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Selling the case for IT Service Management, Part I

If you don't 'sell' the case for ITSM you'll never get anywhere (and, BTW, it's not that bad), writes ITSMWatch columnist David Mainville of Consulting-Portal.
Oct 22, 2010

David Mainville

For many of us a technical folks, selling is a “bad word” -- even something distasteful. It conjures up images of the slick salesperson, with questionable ethics (and an even worse suit); a person that would say anything to make a sale.

I don’t buy into the stereotype of the slick salesperson. It's been my experience that really successful salespeople are consultative, trustworthy and add value to their clients. If your motivations are honorable, “selling” becomes an important tool to get across the benefits of your IT service management (ITSM) program in a way that resonates with your sponsor.

I’ll go one step further and say that there is a little salesperson in each of us. I personally believe that salesmanship is part of the human condition. From the day we are born, every one of us is engaged in the subtle interplay of persuasion. It’s part of how we get things done.

I think that anybody who has kids would definitely agree that we are all salespeople at heart. Which parent hasn’t heard something like “Dad, if I can have the new baseball glove, I promise to take out the garbage every day.” or “Mom, all the other parents let their daughters wear makeup, why can’t I?”

So why is the ability to “sell” the value of ITSM so important?

IT pros tend to live in the world of details, logic and facts. Each of us could probably cite a dozen ways in which ITSM will benefit our company so we are perplexed when others “just don’t get it”. It's not that the others can’t see the value of ITSM but it’s up to us to frame the value proposition in terms that are important to them. In other words, we need to persuade them that ITSM is relevant to their needs.

Professor Robert Cialdini is a leading authority on the power of persuasion. In his February 2001 Scientific American article The Science of Persuasion, he identified six principles that can assist you in building a case and gaining commitment for your proposals -- including ITSM.

The examples I cited earlier are well-studied aspects of persuasion. The first example of “the baseball glove” falls under a principle called Reciprocity in which one is obligated to return a favor. The second example of “what the other parents are doing” falls under a principle called Consensus in which people have been shown to follow the lead of others.

(There was, of course, my mom’s answer: "If everyone jumped in the lake would you?")

Professor Cialdini’s six principles were formed through careful study and observation. In essence, by studying how people are wired. The six principles are:

  • Reciprocity – people feel obligated to return a favor.
  • Scarcity – people want things that are hard to get.
  • Authority – people tend to follow the experts.
  • Commitment – people live up to their promises.
  • Consensus – people follow other peoples lead.
  • Liking – people will do things for people they like and respect.

So how does all this apply to building the business case for ITSM? I have been in ITSM for over 30 years. During my career, I have presented numerous business cases for internal projects. As the co-founder and CEO of an ITSM consulting company, I have presented numerous proposals to clients and prospects.

It is my experience that “the secret to a winning business case is understanding the needs and drivers of your audience and then framing your proposal in terms they can relate to." I am not talking about trying to “trick” someone into buying something that they don’t need. That is unethical and frankly, it’s completely transparent to an intelligent person.

If you believe in what you are selling, and you are confident it will benefit the recipient, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with employing the art of persuasion. I would go as far as saying that it is your responsibility.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know your bosses, or your senior managements’, performance objectives? Do you know what they have to achieve in order to receive their bonus? If you don’t know, I highly recommend you ask them. Then follow-up by asking what you can do to help them achieve it.

As a business owner, I am ecstatic when my employees align themselves with my needs. It means we are all marching in the same direction. And trust me, if you align yourself with your managements’ objectives, it will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

So what are their objectives? Have they been mandated to reduce cost? Are they on the hook for availability? Are they mandated to improve service levels?

Building your business case on soft benefits such as “it will make IT more customer focused” will not resonate with an executive who is under extreme pressure to reduce costs. However, a business case that is based on consolidating service desks into a single ITSM tool, with the elimination of duplicate license costs and expensive upgrade costs, may have some appeal to an executive who is driven by cost reduction. And you know what? It can still result in making IT more customer focused.

That is a very important point. As an ITSM professional, you know dozens of reasons why ITSM will benefit your company. But none will come to pass if you can’t sell the value of your program. And just because you sell it on some specific benefits, that doesn’t mean you won’t achieve all the others.

Over my three decades in the business, I have met literally thousands of people involved in ITSM. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have heard them say such things as “Management just doesn’t get it”, or “I know this will benefit our company but I will never be able to get my management on board”.

Rubbish I say. The fault isn’t with management, it’s with the messenger.

A key role of management is to effectively allocate resources (people, technology, knowledge and other assets) in a manner that helps the company achieve its strategic and tactical goals. A good manager will never waste time or energy on something that doesn’t support the company’s stated direction. But let’s face it. Managers are extremely busy people. Most are juggling 1001 different things each and every day. And just because you are very focused on ITSM, that doesn’t mean they are. It’s your job to explain it in a way that resonates with them; in a way that makes decisions regarding resource allocation easier.

In Part II of "Selling the case for IT Service Management", David will talk about how to build the business case so your bosses will be very impressed and sign on the dotted line.

David Mainville is CEO and co-founder of Consulting-Portal, an ITSM consulting and ITIL training company focused on helping Fortune 500 and mid-size companies assess, design and implement robust ITSM processes. Consulting-Portal also offers a full curriculum of ITSM education including: ITIL, ISO and CobiT. In 2008, Consulting-Portal launched IToptimizer.com, an online solution to help companies assess, design and govern their ITSM processes.

ROI, ITIL, ITSM, Mainville, buy-in

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