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A Short Course in Stakeholder Analysis

Finding your way through your dream client’s company can be challenging. The more complex the sale, the more likely it is that there are many contacts that will be affected by your solution. The more important what you sell is to your dream client’s success, the more likely it that there will be lots of people involved in the process.

There are all kinds of ideas as to how best to manage the complex web of relationships from target to close. One effective tool is a simple stakeholder analysis. Here is a short course in completing one.

Who Decides and What Do They Want?

The easiest place to start a stakeholder analysis is by identifying all of the contacts within your dream client who will most likely be on the buying committee. It’s easy to start here, but it isn’t always easy to identify all of the contacts that might be part of this group. (Here are some ideas about finding them)

Once you have identified those who will be making the decisions, you add all that you know about what they want, what they need, and why they need it. The better your understanding of the results that they need and their preferences, the greater your understanding is of what you need to deliver in order to obtain their support.

Reasonable people can disagree, and some will stop here and capture influencers separately. I prefer to capture all the so-called “powerless” influencers here, as well. It’s easy to underestimate how much influence they have over a decision, even when they won’t be part of the actual buying committee.

Regardless, it’s important not to overlook decision-influencers or their needs.

Biases and Preferences

Your contacts are going to have biases and preferences. Some will be your power sponsors, your champions. They will want you to win, they will want you to succeed, and they will do all they can to help you. This group is going to be critical to your being selected.

Alternatively, some contacts may have their own horse in the race. They may oppose you and your solution. Some will actively work against you. This group is no less important than the group that supports you. You ignore this group at your peril. Even though it may seem easier to avoid the contacts that oppose you and your solution, “hope” is a not a great plan. Managing this group well can be the difference between winning and losing.

Finally, some contacts may simply be neutral. They won’t go out of their way to support you, but they also won’t go out of their way to block your efforts. These contacts need to be managed, too. You can work to have your support group help you move these contacts into the support column—or at least keep them out of the opposition camp.

Who Influences Whom?

If you spend enough time with the contacts within your dream client companies, and if you are pay serious attention during your sales interactions, you can make some observations about who influences whom.

Who seems to trust the judgment of another contact? Who seems to defer questions to some other contact? Who seems to be trusted as the subject matter or domain expert for the group in some area? Where do the political conflicts lie?

These questions and questions like them can help you chart your course forward. You can make some decisions about whom to approach first and why. You can also make some decisions about whose help you will need to overcome the resistance of the opposition or the obstacles.

Working Through Conflicts and Constraints

Capturing all of the above can go a long way towards helping you chart a course to winning your dream client. However, it’s also helpful to identify all of your dream client contacts conflicting needs and the constraints that they create.

Sometimes one contact wants one solution because it best helps them get the result they need, while another contact wants a very different solution because it better serves their needs. By knowing where these conflicts and constraints exist, you can work towards building a solution that generates a result that works for both contacts and their groups.

Bridging the differences and building a solution that meets both group’s needs isn’t easy, but not doing so usually means that the contact with the most power within the organization gets the solution that they want—right or wrong. If you win because your champion has the most power, you have a built in obstacle—unless or until you can do something to meet their needs. If your support is the weaker side, you can lose the opportunity.

Working through your dream client’s organization to build consensus around you and your solution isn’t easy. A good stakeholder analysis can help you find your way, and it can help you position yourself to win.


How do you map the contacts and the relationships within your dream clients?

How can it help to know who influences whom when deciding the best way forward?

How complex does an opportunity need to be to make a stakeholder analysis a useful tool?

How can a stakeholder analysis help you succeed after you have won?

What are the risks of not thinking through all of the contacts that are going to be affected by your solution and their needs and preferences?



  • Kelly Barner

    First, full disclosure: I am not in sales, but in procurement. That being said, I think there is a lot that we can learn from you (meaning sales people) and vice versa. A word to the wise on mapping out the relationships that will influence the ultimate award decision: pay attention to who will likely make the award but also the interaction between the customer representatives in the room. Depending upon the procurement policies in the company you are selling to, the people who would typically be your power champions may not be. Maybe there is a very objective award process, and you need to focus your attention on the procurement/sourcing person in the room to make sure you cover the areas that have been identified and weighted as the award criteria. Also, as hard as it may be, try to be aware of who is NOT in the room. Sometimes the real decision makers are “too busy” to attend supplier meetings. Lastly, look for tension and both note it down and avoid getting tangled up in it. There are many times that I have been in very tense supplier meetings where procurement and the business users are in direct disagreement, but are keeping their true opinions under wraps in the hopes of presenting a unified front to a supplier. Don’t pick sides, but try to learn as much as you can.  In the end it is all about your positioning.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your feedback, Kelly. It’s good advice, too. I know lots of great procurement people, but I believe that the pursuit of objectivity is often an obstacle to producing great results. 

      While the identified and weighted criteria may be important, it doesn’t always do much to identify how well the organizations can work together to produce the necessary results (especially when it comes to complex offerings where human beings can and do make the difference). 

      I love your advice to be aware of who isn’t in the room. I have written about that here a number of times. The real power isn’t always the ones with the organizational chart authority, and their needs are often overlooked–making delivery more difficult.  

      I have seen the disagreement between procurement and suppliers at the board room table. Not pretty, but I think in some ways it’s healthy. Disagreements over important decisions can lead to better a thinking and a better choice. 

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here. It’s not often we hear from procurement here, and your comments add a lot to the discussion!