Jen Taylor outlines some of her key learnings from AIM's recent Stakeholder Management workshop.
Managing stakeholders effectively can be highly beneficial for career growth or getting a difficult project over the line, but this is often easier said than done.
Naturally the challenges you face when dealing with stakeholders will differ dependent on who those stakeholders are - we all have several. It is not easy knowing how to manage these relationships - and frankly ensuring you are doing so effectively and influencing in the 'right' way.
Liz Whitaker's Propella framework provides two dimensions - royalty and loyalty - to assess and prioritise different stakeholders. Her book The Power of Personal identifies ten persona types and appropriate strategies for dealing with each.
Whitaker's framework neatly dovetails with Robert Cialdini's Six Principles of Persuasion, which provide invaluable insight to address different stakeholder challenges. Through simple tools, he helps you develop strong relationships, loyalty and increased sales.
The first strategy is based on the concept of reciprocity. People naturally feel obliged to give back to those who have 'gifted' them - to treat others as they've treated us. Humans cannot bear to feel indebted to others. This might be in the form of a gift, service or a behaviour. Considered and personalised gifts are the key to using this principle effectively. For example, sending a colleague an article you read that you know would be interesting to them.
Or, on a larger business strategy scale, a great example of this would be Nespresso. If you have ever been into a Nespresso store you'll have experienced their coffee bar where friendly baristas will ask what type of coffee you would like - long/short, strong/weak, milk and sugar etc.- and present you with one completely free of charge.
In very simply terms, this strategy is explained by 'people want what they can't have'. The perceived scarcity of a product makes consumers want it more. Point out what is unique about your proposition and what individuals will lose if they fail to consider your proposal. Running a promotion for your product that is limited by a time or the number available can be an effective strategy. For example, 'Last 2 places available' or '20% off until the end of the day'.
Or 'securing the little yes'. Consistency is activated by looking or asking for small initial commitments - preferably voluntary, active and public commitments, ideally in writing. Those people are then more likely to honour that commitment.
For example, as marketers we might ask our audience to sign up to a newsletter for free. Later down the line we can then ask them if they would like to sign up to an event or buy a product. The fact that the audience will already have made a small commitment by signing up to the newsletter and are engaged with the company, makes the chances of them making a bigger commitment higher.
The fourth strategy 'liking', refers to the fact that when approaching stakeholders, for example, a senior manager, they are more likely to yes to your request if they 'like' you. We all like people who are similar to us, pay us compliments, and cooperate towards mutual goals. To harness this technique, look for areas of similarity that you share with others, mutual goals or challenges in the workplace or even in your personal lives, and also genuine compliments you can give before you get to the point. Taking the time to create those personal relationships will typically lead to more successful outcomes for both parties.
For example, you might find that your colleague in another team is a big football fan and supports the same team as you do. Taking the time to build your relationship and chat about common interests will help your working relationship and lead to greater productivity.
People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. It is important therefore to signal to others what makes you credible and knowledgeable before you try to influence. Often, before a pitch or presentation people will give a bit of background - work history and achievements - telling those they are presenting to why they should listen to them. This can also be done through testimonials from others, someone 'bigging you up' before you present or meet.
The last strategy is social proof, which refers to the natural herd mentality that people display. Brands naturally compare against one and other, and particularly to their direct competitors. When selling to these brands, you can play on having other key industry players on board. In the investment industry, with various brands selling very similar products to roughly the same target market this is definitely prominent, and businesses can absolutely profit from it.
However, sometimes being and doing the same as your peers can actually be seen as damaging to a brand. Seth Godin's Purple Cow concept explains this very efficiently: if you drive by a heard of cows and you see a purple cow standing in the field, you have to tell someone, because it is so different. However, it is important to be aware of the complexities of the purple cow analogy, because social proof is not always as straightforward as it may seem for this reason.