How to Increase Stakeholder Buy-in

A recent microsite project I worked on was moving smoothly in its initial planning stages — until we hit the point at which my main contact, the chief marketing officer (CMO) started to get pushback on her end. All of a sudden, we had two additional cooks in the kitchen, both of whom had different ideas of what needed to go in the soup.

Part of a marketing firm’s mission is to make a CMO’s life easier (or the equivalent head of the project). On occasions such as this, that includes helping them increase stakeholder buy-in and prevent second-guessing. In this circumstance, it was challenging because the legal department was one of the additional cooks waving a rolling pin around — and they really didn’t care about the content, only that it wouldn’t get them in trouble. The other would-be chef was the VP of technology, who was feeling left out of the process since the microsite would run separate from their existing site rather than being incorporated into it.

Of course, there’s nothing you can do as a third party to alleviate the politics of a large organization. Nevertheless the experience did underscore a few lessons about stakeholder buy-in. These are best accomplished in advance, but we were able to help the CMO patch things up and get the project back on track.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. In an organization with occasional power struggles, there may be an inclination to keep projects under wraps. The fact is, though, that clandestine operation also creates suspicion. So, in this circumstance, we invited people from legal and IT to the next meeting, and clearly stated what further communications they could expect from the microsite team. That went a long way toward rebuilding lost trust.

Outline roles. Along the same lines, it was no longer an option to not have the two new parties involved at some level — we just needed it to be on our terms and as streamlined as the original, time-sensitive launch schedule. (In keeping with the old Ben Franklin principle, if you want someone to like you more, ask them to do you a favor.)

Talk to them in their own language. CMO thought leader Brian Kardon said it perfectly:

Understand how the marketing programs tie into the language of the senior executives. I think that’s a good way to describe projects. A mistake I’ve seen often is when they use the language of just the marketing organization or, ‘Wow it’s really a creative idea’ or ‘It’s really cool.’ Those generally don’t work really well.”

So, with the legal contact, we talked in terms of risks, approval processes, and interviewee releases; with the IT contact, we clarified the technology aspects in a way that he understood how the microsite would affect him (i.e., not much!).

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