How to get buy-in for a digital project

Convincing senior leaders and digital teams to embark on a big digital project can be tough. We map out how you can achieve buy-in by understanding the challenges you’ll face and providing tactics to address them.

A big digital project such as a website redesign is a major investment. The project itself will run over many months but factoring in the long-tail process of building a business case, identifying suppliers and running a procurement exercise, it’s often years. You will need input from teams across the organisation, and it will need a substantial budget. All of this means you need to build a case to secure buy-in, both from senior leaders and your wider team.

It can seem like a daunting task. If you’re a digital manager ‘at the coalface’, working with an outdated CMS or trying to deliver engaging digital experiences with templates that just aren’t quite right, you’ll be all too aware of the drawbacks of your current system. You may have already told senior leaders that to meet users' expectations and deliver your targets, you need better tools. But this alone is unlikely to be enough to unlock the budget and internal resources you’ll need to get sign-off on such a major undertaking. To get the required level of buy-in, you’ll need a plan. In this article, we’ll take you through what pushback you’ll likely face, show you how to overcome it and reveal the essential elements your plan should incorporate.

The barriers to buy-in

Any major digital project is bound to run into two key barriers; budget, and resourcing. When trying to achieve buy-in from your senior leadership team, one key question will be on their mind– how much is this going to cost? You need to have an answer and be ready to justify it.

The other barrier, resourcing, might come from your peers rather than senior leaders. A new website will take a huge content effort, requiring the digital team to dedicate a lot of time to working on the new site at the same time as keeping all other business-as-usual projects ticking over. You might find there is pushback to the idea of a major digital project on the basis that “we just don’t have time”. To solve this, you’ll need a plan to free up the required time, either by stripping back the team’s responsibilities during the project, or by bringing in additional capacity to fill the gaps.

The challenges you’ll face

There are several challenges you’ll face when seeking investment. There will also challenges unique to your organisation that you’ll need to navigate. It’s good to understand these in advance so you can shape how you pitch the project to overcome them.

Challenge one: Senior leaders are very short on time. They are often spread across a range of different functions and will be thinking about a range of problems from across the organisation. This means you have a very limited window in which to get their attention.

Challenge two: It’s a long-term investment. A big digital project incurs most of its costs upfront, but you don’t see the benefits for many months or sometimes even years. It takes time to do user research, design and deliver great digital projects, and senior leaders might not fully understand why. This can make it trickier to get buy-in for long-term digital investment versus ‘quick-win’ sticking plasters that give results quickly.

Challenge three: There may not be digital specialists at board level. In digitally mature organisations, digital will be represented at the highest level. But this is not always the case. If you don’t have this, it’s going to be trickier to get buy-in as you won’t have a champion to back the need for investment. You’ll need a plan that can engage board members without digital specialisms, so be prepared to avoid jargon, educate upwards, and state your case in terms of the objectives and metrics they value.

Now you know what you’re up against, we’ll show you how to surmount these challenges.

How to get buy-in from your slt

The make-or-break moment for getting buy-in for your digital project will be the all-important pitch to the senior leadership team (SLT). We’ve helped guide hundreds of digital projects over the years, so we’ve learned a thing or two about engaging these senior stakeholders. In this section, we’re going to lay out what we find works to secure their support.

To overcome senior leaders' lack of time and the fact they can be stretched between many different problems vying for their attention, we find it helps to start by concisely stating the problem and solution with a single sentence. This gives them context and gets their attention. We suggest the following formula:

“Our key audience of [Add your audience] has [add the problem] problem. We can solve it by [Your proposed solution].” By filling in the gaps, you might get something like “Our key audience of prospective students has difficulty finding information on courses, we can solve this with a redesigned information architecture and improved course finder functionality”. With that one sentence, you’ve laid out what you’re solving and how you’ll solve it, setting the rest of your pitch up for success.

You should also quickly establish a link to your organisation’s strategic objectives. Senior leaders are focused on the bigger picture – so they won’t be as enthused as you are by promising improved digital metrics like “20% higher time on page” or “40% more page views”. To engage them, speak to what they want to achieve, which is furthering the organisation’s mission, so link the objectives of the digital project to one or more of your strategic objectives.

The single most important metric you’ll need to show is ROI, the all-important return on investment. You can develop a formula for calculating this by forecasting how the project will improve various metrics and projecting the impact that has. First, you need to establish the current baseline across your funnel – your marketing team likely already has this data, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Take the example of a museum. It will have a marketing funnel something like this: Awareness > Interest > Desire > Action which maps to metrics like Branded searches > website visits > Ticket booking page visits > Attending the museum. You can establish the conversion rates between each stage to let you create a simple model that you can use to predict ROI.

