Selling BPM – Three things that make the difference

Sitting through the kickoff sessions of the PEX Process Excellence Week 2012 in Orlando, Florida, what struck me most was the consistent message that ‘selling’ BPM is a large part of successful BPM. And selling just once isn’t good enough. When it comes to selling business process change, initial success is ‘no indicator of future performance’. Great ideas can become ‘unsold’ just as quickly as approvals were initially granted. To the unaware, this can be a very painful realization that serves to prevent future attempts to ‘stick your neck out’ and advocate for new ways of doing business process.

Sound familiar? There are three components to selling BPM, and they look like this:

Selling senior leadership

If you can’t get funding for an idea, it may not be your idea that holds you back. More often it is your approach. You have few chances to get the message right when you get your big moment to sell, so think about it well before firing the few rounds you actually have. Also, your reputation probably had more input to your success than the idea you raised, so pick your battles carefully and establish that you aren’t one to waste anyone’s time with poorly thought-through ideas. What few successful ‘sellers’ realize: Selling never stops. Even after victory is yours, you’ll need to resell continuously. Many ideas die because a win isn’t supported by ongoing reinforcement. Brent Wilson of ThyssenKrupp Stainless puts it this way, “Reconfirming, regaining commitment and the constant cycle of changing management makes a BPM leader a missionary lobbying for their cause.”

Creating the business case

With lots of cynicism around ROI calculations, selling a change without being able to get specific about the benefits and cost is very hard. “We’re going to do things better” isn’t a very convincing argument. Quantifying things that don’t have cost savings or market capture dollars attached is very hard, and BPM needs to be more than reduced cost. The way past this is to find an example of that has succeeded and draw parallels. If what you’re doing is so innovative that it defies comparison, you”ll need to get creative and the fight may be tougher. I would argue few things are genuinely innovative, or at least as innovative as the proposer believes them to be. Christian Seyfarth, also of ThyssenKrupp Stainless said, “By starting small, we didn’t need to worry about the cost as much, and then as we increased the number of BPM users, the benefits to a broader spectrum of the organization became very apparent.”

Getting colleagues to come along

Your management has accepted your analysis and signed off on your business idea…but your idea is only meaningful when everyone comes along. They will follow your lead when they realize that it is in their interest to do so. Sure, management can require people to behave a certain way, but that only gets you so far. ThyssenKrupp was able to get everyone onboard by  by training small groups at a time and showing them a relevant, role-based view of the world. Finance was trained on what they care about and machine operators on machine operation.

There will always be resistance to factor in. Christian describes the ThyssenKrupp Stainless method of overcoming it by saying, “We didn’t tackle the people who were most resistant, but instead focused on those who seemed open. We built a critical mass gradually.”  In the end, no person likes to be an island.

Comments welcome.


Categories: Strategy

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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11 Comments on “Selling BPM – Three things that make the difference”

  1. Chris Geier
    January 17, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Great Points

  2. January 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Hello Chris,

    I liked this post. Selling BPM – and selling it right – is so important at so many levels to make a BPM program or initiative work – and succeed. It requires very close engagement and a lot of forethought and planning with not just management but the last level of users. I think your last point on ‘getting colleagues to come along’ is the acid test and the biggest challenge for BPM success.

    • January 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Thanks, Jaisundar. Couldn’t agree more about the colleagues being the litmus test.

  3. jaggu
    January 18, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    Too simplistic. Sounds great on paper and in theory. The higher ups do not get involved in the nuts and bolts of business. Many busy bees or bodies do. If it is Greek and Latin to them, assume the program will fail. A good salesman can sell any program to executives. How many of those execs know the fine points of implementation? What is the use of teaching Six Sigma to those who have dropped out of high school, but have excellent manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude? I remember at one place an engineer went through the whole process of Fishbone only to correct torque value (a typo), just because he had to prove that he indeed learned something new when he obtained the Green Belt certificate in SS.

    There are many common sense solutions better suited to a unique culture and environment and technology of a company than those causing buzz in the intellectual circles. Nothing will work better than system evolution from within.

    • January 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      “Jaggu” makes some good points. The most significant changes in any organization are not those made from the top down, but from the bottom up. “Involve me, and I will understand.” -Confucius,

      • January 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

        Well put. The challenge is that executives are sometimes needed to free up resources (time, money) so that we can act bottom up. They are gatekeepers, which is another problem entirely…

  4. jon
    January 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    “Christian Seyfarth, also of ThyssenKrupp Stainless said, “By starting small, we didn’t need to worry about the cost as much, and then as we increased the number of BPM users, the benefits to a broader spectrum of the organization became very apparent.””

    Seyfarth is absolutely right. Every place where I have implemented BPM improvement, I have started very small without any fanfare or hoopla. The results made everyone curious about and w’s followed. It once it became a competition to implement in each department, the task became easy. When the programs like TQM and SS and Lean start from top and come down, it has a very high probability of failure.

  5. March 7, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Jon and others – as you mentioned Christian Seyfarth at Thyssenkrupp – may I point you at the video case study filmed in Alabama. Christian developed the script with me and was absolutely instrumental in helping me capture this great story. More than that though – he was the architect of this successful BPM deployment. Almost entirely self taught – we provided the software, he and his team designed the approach. See

  6. May 16, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    As a process analyst or another role where you are hired to do a job which maybe no one knows, how would anyone sell it to the leaders? Not everyone is fit for change and even if a BPM PoC is successful, it has no direct co-relation to overall business success till the process project is related to something everyone places alot of value for.

  7. May 16, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Yes, and that brings up something I heard at ThedaCare: “You have to CHANGE the people, or you have to change the PEOPLE”


  1. BPM Quotes of the week « Adam Deane - January 20, 2012

    […] BPM and ROI – Chris Taylor With lots of cynicism around ROI calculations, selling a change without being […]

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