Do you and your executive leaders know how to consistently influence key stakeholders with convincing, persuasive impact? Recently, leading organizations have called me to ask for help in this specific area. They realize how critical it is for them to improve their stakeholder management. Doing so strengthens your corporate DNA and can have a significantly measurable positive impact on partnership collaboration, overall performance, and bottom line profitability.
Avoid the tendency to approach stakeholders as merely potential one-time buyers. Don’t just try to close the sale. That can undermine the success of this entire process. You need to convince them of the importance of entering into a mutually-beneficial and ongoing relationship with you as their expert consultant and trusted business partner.
Guide Them to Yes
The first step in getting agreement from stakeholders is to know what they want and how you can help them obtain it. That doesn’t happen without the right vision and plan. You cannot expect dramatic results unless you develop a genuinely helpful solution-oriented mindset.
1) Initiate an exchange of information.
Rather than thinking about how fast you can reel them in and get them on board, work on developing a keen understanding of the issues they face…and how you can offer the right answer.
2) What questions do you need to ask?
Consider what you don’t yet know…that you will need to learn in order to get the perspective you need to put yourself in their shoes. Brainstorm from as many different points of view as possible . Work on communicating with them in a way that gives you real clarity regarding what they will define as a successful outcome.
3) Establish yourself as a collaborator.
Then you’ll be in great position to show them exactly how and why you both share a common vision. That will form a genetic basis for partnership, on the DNA level – and will convince them that your motivations are unselfishly aligned with their needs and objectives.
Understand Your Role
With that knowledge and insight into their situation and mindset, you can position yourself as a business partner for your stakeholders. No longer think of it as just a contractual exchange, but see yourself as your stakeholder’s new team asset.
1) Be the trusted advisor they need.
As an advisor to your stakeholder, you want to shift away from transactional communication mode. It’s not about what you can get from them. It’s about what they will gain by making the wise choice of accepting your offer. You want to play the part of an experienced consultant in a business advisory mode.
2) Plan and define your partnership success.
Oftentimes executives behave like order takers and people pleasers, versus genuinely communicating to reach keen clarification regarding exactly what a success outcome will look like. Iron out that vision with your stakeholder prior to the onset of a project or initiative, and it will help ensure smooth sailing with full buy-in and support.
3) Demonstrate thought leadership.
You have to do more than just reach a tentative agreement. You want to come away from every encounter having convinced the stakeholder that they need your guidance, innovative ideas, and continued advisory input.
Do Advance Planning
You may have heard the saying that if you put in 10 percent of your effort on the front end, it will pay you back by helping you avoid 80 percent of the problems on the back end. Or as I remind my clients, an ounce of pre-framing is worth a pound of reframing.
1) Frame your point of view.
Executives who come to the stakeholder conversations without a clear perspective are missing their best opportunity to shape the dialog going forward. Too many times they just show up with a pen and legal pad or laptop to take notes. In order to conduct a thorough interview you need to be prepared with probing questions.
2) Come Away with Deeper Insight
To take full advantage of the opportunity, you need to ask yourself what kind of information you intend to obtain during that preliminary conversation. Figure out what you do not know, that you need to know, before you go. That way you’ll leave the meeting with valuable answers.
3) Study the Stakeholder’s Business
Familiarize yourself with their business philosophy, model, and process. Analyze their corporate or departmental DNA. Find out what they do and how they do it. That will shed light on how you can provide assistance to ensure they do it better and more profitably.
Don’t enter the negotiations from a position of disadvantage that could set yourself up for failure. Articulate to them from the onset that they need what you bring to the table. Then establish reasonable and actionable expectations and timelines for what you can and will deliver, and what they need to do to fulfill their role in the process.
1) It’s a 2-way conversation.
Don’t show up only to take notes regarding their needs and objectives. That’s important. But you need to also keep your own goals in mind. This kind of planning is more about comparing notes and negotiating your responsibilities than it is about delivering a sales pitch.
2) Seek supportive alignment.
By illustrating how your strengths can support their areas of perceived weakness, you effectively demonstrate how working with you will improve their performance and productivity.
3) Make it a joint venture.
Make sure that whenever necessary, you assert yourself in order to formulate an agreement with realistic expectations. Shape your exchange of ideas around the sustainable framework of joint collaboration, not just a one-off transaction.
You’re the Expert in the Room
Since you are the expert, you need to act with confidence and authority. If you’ve done your background work before sitting down with the stakeholder, that should come naturally. You’ll have the poise and leadership presence to contribute persuasive insight.
1) Know your value.
Don’t succumb to small thinking and wonder “Why on earth would I ever challenge what a stakeholder asks of me or presents to me?” Instead, take an inventory of the valuable services that you are rendering and realize how it benefits them to agree to what you propose.
2) They need you as much as you need them.
Identify with the role of being a positive conduit for your stakeholders. You are going to help them meet their goals in ways they cannot do on their own. They need you, and all it takes to influence them to say “yes” is for you to show them why that’s true and practical.
3) Own your expertise.
As the expert, you will assert yourself and point out why your diagnosis is correct and in your stakeholder’s best interest. You may need to gently push back against your stakeholders during negotiations and demonstrate thought leadership. But as long as you continue to view the situation from the authentic role of their advisor, you’ll be convincing.
Understanding how to engage stakeholders in this way is the linchpin for success. Distinguish your organization from competitors who are still working from a narrow transactional mindset that limits the strategic development of more meaningful stakeholder rapport.