6 Essential Tactics to Create a Persuasive Business Case
In an economic slowdown, justifying a new business purchase or project is harder than ever.
You’re likely working under new constraints and being asked to re-strategize, pause, or pivot…
…take a scrutinous eye to each line item in your budget…
…defend every cost down to the dollar….
…reallocate resources in unexpected ways…
…generate results with significantly less.
But constraints are not a reason to abandon ship. There’s still a dire need to keep pursuing your key initiatives (albeit revised), especially for Customer Success teams who play the most influential role in retaining business—the highest priority of every company for the foreseeable future.
As McKinsey states, this crisis is a “major turning point and a competitive situation.” They caution that in uncertain and stressful conditions, our instinct is to “think about what programs to cut and revert back to old ways of working.”
While acknowledging that it’s important to reevaluate your strategies, they warn, “Companies that take a slash-and-hold approach fare worse than those that both prune and thoughtfully invest.”
In CXL Institute, Tim Stewart of trsdigital echoes this sentiment, advising that “Crash diets don’t work. Trim some fat by working out more, don’t cut back on protein or energy to fuel the growth of tougher and leaner machinery. In other words, in times of crisis, smart companies use data and optimize more than ever, not less.”
Creativity comes from constraints. If you’ve got the drive and ingenuity to keep moving your initiatives, team, and organization forward, we’ve got the persuasive tactics to get the buy-in you need.
1. Cut the fluff
“If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”
This is one of my favorite quote adaptations from Blaise Pascal.
Because, although it seems counterintuitive, brevity is hard.
But it doesn’t mean you need to adopt a minimalist approach where everything must go except the absolute essentials—leaving behind a sterile and stark narrative.
“The point of brevity is not to say less, it’s to say what needs to be said effectively and concisely,” explains Copyblogger.
It’s more about channeling your inner Marie Kondo.
Decluttering. Tidying up. Keeping only the things (read: words) that spark joy.
And, if you’ve ever endured a presentation that was spawned from a stream of consciousness, you know that’s not joy—that’s stepping inside an episode of Hoarders.
The scary thing about hoarders is that they often don’t recognize they have a real problem. “Their crisis is caused by the fact that they are unable to part with even the tiniest possessions, and the cumulative effect becomes a mountain of junk and garbage overtaking their home,” states the show synopsis.
Replace “possessions” with “words” and “home” with “message” and you begin to see the bigger picture of how your excess adds up and disorganization debilitates.
Perhaps we should all take a note on how to say more with less from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s PowerPoint presentations which have garnered attention for their clarity and unexpected comfort.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 24, 2020
So, why is it so hard for us to practice concision?
Forbes shares insights from Joseph McCormack, the author of BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact By Saying Less, in their article on how brevity can save your career. McCormack says that the struggle with being succinct stems from our tendencies to:
- Over explain by “burying people with unnecessary details”
- Under prepare by “omitting upfront thinking, ordering, and trimming”
- Miss the point by “driving home messages far past the moment that the points been made”
“My professional experience, spanning from working with busy corporate executives and ambitious entrepreneurs to driven military leaders, continues to confirm that they all share the same common complaint: they’re praying for people around them to be brief,” writes McCormack. “When that happens, they notice the difference. When it doesn’t, they make those around them – and under them – pay the price.”
As Fast Company explains, our overstuffing is also derived from a need for validation and showing off how smart we are. They summarize McCormack’s case: “From an early age, we’re taught to measure our success on word counts and page lengths. Students are asked to write 20-page papers rather than simply being asked to make their point clear in as many words as they need.”
There’s a high price for not being concise.
Being long-winded will cost you as McCormack cites “delayed decisions, harsh feedback, unresponsiveness, and votes of no confidence” as potential consequences.
Yet, these harmful habits merely overlay the fundamental factor in your ability to condense information and data into digestible bites.
“Brevity starts with deep expertise. Only with thorough knowledge can you accurately make a summary,” advises Leadership & Success. They point out that acquiring knowledge takes time and hard work. To compensate, we stuff in fluff to fill our void of expertise. So, reader beware; your purposeless padding will be evident and irritating to a proficient audience.
2. Be precise
Building upon brevity, to convince your audience, you need to focus your ideas.
“If you can see twenty different reasons why you’re right, it’s tempting to put all of them into your argument, because it feels as if the sheer weight of twenty reasons will be much more persuasive than just focusing on one or two,” explains the Oxford Royale Academy in their article on constructing a compelling argument. “Yet from the outside, an argument with endless different reasons is much less persuasive than one with focus and precision on a small number of reasons.”
It’s easier to rally an audience behind a few memorable ideas than an exhaustive list of why you’re right. Each time you ask your audience to consider another point, you fog the facts that preceded it until your entire argument becomes a cloudy haze.
Prezi recommends choosing one to three goals for a presentation so you do not risk confusing your audience and scattering their attention.
Proving your point isn’t about “strength in numbers,” but a “quality over quantity” approach. Part of that quality score is how well your argument relates to your audience.
“The best evidence needs to not only support your claim, but also have a connection to your audience,” advises HubSpot. If a supporting point is only tangentially tied to your audience, get rid of it.
3. Know your audience and adjust accordingly
Your pitch positioning should change based on your audience. The key is to work backwards from your audience’s main objectives to match your business case.
For instance, let’s say you were selling Customer Success software to your C-Suite. To persuade your Chief Customer Officer, you’d want to address their top concerns such as optimizing the customer experience without adding internal headcount. You may focus on how software automation increases the team’s bandwidth to provide targeted one-to-one customer outreach. Whereas your Chief Executive Officer is likely more concerned with growing revenue and meeting board expectations. So, you’d want to show the impact of increasing retention on corporate valuation and contextualize the software as the key to account expansion.