Simple ROI model

In this simple model above, you can see that by increasing the conversion rate from search to visiting the website from 20% to 30% via improved SEO, and increasing the conversion rate from visiting the website to booking a ticket to 35% from 25%, you can model that the resulting increase in revenue will be £440,000. If that increases revenue by more than twice the cost of the digital project, your ROI would be 220%.

Creating a model like this using your metrics and conversion rates will let you demonstrate how you’ll deliver ROI. A few small improvements across a funnel really add up, so it’s a great way to show the potential value of digital investment. Exactly how you calculate ROI will depend on what your organisation does. For charities or public sector organisations, ROI can be harder to establish as it might not be quantified in terms of revenue. Instead, you’ll need to focus on how the investment will enable greater impact, in line with your mission.

Once you’ve established the big-picture ROI metric, bring it to life by zooming in and getting specific. Use quotes or stories from real users. Draw upon a great soundbite from your user research that neatly summarises the challenge you’ve identified. Narrowing in on real experiences and giving them a human face lends colour and credibility to make the challenges you’ve identified.

Although you open by outlining the problem to give context, make sure you focus on the solution. You can make it easy for them to ‘buy’ what you’re proposing by presenting them with the solution and your plan for how to deliver it. They can’t buy “I think we need a new website”, but they can buy a well-thought-out proposal that provides them with the key details like how much it will cost, how long it will take, and what your plan is to deliver it successfully.

You can also draw upon what your competitors are doing to make the case for digital investment. We find this is powerful because senior leaders often have one eye on the competition and will be concerned if they are shown that a lack of investment could lead to them falling behind. Conduct a heuristic evaluation of your competitor websites as well as your own and use this to score them on how many times the designs violate one of the 10 usability heuristics. That lets you quantify how your own users’ experience matches up with the competition. If, for example, most of your competitor sites have fewer than ten violations of the usability heuristics, but your site has thirty, you can make a clear case it needs major investment and a significant overhaul is required. If you don’t have the UX expertise in your team to conduct the review, our team can help. Check out our digital audit service for more information on how we can help you benchmark your site and understand what you need to improve.

Finally, give them an inspiring story that contextualises the positive outcomes that the project will enable. As we said, big digital projects can have long timelines, so the finish line will be a long way off. Close your pitch by painting a picture of the situation they’ll be in once the project is launched. Draw on details like higher conversion rates and better usability to describe how users will be better served, and how better digital tools will mean quicker, more effective workflows for employees, increasing retention and decreasing stress. You can also present the contrasting situation where they do nothing, and note how the reliance on outdated systems causes frustrations and burnout for the team and an ever-poorer experience for users, who begin to look elsewhere. This contrast can help galvanise support for the project by helping them break out of short-term thinking.

How to get buy-in from your team

To deliver any digital project you’ll need the backing of your team. A team that understands the need for investment and is excited about the opportunities it unlocks is going to be far more effective than one being dragged into it, worried about how they’ll find the time to work on it.

Your team might not need any convincing, they might be frustrated by clunky, outdated tech and keen on the idea of new digital investment. But if you detect reluctance about kicking off a major new digital project it’s probably because they’re worried about how to juggle the amount of time needed for the new project whilst also delivering all the day-to-day tasks that their role entails.

Better systems barriers to adoption cartoon

You can alleviate this by understanding and proactively addressing their concerns.

Show that you get this by removing other responsibilities for the duration of the project to free up time in their schedule. Alternatively, you could hire new team members, either to handle the new project or to back-fill the roles the team were doing so they can step into focusing on the new project.

With the right plan, you can show your team that the new project represents a great opportunity for learning and progression. Getting them bought in from the start will make it easier to get the project off the ground and help retain and develop talent over the longer term.

You’ve got buy-in. Now what?

Using the strategies we’ve laid out in this article, you should be able to get buy-in for your digital project. You can breathe a long sigh of relief – but then you’d better start rolling up your sleeves because the project is only just beginning.

The next step is to gather user insight to help shape the project around the needs of your users and conduct a digital audit to identify priority areas to focus on improving. You’ll need to decide on the technology you’ll use, such as your choice of CMS, and start thinking about the brand attributes you want your new design to convey. We can help with all this and more. Take a look at our services and get in touch to chat about your project.