Many times, in the distribution world, we supply chain professionals identify products that will enhance productivity, throughput, and accuracy, but there’s not a budget for those tools. When you do decide to ask for a tool that will enhance your productivity or reduce bottle necks or manual labor, it’s important to put your “case” for the new item together.

In today’s world, it is more and more difficult to find qualified workers; therefore, automation that you may not have been able to justify in the past could be justified now because of lack of qualified workers.

Know the Audience and What Is Important to Them

Remember who you are presenting to so you don’t get caught off guard. If you are presenting to the CFO, this person will be all about the return on investment and numbers. Because some CFOs don’t understand supply chain lingo, make sure you present your case in a way that he/she can understand the information. For example, if you are presenting a PTL (pick to light) system for order picking, it may be beneficial to give a brief statement to counteract the “We are doing just fine the way we are, so why invest?” mindset. A good argument for this example would be, “Well, if our volumes increase by 10%, we are out of room, and without increasing headcount by 20%, we will not be able to ship same day.” Arguments in terms they understand will help get their attention. Focus on dollars and percentages.

Deal in Facts and Proof Points

Executives want to hear about valid claims on return, so saying that the system will give between 10-40% gain probably will not be accepted. There may be case studies from similar operations that would prove the return. Ask the vendor to partner with you on the information, but ensure the information is accurate. When presenting the “as is” and the “to be” case to executives, use factual information.

Most executives do not want to hear about all the implementation details or the installation details. They want to know the high-level scope and return on investment, whether monetary or customer service oriented. Stay out of the weeds, which could send your presentation off topic. Make sure you have the detail available should questions be asked, but don’t focus the presentation on the details.

Introduce the Problem and Opportunities

Before you jump right into the project, introduce the problem. For example, if you start by saying, “We are running out of space, and if there is not a redesign within the next 12 months, we won’t be able to ship the volumes projected for this year,” ears will definitely perk up. Once you present the problem, you can then focus on explaining the solution or opportunity for improvement.

Explain the Hazard or Risk if Investment Is not Made

Sometimes, investments are made not to be able to keep up with orders today or to reduce cost today, but to be able to keep up with projected volumes or budget. A good example of risk or hazard to the company’s bottom line is in the pharmaceutical and food verticals. If the distribution center doesn’t have a system that can keep up with lot codes, a total recall of defective product is not possible. Therefore, all orders must be recalled. But if the system was able to narrow it down to a lot, then only the lot would need to be recalled, and the system could tell you exactly where that lot shipped.

Don’t Forget the Intangibles

Often when presenting a case of return on investment, the intangibles (such as better customer service, better picking accuracy, and more inventory availability) are forgotten. However, these could be a compelling reason to invest, so don’t leave them out.

Summarize the Request and Need

At the end, give a summarization of the total presentation and finish with an investment strategy. Spread the cost out on a spreadsheet; many people do not get the project approved because they do not show the cash outlay when it happens. They just say it’s a $500,000 project, instead of that the cost of the project over two years will be X.

Visit the show floor at PARCEL Forum ‘21 and check out all the tools and automation the exhibitors have displayed to increase the throughput, accuracy, and productivity in your facility.

Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2021 issue of PARCEL.