Your argument isn’t about you and what you need and why you’re right. It’s answering your audience’s foremost, implicit questions: “Why should I care in the first place?” and “What’s in it for me?”
Knowing your audience is also a prerequisite to determine the timing and context of your message.
“Some busy executives are swamped during the beginning of the week and check out mentally on Friday,” advises Lifehack. “This means that Thursday may be the best time to approach a person you need to persuade.”
Adapt to your audience’s decision-making style
In HBR’s Change the Way You Persuade, Gary Williams and Robert Miller of Miller-Williams, a San Diego-based customer research firm, claim that we often put too much emphasis on our argument’s substance while neglecting its delivery—a promising way to get your pitch shelved.
The firm conducted a study on the decision-making styles of more than 1,600 executives across a wide range of industries. Over the course of their two-year project, they discovered that executives typically fall into one of five decision-making categories: charismatics, thinkers, skeptics, followers, and controllers.
But most people fail to adapt their persuasion approach to appeal to their audience.
“In our experience, more than half of all sales presentations are mismatched to the decision maker’s style. Specifically, close to 80% of all sales presentations focus on skeptics and controllers, but those two groups accounted for just 28% of the executives we surveyed,” write Williams and Miller.
Image Source: Summary of Williams & Miller—Change the Way You Persuade, Medium
Recognizing the general style traits and using their effective buzzwords (outlined above), you can tailor your delivery based on your executive.
Williams and Miller conclude, “[W]e strongly believe that executives tend to make important decisions in predictable ways. And knowing their preferences for hearing or seeing certain types of information at specific stages in their decision-making process can substantially improve your ability to tip the outcome your way.”
Tip: Inc. shares that “Gaining agreement has an enduring effect, even if only over the short term.” They suggest opening your pitch with statements you know your audience agrees with to “build a foundation for further agreement.”
4. Substantiate with social proof
Social proof is one of the six principles of persuasion outlined by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
In CXL’s article on using Cialdini’s principles to boost conversions, they define the concept as “[P]eople doing what they observe other people doing. It’s safety in numbers.” They give the example of our increased likelihood to work late if our coworkers are doing the same, or to try a new restaurant if it’s crowded.
CXL also explains that our propensity to gravitate towards and mirror the actions of groups increases when “we’re unsure of ourselves” and “the people we observe seem similar to us.” (This goes back to the point of only using evidence relevant to your audience.)
In times of uncertainty and crises, such as COVID-19, the power of social proof skyrockets as people become struck with indecision from confronting the unknown—seeking comfort in conformity.
That’s why substantiating your argument with case studies and testimonials from companies (just like yours) who overcame the same problems is incredibly influential, and even more so when it’s from an authoritative source.
5. Don’t omit objections
You can increase your credibility by proactively addressing your audience’s counterargument. Airing their doubts demonstrates that you’ve put forth an objective effort to consider all perspectives and aren’t disregarding differing opinions.
“According to University of Illinois professor Daniel O’Keefe, sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument” shares Inc. in their article on common habits of the most influential people. They state that this is because there are no flawless proposals or ideas. Facing the imperfections and weaknesses of your case removes the plausible motive of self-interest and deception.
ChurnZero Tip: Trying to convince your C-Suite to invest in Customer Success software? Learn how to overcome the 13 most common leadership objections for delaying this vital purchase.
6. Create a sense of safety
The power to persuade begins with defining your goal and unifying people around it.
In his book 27 Powers of Persuasion, message strategist Chris St. Hilaire writes that “Sometimes the most obvious situations are the least clear to the people most deeply involved in them. Be the person who asks the obvious questions and says, ‘What’s the goal here?’ and you’ll be in the best position to lead and persuade the room.”
St. Hilaire explains that this is because we have an “innate longing to be unified” which makes us feel safe and allows us to be vulnerable. Rallying around an agreed-upon goal creates an atmosphere of inclusion, appreciation, and mutual responsibility.
To evoke these feelings in your next conversation, Fast Company recommends using author and persuasion expert Christine Comaford’s key phrases that influence while creating a sense of safety:
- “What if” – removes ego and creates a safe space for brainstorming
- “I need your help” – provides a power transfer from dominant to subordinate
- “Would it be helpful if” – shifts the focus from the problem to the solution
Change minds, work miracles
Whether you’re convincing your boss to support your idea, a customer to upgrade a product, or a company to bend their refund policy (for us procrastinators out there), mastering the art of persuasion is a highly versatile and valuable skill that’ll get you far in life. For more pragmatic advice and frameworks to hone your persuasive prowess, check out the additional resources below.
“If you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.” – Jim Rohn
- Copyblogger’s techniques to cut extra words and restructure your sentences to get to the point faster with practical examples.
- CoSchedule shares four practical ways to convince your boss to say yes every time (backed by science).
- Buffer’s article on how to get people to agree with what you say by drawing comparisons with analogies and metaphors.
- Fast Company breaks down McCormack’s mind mapping technique called a BRIEF map which simplifies your communications. Never underestimate the power of an outline.
- Inc’s 10 suggestions to keep it short and how brevity makes you look and sound like a leader. (Tip: the optimal presentation length is 18 to 20 minutes.)
Customer Success Around the Web
- Gone Remote: Customer Success– Learn to quickly adjusted strategies to connect with customers.
- What is Customer Goodwill?– Learn why customer goodwill is a powerful business asset that plays a major role in customer retention.
- Is This The Catalyst To Change Your Customer Engagement Model?– See why you should consider this new model to deliver tangible business value to your customers.
Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero.