How UX can get the budget they want


If you want to get bigger budgets for your UX work, you have to look at the problem from the eyes of your manager and even their manager.  Just as you look at interfaces from the point of view of your users, what angle is your boss looking at the problem from?  And what is your hook that will make them sit up and listen to you?  An exit rate of 10% due to poorly formatted error messages and form fields? Or $2 million dollars in lost revenue?  Which is more compelling to your manager?  You have to frame your arguments in terms that will appeal to your boss, or face always feeling like they are never listening and you are not getting the budgets you deserve.

The Problem

Each time I visit a conference I hear the same problems faced by UX professionals.  Not the never ending search for a perfect interface, the perfect user flow, or a usability test that passes without incident.  Most commonly it is “If I could only get the budget, my CEO just doesn’t listen to me in meetings, they seem to switch off and just don’t understand my point of view”.  In the majority of cases this is probably your problem, not theirs.  Successfully pitching your ideas and making your managers, and their managers buy into the UX problems on your site is essential in getting sign off for your projects.

An Example

Imagine you are responsible for the sign up process for companies registering to use your web app.  You have a 5 step form, which has a reasonably high exit rate on each step.  However, you are still getting a high volume of signs ups to your sites and your manager doesn’t want to invest in improving it.  How do you pitch to get funds to improve the web form and decrease exit rates?  Here is how to do it.

The Hook

Often referred to as your elevator or 3 second pitch, but ultimately means being able to explain the value you will bring to the company in 1 sentence.  Your manager will be fielding requests from staff, and from their own managers and have limited time.  Don’t setup a long presentation, if you cannot also deliver an effective hook.  Why should they give you some of their valuable time?  In this example, because you can help save the company $2 million in lost revenue.

Break it down

If you want to affect change you have to first understand the goals of the business and the KPIs of your manager and of the company.  How are they being measured?  What is the company trying to achieve this year?  Once you understand this, you can then frame the value you are delivering (or want to deliver) in these terms.  That way you are immediately appealing to something your manager understands.

It is no good telling them in a meeting that the existing sign up form gives a terrible user experience and error messages are poorly aligned and the copy needs improving.  They won’t care and will already be fiddling with their blackberry.  Frame it in your managers language;

  • 24% drop out rate across the 5 step process
  • On average, that equates to 1000 customers per month, lost
  • Scaled across the 10 international sites you run, that’s 10,000 customer per month, lost
  • Or 120,000 customer per year
  • A customers average lifetime value to the business is $20
  • $20 x 120,000 is $2.4M in lost revenue per year

Go into a meeting and concisely break down the tangible affect the poor UX is having on the business in these terms and your manager will listen.

The Close

Make sure you are prepared with your solution, again using your managers language.  Don’t give them the intimate details of how you will change the error message alignment (Unless of course they actually ask, if so be visual check out my post on pitching UX creatively to affect change) as they likely won’t care and probably don’t understand.  Be positive and again break it down for them;

  • 8 week project timeline from testing to production
  • Cost $200,000
  • Ready to start work in 2 weeks

As a UX professional, you have to understand the direct impact of your work on the business.  To do this, you need to first understand how the business operates in implicit detail to ensure you can effectively frame the value you deliver.  Find an angle where the problems caused by poor UX, IA, VD has a direct impact on revenue, or whatever your boss is KPI’d on and then break it down into language they will understand to force home your message.

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Filed under Pitching UX

7 responses to “How UX can get the budget they want

  1. Pingback: How UX can get anything it wants « Scott Berkun

  2. Good post.

    The hurdle i think many people have is the first time they do something like this. It takes a fair amount of guts to make a pitch out of the blue.

    Do you have advice for how someone trying to do this for the first time should approach it? Should they call a big meeting? Should they pull aside the VP and chat with them privately? Is there pre-work they should do before these pitch meetings, where they test the water?

  3. While I completely agree with your points that the success of implementing UX in your company is to target the right people (collegues) with the right arguments (numbers), this is reaaaaaally difficult to be done upfront (e.g. at proposal time).

    Here are the most common problems I’m facing:
    - No comparison can be done (A is so much better after re-design than B) because nothing exists yet.
    - It’s almost impossible to estimate the amount X that could be saved by using methodology A or process B over standard procedure C.
    - Even with all the numbers on hand clients don’t want to pay more, good design is expected and assumed as a standard deliverable!

    A sales pitch is good and I believe the way to go, buy-in is great but being payed for it and thus implementing usability as a standard procedure is a completely different biest.

  4. Alastair, I found your blog via Scott’s post, “How UX can get anything they want”

    I agree with the fundamental truth of your post, which should be elementary for any UX practitioner: tailor your message to your audience, whether it’s the person filling out a Web form or your manager.

    The challenges I hear about tend not to be relatively straightforward ones that can be easily quantified like the sales funnel and Web form conversions. Most of the problems I hear about are around complex interactions with a heavy qualitative dimension. These aren’t always clear without sound qualitative research, which tends to be more difficult to get funded in-house despite the deeper understanding of customers it provides. Clients who know that they have UX deficiencies often can’t clearly define their problems, or misidentify symptoms as the problems.

    You’re absolutely right that winning support for projects needs to be aligned with organizational and performance goals. I like how you’ve reframed the problem in terms that are important to decision-makers.

    I think that once in-house UXers develop a track record based on quantifiable measures, they can get some latitude and funding from their managers to try a wider range of UX projects.

  5. Pingback: Getting sign off on a UX project in less than 60 seconds « Clunky: "awkward or unsophisticated"

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone, appreciated, I will try to address some of the follow on questions that came out of the comments, but if I miss the mark, feel free to repost or contact me directly offline:

    @Scott. New post here on pitching UX for the first time:
    would be great to hear your thoughts.

    @Michael if you are starting from scratch (I.e. a site doesn’t even exist yet). Try finding a similar project you have worked on previously and draw comparisons. Completely understand that it can be difficult to show the value, but always try to find an angle that is compelling for your boss / client.

    @Kaleem Some pages are definitely harder to get quantitative metrics on and a full on qualitative study is needed. However, I still think you can prove a point prior to getting funding using some crude internet math, and get your client/manager to listen with a short punchy presentation. If you know the interaction is causing major problems for users, take a guerilla approach and just record a few users who have problems. Work out how i.e. much longer the time on task was to complete than if the interaction was easier, then break it down:
    - 3 minutes longer time on task
    - 25 tasks completed on average per day
    - 3 x 25 = 75 wasted minutes per day
    - 375 wasted minutes per week
    - 375 / 60 = 6.25 (Say 6) hours wasted per week
    - 3 people in the team
    - 3 x 6 hours per week wasted = 18 hours
    - 18 man hours per week lost
    - $25 per hour average salary
    - 18 x $25 = $450 lost per week
    - $450 x 52 weeks = $23,400 salary wasted per year

    Although this is crude (hey it would be better if clients/managers would just give us the funding to do this properly!) it will make them sit up and listen (especially if you show them a short video clip of a user struggling with the interface) and may give you more leverage to get the funding to do a proper qualitative study. Happy to discuss further if I haven’t answered your question, or missed your point.

    Thanks again everyone for your thoughts, great to hear them.

  7. Pingback: If you only know 2 things about how to sell UX…. « Clunky: "awkward or unsophisticated"

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