Cella Consulting partners with Marketing and Creative Operations teams across industries to help them identify and capture opportunities. A request we often receive is how to make a business case in the absence of data for justification.

A lot of people have good ideas, and good ideas do matter. What matters more is being able to transform ideas into reality. The vast majority of good ideas require resources and that likely will require a business case to be made in order to obtain the necessary resources.

The key ingredients for a business case are simple in theory:

1. Clearly defined objectives 

2. Justification

3. Recommended path forward 

Many people get stuck on the justification piece because they lack the meaningful data points to make the business case or conduct the analysis that is required. This is especially true when you are looking to future proof your operations, meaning to ensure that your people, processes and technologies are aligned and set up to achieve business goals. Future proofing is proactive, not reactive and, therefore, it can get deprioritized for “hot” issues if a strong case is not made for the justification. In this blog we will explore some best practices for making business cases even if the data is not readily available. 

A few words on clearly defined objectives and then we will get to data points. Do not underestimate a well thought-out and clearly defined objective. Narrowing in on exactly what you plan to achieve or solve and why it matters is extremely important. Your objectives may only be a few sentences, but you need to get them just right. Make a point to align your objectives back to enterprise-level strategic objectives if possible. This will help highlight why your request matters and why leadership should support the effort. 

On to data, or the lack of it. My best advice for building a business case in the absence of data is to get data. You may not have the data points you want, but you likely can get at some data that will be relevant to making your business case. Cost avoidance (from people hours, asset creation, moving work in-house) is likely going to be your best friend in these cases as it makes a big impact.  Here are a few tips for creating data points.

1. Gathering Intel

Don’t be afraid to make assumptions. If the correction to an issue or problem is known, you can drill into the specifics. Do assumptions bring in a level of uncertainty? Yes. Is that a reason not to make them? No, just be ready to explain how you got to your assumption. It is highly recommended to back assumptions up with at least some manually-collected data to build credibility. 

Let’s say you are attempting to make a business case for new systems technology that you know will alleviate manual steps in your process that impact multiple roles. Identify who is currently performing these manual tasks, where in the process you know the efficiencies will come from, ask those closest to the process to track their current time on these tasks over a set period. Attempt to pick a time frame to measure that gives you some confidence in the data. Clearly define the parameters of the process so everyone is tracking time on the same steps (ex. define the start/ stop). With this data you can derive the average current time spent on these tasks per year and the number of people performing the task. Multiple this by the average blended headcount total cost for your department, this is usually something your Finance or HR partner can provide. Say that cost avoidance number is $120,000 per year. Multiply that cost out over 3 years ($360K) and 5 years ($600K) to reflect cost avoidance over time. You now have a meaningful data point. 

2. Find the Big Picture

Go big picture and pull way back to provide a high-level view of the data. This is especially helpful when thinking about justification for future proofing and a more general perspective of data will suffice. 

For example, let’s highlight cost avoidance from people hours. If you are attempting to show the impact of future process improvement efforts (efficiencies) you can use the average blended hourly rate for the department and annual capacity for the department to show what a 10%, 20%, 30% or other number of reduction in people hours would translate to in dollars of cost avoidance. 

Another example is to contrast  cost avoidance with asset creation cost. If you are making a case for a global DAM, which you believe will increase asset utilization, use the average cost to create an asset multiplied by the volume of assets created yearly and show how reducing the volume of assets created would impact cost avoidance at specific target points. Again, highlight what that savings would look like over multiple years.

3. Context via Benchmarks

In the absence of data on your specific operation, provide context by using benchmarking. Utilizing relevant benchmarks and industry standards can be helpful for stakeholders to understand data in relation to competitors or peers and will provide reference points for evaluation. Great benchmarks exist online, including Cella’s Marketing and Creative In-House Industry Report that allows you to select by either Marketing or Creative In-house services team and filter by a team size like your own. Imagine you are making a case to invest in video capabilities. You can provide insights into peer departments video services provided, the number of dedicated roles supporting video as well as their projections for increases in that area.

Consideration Checklist

To successfully use any of these techniques, ensure that you:

  • Clearly document and be transparent about any assumption or logic you are using to create the data points. 

  • Take efforts to ensure data is accurate and reliable. Inaccurate data will undermine the business case. Do your best to ensure the data collection, manual as it may be, is accurate, vet the results, if something seems off, investigate. 

  • Demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship of data and the intended outcome. 

  • Visualize data effectively, making it easy to understand.

  • Be honest about any risks or challenges to your proposed business case.

And remember, whenever possible, use a balanced approach that takes into account not only financial metrics but also quality metrics like brand consistency and employee and customer focused metrics.  

Here are some additional resources from Cella that can help you when developing data for business justification. 

If you need support in building a business case or developing your operations metrics strategy, Cella can help