You’ve presented your case. A lot went into that including consideration of your purpose, defining your value, assessing your audience, identifying your stakeholders, developing a plan, performing a thorough analysis, and crafting and delivering your presentation. Take a deep breath and enjoy the sense of accomplishment so far, but you’re not done yet.
There’s one thing that’s still missing and that is a definitive response.
Now, the time comes to pursue the results of your efforts: the final decision.
Like a main character in a story, you need closure. While the presentation may have been the most challenging milestone, it’s not the end of the journey. Effective follow-up is the last and most crucial step to achieving a much-deserved resolution to your business case.
A cause important enough to believe in, a purpose powerful enough to pursue, a presentation compelling enough to prepare for hours – all deserve effective follow up. Here’s why:
- It shows that you’re serious. When you follow up, you are demonstrating your serious intent, dedication to the project, and readiness to move forward with the next step: implementation.
- It promotes a feeling of value. Following up shows senior leaders that you value both the project and the time they spent discussing your business case.
- It sets you apart. Following up provides a perception that you are diligent and thorough, in contrast to competing project leaders who may not be as disciplined and overlook the follow-up process.
- It builds the relationship. In following up, you are continuing to engage with the decision makers and working to strengthen the relationship.
- It portrays you as confident. Having the confidence to follow up on a major pitch or business case prior to an approval decision shows that you are strong enough to steadily lead the project through any uncertainty.
- It takes you “closer to closure.” In the end, you will need an answer, so following up will help achieve closure for your business presentation – and senior decision makers know this.
A continuum toward progress
When following up, keep in mind that the business case is not a static, one-time event or document. It expresses a purpose in action, a proposition of value, a concept moving along a continuum toward implementation. As an important idea, it is always advancing to the next phase.
If you think of the business proposal in this way, then the follow-up is just the next point on the continuum, defined as the proactive activity you take prior to receiving approval or rejection. Of course, if the project is approved, then the next phase is execution.
On the other hand, if the proposal is not approved, there’s an opportunity to gather feedback, readjust, and explore new solutions. It’s important to know the “Why” or business rationale for the decision. With this feedback, you may choose to hold a debrief session with your team to analyze the process and evaluate your options going forward.
Keys to closure
Here are some tips to proactively follow up on your business proposal and guide it to closure.
- Send a Thank You note. Depending on how well you know the decision makers, you may choose to send a polite Thank You email the day after delivering the presentation. (If close colleagues, you may feel this is too formal. For example, in one case, a presenter of a business case was friends with the company’s CEO, and chose to thank her via a text message instead of an email.) Keep it brief and personable – just a Thank You message. Do not include an “Ask.”
- Provide answers to questions raised. If an audience member asked a question during the presentation that you could not answer at the time, be proactive to quickly follow up with the correct information. This will demonstrate your responsiveness. You’re in a stronger position agreeing to research an answer that you don’t know, than pretending you know.
- Offer additional information. If you have not been given a time frame for the decision process, it is appropriate to send an email after two weeks offering to provide more information and answer any questions about the business case.
- Wait patiently. If you have been given a time-frame for the decision-making process, such as three weeks, don’t rush it. Sit back, observe, and wait.
- Silence does not equal rejection. If you haven’t heard back within the decision window (or about 3-4 weeks if no clearly defined decision window), that does not mean your proposal has been rejected. Keep in mind that executives are often busy, distracted, traveling, and constantly prioritizing due to changing business needs. Don’t assume a denial.
- Strive for a firm decision. If you have not received an answer after approximately two to three months, be proactive in reaching out for an answer, showing that you prefer a firm “no” over a “not at this time.” Ask the question directly. Your time and ideas are valuable enough to deserve a straight answer and the business rationale behind the decision. If you receive a “not now” response, ask probing questions to explore whether or not that is a soft rejection. In doing so, note the points of objection or where your case needs to be strengthened.
- Think long-term. Keep in mind that today’s “No” may be tomorrow’s “Yes.” Business conditions, projects, and talent are constantly changing. If you receive a firm “No,” stay positive and maintain good relations with the decision makers. You may be surprised one day to find them calling you for a similar project or initiative.
It’s vital to make every effort to build your business case to be as compelling as possible. Only then can you know whether or not success is possible. It’s not enough to come up with a great initiative. You’ve got to make the case that shows how meaningful and necessary it truly is.