How to Win a Sponsor and Influence Business Intelligence

Ann All

Getting the right executive sponsor for an enterprise software deployment-and keeping him or her engaged-is one of the most often-repeated bits of advice on this site and on others geared toward IT practitioners. Yet following this advice is a bit like baking cookies. Lots of people can do it, but not all will get great results. Those who pay attention to details-measuring carefully, setting an oven timer and opting for the Ghirardelli chocolate over the store brand - are more likely to enjoy good cookies than those who throw everything together and hope for the best.


How do you find the right sponsor? What should you do after recruiting him/her? Those were some of the topics covered in a Lancet Software webinar I attended yesterday. (You can view a replay of the webinar on the Lanset site.) Though many folks go right to a C-level executive to recruit a sponsor, that's not the only way, pointed out host Laura Madsen, a business intelligence practice leader who specializes in health care.


It's probably still the most common way, as evidenced by a poll Madsen took during the webinar. Eighty-nine percent of participants said they directly approached a senior executive when recruiting a sponsor. While it's the quickest way to bring a sponsor on board, Madsen said it can sometimes be difficult to gain access to these execs.


Another option is to approach an "influencer," someone Madsen said "may not have a high title, but probably has the ear of top executives." While these folks are likely to be more accessible than top executives, "you'll have to convince them to stick their neck out for you." You must first sell BI to the influencer and then to the exec, Madsen said. Look for an influencer who is well respected and ambitious. You can appeal to your candidate's desire to move up the corporate ladder by pointing out the BI capabilities of competitors, comparing them to your BI capabilities and explaining how better BI will help you be a stronger competitor.


The third way to win sponsorship is by talking to anyone and everyone about the benefits of a BI program until the message begins to permeate throughout an organization. When you start to get questions about BI from people you don't know well, you'll know this approach is working, Madsen said. The two drawbacks to this grassroots approach: It will take longer, and you may still need to speak with an influencer and/or executive anyway.


Assuming that at some point you'll speak to an executive, what should you say? Create an elevator pitch, a quick and concise overview of the benefits of BI. Write it down and practice. Doing so will help you focus on the talking points you want to cover and ensure you are ready to pitch it to a potential sponsor on short notice. If possible, connect the pitch to an area that is top-of-mind for your potential sponsor, whether it's the ability to better satisfy regulatory requirements or the need to improve customer-satisfaction scores. Do some reconnaissance to find out which issues will resonate with your potential sponsors and the presentation methods that will appeal to them most. An administrative assistant who works with this person can be a great source for this information, Madsen said.


What happens after you get a sponsor? You will need to educate him or her about BI. But be careful not to go overboard, said Madsen. "If you start talking about ETL, their eyes will glaze over." Identify the areas you consider most important to your BI program (which are also likely to be some of the most expensive) and talk to your sponsor about them so he/she understands them at a high level. You want the sponsor to know enough to be able to respond if he or she is challenged in the boardroom.


Make sure you create a formal agreement with a sponsor, preferably one that will spell out some of the expectations of both sides. The sponsor should "be willing to go to bat for you" and defend BI programs to his or her peers, if necessary. Reiterating the education point in the prior paragraph, you must make sure the sponsor has all of the information needed to do so.


Madsen also advised making sure you have another potential sponsor waiting in the wings, in case your sponsor becomes unavailable. I suspect this is an often-ignored step. The best way to do this, Madsen said, is to "always" market the BI program and make sure people are aware of its successes. "If you play up the benefits, you won't have trouble getting a new sponsor," she said. Marketing the program also strengthens the relationship with your sponsor by giving him/her added positive visibility.


If you experience problems recruiting a sponsor, make sure you're talking to the right person with the right message. While BI teams aren't generally comfortable talking about ROI, executives always want to hear about it. "If you can show quantifiable value, you'll get that first executive on board," Madsen said. For some examples of how several companies used BI to achieve this kind of value, check out "In Tough Times, BI Must Show Bottom-Line Benefit."

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