• How to Sell IT Projects to Upper Management

So, you have a technology you’re just gagging to deploy. Perhaps you’re finally ready to redevelop that legacy software to work in the cloud so you can free up an expensive hardware maintenance budget. Maybe you’d like to give everyone virtual desktops and save yourself some IT support and hardware refresh headaches. Whatever it is, you will need money and the political support to get it done. 

Birthing your baby means selling it to senior managers who have dozens of priorities ahead of yours. How do you get what you want by selling your IT project to senior management?

If you want to sell anything, then you need to gain the trust of senior executives. You must build alliances on the business side, which you can do by creating a more responsive IT culture that shows it understands business managers’ needs. Just like any other human relationship, this takes means showing consistent integrity and accountability over a long period.

Part of this involves understanding how the business measures IT success. According to Grant Thornton’s 2019 CIO survey, business departments value cost reduction highest, at 67%. Beyond this, though, simple integrity and accountability goes a long way. 52% said successful execution against strategy and plans make them feel IT was doing a good job. And gradual improvement in day-to-day operations is also an important factor. 48% said improvement in project and service delivery was on the list.

Once you’ve found your people, you’ll be able to sell them anything, right? Think again. A culture of trust just gets senior executives to the table. Now you must explain the technology and why they need it. 

This is trickier for some projects than others. Your sales director might understand why a new customer relationship management might be a good idea, but try explaining microservices, and then convincing her why she should care.

It also means presenting things in business terms. Don’t say: “Microservices will help us reduce technical debt and increase code reuse.” Say: “How valuable would it be to you if we could halve the time to deliver your next software project?”

Part of this dance also involves tracking management priorities. Rather than barreling in with your wish list, listen carefully as business managers describe their challenges. 

These signals may surface across multiple conversations. Document, understand and prioritize them, creating an internal map of business needs against which you can align your proposed project. Target project benefits that directly address the most pressing problems.

Bootstrap your case with quick wins

How do you prise money out of someone’s tightly clenched hands? One finger at a time. If your senior managers are unwilling to part with their cash, then work with them to show value, unlocking more funding piece by piece. 

Gradual rollouts and proofs-of-concept are your friends here. Rather than asking huge amounts for grandiose projects without proven value launch trial projects targeting departments with smaller headcounts and pressing problems you can solve. 

You may not get the money to re-engineer your entire code base as part of that microservices project, but you could develop a new system from scratch using this concept and then present measurable results that prove your case. Then, you can secure the funding to take your project wider.

Does this mean you’ll be able to sell your AI-powered virtual board executive software to senior managers and get yourself on the front page of Computer Weekly? Let’s be realistic—probably not. But then, you shouldn’t be selling that, anyway. If there’s one takeaway here, it’s that selling IT projects to senior management isn’t just about getting what you want; it’s about giving them what they need first.


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