave this idea a lot of thought and that you take it seriously.

  • What you should consider:
  • What are the project objectives?
  • What is the deadline?
  • What are the main milestones?
  • What is the budget?
  • Who will lead the project?
  • Who will be involved?
  • Will it be done internally or externally (more about it later)?
  • An idea which lacks a plan will most probably be ignored.

3. Explain how you will measure success

What will you call a success, and how will you measure it? You should list the project’s success factors to make managing and evaluating it easier. Here is an example of success metrics you can use: product adoption rate, increase in market share, profit increase, number of newly acquired customers, decreased churn rate.

You’ll also have to set specific goals, for instance, what’s the profit increase you’re anticipating?

4. Identify issues that could go wrong

Things hardly ever go according to plan, and it’s perfectly fine as long as you foresee potential failures. While pitching your IT project to your CEO, you need to be able to mention problems that could occur, and explain how you will handle them.

The President and CEO of Weight Watchers says: “I want to know, one, have they really thought this out? Do they have a unique position in the marketplace? Have they thought about all the upsides and downsides?”

This will assure your CEO of your readiness to tackle any issues and will give them peace of mind.

5. Be ready to defend your idea

You’re asking your CEO to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in your project. It’s normal they’ll try to challenge you. You need to be able to counter their objections with reasons why they should proceed with the project.

Here are some of the most common objections you might face:

  • I am ok with the current situation
  • We don’t really need it
  • We have no time for it right now
  • We have no budget
  • We don’t have the right people
  • How long will we have to wait to see results?

6. Speak their language

CEOs are interested in numbers; they don’t have to understand how the product works. What they want to know is what impact it’ll have on the business. They’re hungry for data.

You have to have the information or the data that backs up your case. You have to almost be a lawyer. Get all the facts together. Build a story, or a narrative that tells why this is the right thing to do.

Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder of eMarketer.

The CEO wants to know how much it will cost, what the potential ROI will be, and how your project will maximize existing assets.

7. Keep it short and to the point

You’ll only have a few seconds to grab their attention, so make sure your opening line is catchy! Include crucial information only, information that speaks to their needs and motivation. If you manage to hit their emotional level, it will make your pitch fly.

8. Be confident and enthusiastic

Show confidence and enthusiasm. Even though it might sound obvious, it’s one of the most important tips when it comes to pitching your project to your CEO. Enthusiasm is contagious; you have to make your CEO believe that you can handle the project. Energy and confidence will also help you in getting buy-in from your team members, and that’s also very important to your CEO.

9. Practice

Practice makes perfect. Before you present your pitch to the CEO, why don’t you pitch your idea to your colleagues? They will be able to provide you with invaluable feedback. Ask them to challenge you, and to ask you difficult questions. Some of them might come up during the actual CEO pitch. You will gain new insights which will help you improve your pitch and make it bullet-proof.

What about the other stakeholders?

Your CEO is not the only stakeholder you’ll have to seek acceptance from. You’ll also have to face the remaining C-suite members, i.e., CFO, CTO, CMO. How do you persuade them to get on board?

I am sure by now you realize that to convince anyone (not just the high-level executives) to back up your project, you need to speak to their values. What do the CFO, CTO, and CMO care about? Let’s discuss it briefly.

Pitching a Chief Financial Officer

It won’t come as a surprise to you – CFOs are interested in hard numbers. It’s best if you present them with a top-level summary and a detailed financial report on your project. They’ll want to know how much the project is going to cost, what the anticipated ROI is, and how you will measure it, so be ready to answer these questions.

They’re also concerned with risk management. Be prepared to list all potential risks and explain how you will handle them.

Pitching a Chief Technology Officer

CTOs will be interested in the operational side of things. Who will be responsible for product development, i.e. will it be done internally or externally? Are there enough resources and the right skills to handle the project. They will also be concerned with issues related to security as that’s one of their top priorities.

Pitching a Chief Marketing Officer

What every CMO wants to know is the value proposition of your product; you have to communicate it clearly. They’re also very concerned with ROI; a lot of pressure is being put on them to deliver results. Marketers, especially the high-level ones, measure the ROI of every marketing initiative they pursue.

CMOs are responsible for increasing sales, meaning they’ll want to know what profits they can anticipate, and what the Customer Acquisition Cost is going to be.

Developing your project internally is not the only available option. Seeking support from an external service provider might be worth considering, especially if you’re short on resources, i.e. time and people.

Why should you cooperate with an external product development company?

Here are a few benefits of cooperating with an external product development firm.

Knowledge transfer

Undoubtedly, one of the most crucial benefits is knowledge transfer between an external partner and your business. Your employees will be able to gain specialist knowledge on implementing specific solutions, technologies, and processes. All this knowledge can then be used to optimize and improve your business in the future.

Significant cost reduction

Product development cost is something that your CEO will be concerned with. Working with an external service provider saves you time and money on building a team responsible for product development — a team which you might not need in the future.

You can save up to 30% if you decide to hire an external software development company to manage your IT project.

Faster time to market

Timing is everything. It’s important to ensure your project is completed on time, and that it reaches your customers before the competition.

You’ll have a dedicated team to develop and manage your project. Thanks to their expertise and experience, they will be able to avoid mistakes which could potentially slow down the process. It will also allow you to focus on your core business.

Do you recall the three main challenges that CEOs face? Finding the right talent, building better operational processes and aligning employees with strategy?

By cooperating with Boldare, you’ll get access to our experienced developers and product designers who’ll make sure your product is top notch! You’ll also be able to benefit from our practical knowledge about agile and scrum frameworks which we will gladly share with you. Thanks to our efficient processes and regular customer communication, we perfectly understand our clients’ goals and needs.

You’ll not only end up with a tailored product but you’ll also get access to our know-how (think processes and technology). You might want to keep that in mind while pitching your idea to your CEO.

Pitching your CEO – a brief summary

The key message I would like to get across is, if you want to win your CEO’s approval, your idea must support at least one of their top priorities. These include strategy development, talent strategy and operational execution. Any initiative which doesn’t align with their agenda will be ignored or put on a very long waiting list.

Bear in mind that your CEO will be more interested in the problem you’re trying to solve rather than the solution, so try not to focus on the product too much. Create a sense of urgency, and make them understand what consequences a lack of action will have for the business.

CEOs like numbers, be ready to present them with data and hard facts. Risk management is crucial; discuss all the things that could go wrong, and present them with risk mitigation tactics.

And finally, practice makes perfect, so pitch your idea to your colleagues, and ask for feedback.