Selling the Business Continuity Case to Executive Management

If your organization has not already invested in business continuity, selling the “business continuity” business case to executive management can be difficult.  Many believe that since they’re already paying for insurance, investing in business continuity is paying for the same end result twice.  However, getting management committed to the concept and requisite investment can often depend on how you sell the benefits, focus on your audience’s key priorities, and keep the pitch realistic and relevant.  This article summarizes specific topics and techniques to help management see the value business continuity can bring to your organization.

Understand Potential Drivers and Selling Points
Like with any sales pitch, it’s important to understand potential drivers that either compel or help justify the effort and resources to be invested in the program.  The easiest “sell” is when regulatory agencies or laws require certain capabilities to be in place, such as in the banking industry (e.g. FFIEC), healthcare (e.g. HIPAA), or utilities (e.g. FERC/NERC).  However, several other factors can help influence management.  Customer inquiries or contracts requiring evidence of continuity capabilities can affect selection/win success rates, and in markets where it’s extremely easy for customers to switch to a competitor, business continuity can act as a market differentiator, enabling your organization to show a commitment to meeting customer needs in any circumstance.  Industries highly dependent on “just-in-time” materials require that operations flow smoothly, and business continuity can provide insight into strategies necessary to continue delivery (e.g. safety stock).  When identifying potential drivers, make sure to analyze any past interruptions, even minor, to communicate unanticipated negative consequences or areas where insurance alone did not address all realized impacts.

Benchmark Competitors/Industry Comparisons
As executive management can often relate or respond to industry benchmarks (especially among competitors), seek out any possible insight into your competitor’s business continuity programs or capabilities.  Some organizations publish their capabilities on their website or have personnel speak at business continuity conferences.  It can also be helpful to stay aware of industry news, as disruptive incidents often make local, national, and industry news coverage, depending on the severity of interruptions.  Monitoring realistic events that affect your industry not only brings realism to threat-related discussions, but they can also help management understand some of the impacts that can befall an organization.  Depending on the depth of public information available and the organization’s performance following the event, competitor events can also highlight positive effects of readiness or negative consequences of being unprepared to respond, recover, and communicate with stakeholders.

Outline the Benefits of Business Continuity
While organizations cannot predict whether or not they will experience a disruptive incident, there are many benefits that result from investing time and resources in business continuity planning.  The Risk Assessment process, for example, helps organizations analyze potential threats, impacts and downtime to understand true exposure to threats – enabling decision-making on appropriate risk mitigation actions (particularly on single points of failure that can impact product or service delivery) or acceptance of the associated risk.  Conducting a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) helps organizations develop a deeper and clearer understanding of their most critical products and services, business activities, resources (tangible and intangible), and interdependencies between business activities and technology, equipment, suppliers and personnel.  The BIA process also aids in understanding stakeholder expectations and potential monetary, reputational, and operational impacts, which can help create a “prioritized and justified” roadmap to recovery.  This roadmap can help apply limited resources to the most time-sensitive or priority areas following a disruption.

While some executives may feel insurance alone is protection enough, it is unlikely that an impromptu response will be as organized and timely enough to control the situation (plus insurance only covers property and lost revenue up to limits, it does not protect against the loss of market share).  These analytic activities (Risk Assessment and BIA), when combined with a proper emergency management, crisis management and crisis communications structure and recovery strategies, significantly increase the likelihood that your organization will not only survive the interruption, but also meet customer expectations, manage rumors, reassure stakeholders and enable a prioritized, timely recovery.

Know Your Executive Management Audience/Identify What End Results Matter to Them
When communicating the value of business continuity to executive management, it’s extremely important to present a case that focuses on what matters to this audience.  Rather than focusing on “what ifs” or “chicken little” scenarios that will likely come across as unrealistic or leave management saying, “we’ll deal with that at the time of event if that ever actually occurs,” focus on selling the benefits mentioned earlier, as well as communicating quantitative or qualitative outcomes they can expect from the effort.  The best strategy to communicate the benefit of a business continuity planning investment is comparing downtime expectations without pre-planning to downtime estimates with some planning (and likely customer reactions).

It’s important to keep your presentation and message realistic, simple, and focused on the organization’s current strategy and future priorities (often couched in product and service-related terms) so management can understand what value they’ll gain from the investment.  It’s also important to realize that executives hate to be sold, so when developing material to present, be sure to focus on unbiased facts, figures and solutions (keeping any personal agenda or pitch out of the presentation).  Executives want to be able to make their own opinions based on the data presented, so be straightforward, concise, and focused on direct, tangible benefits.

If Resources are Limited, Be Prepared to Develop and Mature the Program in Phases
Given that launching major initiatives without a guaranteed, immediate and visible return on investment can be difficult, be prepared to propose a multi-phase approach, if management is unwilling or unable to commit the requisite resources all at once.  Business continuity should be approached as an ongoing, lifecycle-oriented program rather than a project anyway, so taking a staged approach that enables basic capabilities while providing a continuous improvement roadmap can help ensure attention and investment over time.  Since some planning is better than no planning, utilize what is available to develop a base capability, and then enhance the program as additional resources become available.

Conclusion
A business case for investing in business continuity exists in most cases, you just have to determine what factors will influence your executives most.  Whether the most important influencers are financial, reputational, operational or regulatory, make sure you tailor your sales message in a way (including using the appropriate terms) that will make management aware of the value they will gain from investing in the program.

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Stacy Gardner, Managing Consultant
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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