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Step 2: Knowing Your Audience and the Business Case Graveyard

March 6, 2018

We are learning how to build a business case for sustainability in five steps:

  1. Prepare

  2. Know your audience

  3. Construct the Case

  4. Crunch the Numbers

  5. Pitch the Case

If you missed the first three posts, go here to catch up. Quick recap: we have said that

  • a good business case is a compelling story about meeting a business need; and that we must

  • find out how and when decisions about proposals and business cases are really made

  • And to make a business case on a sustainability platform, daylight hidden opportunities for innovation by using your ESRO assessment (see below) to identify the needs of society along with the shorter-term needs of the business

Environmental and social risk and opportunity assessment (ESRO)

Step 2:  Know Your Audience

"The fate of your project or initiative will usually lie with a small group or even one individual." (HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case, 2015).


When Bradley Cooper was preparing to play the role of Chris Kyle in the movie American Sniper, he woke everyday and put on headphones with interviews of Kyle. He listened to hundreds of hours of Kyle speaking.  He worked on his accent, tone, and cadence of speech. Ultimately, as much as he could, he became Chris Kyle.


We must do the same.  Who is the Chris Kyle that you must understand deeply in order for your business case to be effective?  How can you get to know this person so that you "become" them?  Who can help you?  I do this even in small ways when preparing for important meetings.  I ask myself, "what would it be like to be the COO of this company? If that was my job, what would really matter to me?"


People make a mistake when they develop a general business case that is "good for the business". Make no mistake, you are building a case for a specific decision-maker. Two key outcomes are needed from Step 2:

  • At the end of the day, who will either green light or kill your idea? You have probably identified that person or group of people in Step 1 when you learned how and when business cases are really evaluated and decided upon.