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How to Get Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool From Your Executive Team

In business, change comes with a price. Even implementing a new tool or process that will benefit the bottom line comes with a price.

That cost might be hard dollars and cents, or it might be the time needed to implement the change. But more likely, the cost of change is both money and time. And the broader the implementation is across the organization, the heftier those costs.

You found a new tool! . . .

If you’ve found a new project management tool that you’re confident will solve all of your team’s problems and deliver project success, you’re going to have to sell the idea to your executive team. And, you’ll want to get their ongoing support to motivate everyone to use the new tool during the rollout and beyond.

… and now comes your first hurdle: selling it

The thing is, a lot of managers are good at getting things done, and are strong creative or critical thinkers, but selling? Not so much. And getting buy-in for a new tool is a sales job. This means, once you find that perfect PM tool, you’ll need to close the sale.

This takes preparation and planning.  You don’t want to end up as the person in Shark Tank who gets destroyed because he’s not sure if the numbers he’s talking about are profit or turnover. To help you out, here are a few best-practice steps to give you the best possible chance of nailing the sale and getting the green-light for your new PM tool.

1. Be the champion for the change.

Own it and drive it. Leaderless initiatives fail. If you just float the idea by a teammate or boss with, “Ooh this tool looks like it might be worth a spin,” and hope that someone else will run with it, the idea will very probably die right there. It’s up to you to bring the idea of using a new-and-improved tool to life.


2. Do your research.

It doesn’t matter how shiny the prospective tool looks compared to what you’re currently using, you won’t know that it’s a good fit until you actually use it. Sure, on looks alone you’d probably choose a new coupe over a rusty third-hand sedan but what if you go ahead and buy that new BMW only to find it doesn’t come with an engine? Or seats.

When you’re evaluating new software take a trial, request a demo, watch the videos, read the customer stories and know your stuff. If the tool provider insists on money up-front before you even get a glimpse of the product, or only offers a limited feature set to play with, ask yourself what inadequacies they’re trying to hide.


3. Recruit your sergeants.

Chances are, there will be other teams using the new PM software platform that you’ve got your eye on—or at least they’ll be impacted by its introduction in some way. For example, you might have to contend with Graham in Engineering who loves his spreadsheets and might be reluctant to give them up. So to make your sales pitch a success, you need to get those heads of department or team leaders on board early on in the change process, before you go cap-in-hand to the Executive Team.

These sergeants, like Graham, are the people who will rally the troops to your cause and spread the word on your behalf. Getting these key players on board strengthens your case when you pitch to the Execs. The new tool might be just what your department needs—but less so for other teams, so talk to every team lead that might be impacted; let them know the what and why behind why you think new project management software will make a positive impact; demo the product and tease out the questions and issues.


4. Have a plan.

Rolling out a new tool is a project in itself, so give it the same respect as your other projects. Product familiarization and training will take up time across the business—time that has to be planned for or it won’t happen. Create a plan and then share it with your other stakeholders (Execs and department heads with sign-off power) and get their buy-in. That alone could make or break your implementation. Do resist pitching an overly-optimistic schedule just to get the yes votes because this will put too much pressure on the process, and yourself.

If you’re not sure about timelines, ask your product rep for advice. If she won’t or can’t tell you, find another tool. Also, when planning, don’t forget about all the required activity that follows the initial rollout: education, additional licenses etc. Rather than a big-bang approach, consider a trial phase with a small or non-critical project. This might be more palatable to the Executive Team and other department heads alike as a means of proving the concept before making a commitment.


5. Sell yourself first.

You’ll stand a better chance of selling your idea to the executives if they know you and respect what you’re capable of. The more people trust you, the more they’ll trust your recommendations. This is why the groundwork is key; it helps you stand tall and present with confidence.

Also, consider your audience. You could be addressing people who don’t know or aren’t aware or even interested in the specific challenges you’re trying to address with the new tool. This is why it’s important to style your pitch so it will have meaning to everyone on a larger scale: more productive teams, improved profitability, more predictable cash flow through improved delivery to schedule, happier customers, etc. Demonstrate that you know all the benefits the new platform can offer—for the business as a whole, not just your department.


6. Demonstrate the tool.

As part of your pitch, show the Exec Team how the product works, and how it will work for your specific needs. This way you’re not just throwing abstract concepts around. Demo the tool with everyone you need to appeal to in the room, so they all have an opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions. Do not just email everyone asking them to download the software or visit the provider’s web site ahead of the meeting: they won’t.

 For your show-and-tell pitch, try and find a time slot that’s sympathetic to the Executive Team’s commitments. Chances are their days are meeting-heavy already, so try and find a morning slot and catch them when they’re fresh. It doesn’t hurt to throw in some snacks or treats too. I’ve seen the timely offer of a cherry Danish secure some sizeable change budgets!


7. Present a business case for implementing the new tool.

Pitch hard figures, not just over-eager optimism. Top management will be looking at ROI and little else initially. Of course, you might get some interest if you throw in phrases like “improved efficiency” or “more accurate scheduling,” but drop in statements like “forecast savings of up to $70,000 a year compared to our current solution” and ears will prick up, trust me. You’re making a business case, so be business-like. Prepare for the tough questions, like:

  • What’s the downside if the new tool just doesn’t work out?
  • How long are we committed? And at what cost?
  • Can we go back to the old system if this one doesn’t work out?

These are questions you should have already asked yourself and answered long before scheduling the meeting. You may have some anti-change die-hards, so make sure you have strong, concrete answers for them beyond: “Well, it’s just better; you know?” State tangible (and genuine) benefits. It doesn’t have to be all about the money. Maybe the new tool will improve what you can offer your customers, or make your company more competitive.


Selling change

Making change happen in business is a challenge—whether you’re looking to implement a new PM tool or trying to start an in-office fitness challenge. If you’ve discovered a piece of software that you think is the best thing since sliced bread, do your prep so you come across as passionate yet credible and informed. Remember, there’s a lot of sliced bread devotees out there. But just because change can be tough, don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying. In the end, everyone wants to make decisions that positively impact the organization.


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