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A Longer Course in Stakeholder Analysis

This is the seventh and final post in this series (I think it might make a pretty good eBook). The series started with The Gatekeeper, move on to the End-Users, weaved into the Ancillary Stakeholders, delved deeper into the Management Stakeholders, avoided avoiding the Professional Buyers, and rested with The Deciders: Executive Managment.

Over the past six posts, we have covered a lot of distance when it comes to knowing who the key stakeholders are within your dream client company. We have also covered some ideas about how you create value for these stakeholders, and what your risks are from the view of value creation.

There is still a lot more ground to cover. An opportunity that is complex enough to require a stakeholder analysis is complex enough to require a deeper dive into the ideas and issues that exist on a different plane altogether. There are some foundational ideas that you need to consider, and then there are some ideas that go beyond the foundation to the complex and to the political.

The Foundation

To create and move an opportunity from target to close, you need to identify three things within your dream client.

You need to find receptivity, someone that is willing to give you an audience. You need to find dissatisfaction, the people who have the problems that you can help to improve. And you need to find authority, someone with the power to bind your dream client to a deal.

I’d love to tell you that these three foundational ideas are from my personal observation, but they’re not. This observation belongs to Neil Rackham and you can find it in Major Account Sales Strategy, a book I believe to be more important in many ways than SPIN Selling.

Receptivity: In a stakeholder analysis, it’s helpful to identify who is receptive to you and your message. This is often the easiest point to get in, and this is why I cringe when I hear salespeople suggest that they absolutely have to get in at the C-level, or not at all. If the C-level executive isn’t receptive (and they are already overwhelmed and time-starved), then the salesperson believes, incorrectly, that there is no way in and no path to a deal. This isn’t true.

Receptivity can exist at any level of the organization. You can find it in the end-users who struggle to produce results with the product, service or solution that they are presently using. You can also find it in the management stakeholders, who struggle to help their end-users produce results while meeting the goals and objectives of the company. You can even find it in ancillary stakeholders.

Receptivity is the path in. It doesn’t mean that you have what you need to create or to win an opportunity, only that you may have found a way to gain access to the rest of the organization. It means you found a source of access and information, and you need that access and information.

Dissatisfaction: Opportunities aren’t created when everything is going swimmingly well. Opportunities are created when there are problems or challenges.

Some of you will challenge the idea that dissatisfaction is necessary. You may argue that opportunities are created when your dream client has a potential opportunity of their own, and that it doesn’t require dissatisfaction. If it requires your help, then the problem is not having what they need to capitalize on the opportunity. It’s all dissatisfaction; it’s a gap between current state and a desired future state.

Dissatisfaction can (and does) exist at all levels of an organization. The executive management has challenges in competing and growing in their space, and they have crushing pressures to produce results that are measured each quarter. The management stakeholders have dissatisfaction in the challenges they have in executing, in serving their own clients, and in producing the results that roll up to executive management’s financial results. Lower in the organization, you find end-users who are dissatisfied with the things that prevent them from producing the results that they are required to produce. It’s everywhere, top to bottom.

Whatever you sell, whether it is a product, a service, or some form of solution, you won the clients you have because you solved some form of dissatisfaction. It preceded your opportunity, and you found it and used it to create an opportunity. Or you created dissatisfaction by helping your client to see that there was in fact a gap.

Authority: To win an opportunity, someone has to have the authority to sign off on a deal. I have heard some salespeople wrongly discuss needing a C-level executive for a deal that could be easily be made without needing a C-level executive at all. I have also watched salespeople fail miserably because they didn’t locate the source of authority necessary to make a deal. These salespeople believed that receptivity and dissatisfaction were enough to win; they’re not.

Authority is not a simple idea, and it’s not always easy to find. But it does exist on a continuum, with the authority to make smaller, less complex, less strategic decision existing at lower levels within the organization. Larger, more complex, and more strategic decisions tend to require a greater level of formal authority. Wherever it is, you have to find it.

More Than Foundational, Political

To gain a real understanding and complete a real stakeholder analysis, you need to move beyond the foundational. There are other, more complicated and complex factors that need to be considered.

These ideas aren’t for the feint of heart, and I apologize in advance if some of this sounds a little Machiavellian. Some of it is in fact a little Machiavellian. Politics is a blood sport, despite any appearances to the contrary. The fact that you don’t like politics doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that you benefit in any way from ignoring the politics, the silos, and the turf wars.

Influence, Authority, and Power: In sales, we tend to focus far too little of our attention on influence and power, and instead focus our attention on formal authority. Because we need someone with formal authority to sign an agreement, we focus our attention, our energy, and sales efforts on that individual—often to our detriment.The real power can and does exist in other individuals and in other groups of individuals, even if these groups need someone with formal authority to sign an agreement.

In every organization, there are people who influence other people within the organization. They possess a moral authority and leadership role that isn’t found on an organizational chart. They may show up as an end-user when you look at an organizational chart, but they may have enough influence to be the real source of power.

An easy example would be a Vice President of Manufacturing who is weak and challenged by his peer group and a strong Plant Manager. It’s easy to believe that you need the Vice President’s signature, when in reality he may himself be on an island, ostracized by his peers. The decision may be made by the Plant Manager who is has deep relationships with the Chief Executive Officer and her Chief Operations Officer. You can’t see this power or influence on an organizational chart, but it exists nonetheless, and it is formidable.

Your stakeholder analysis has to take influence, authority, and power into consideration.

What is the person’s title? What are their roles and responsibilities? (This information gives you some idea as to what their basic concerns are—or what they should be.)

With whom do they have formal relationships? Who reports to them? To whom do they report? (This information allows you to see the organization as it exists on paper, the formal organization. It also allows you to begin to outline a path and determine who is necessary to a deal. It allows you to start to visualize the path and how power really travels through the organization.)

Who do they influence? Who influences them? Who do they trust? (This information allows you to determine where the real power resides. It helps you find the real buying committee and to design a sales strategy that builds consensus around your solution and stacks the deck in your favor. If you feel bad about this idea, it is helpful to remember that this is how work gets done within your client’s organization—and your own. Some people with power build consensus with their peers. One other critical fact here to remember is that much of the real selling occurs between these groups after you have left the building; they keep selling.)

Who has the real power? (There is often a person or a group of people without whom you cannot create or win an opportunity. Don’t look only to the C-Level executives on your organizational chart. Instead look to who has the greatest influence and who has the real power. Most C-Level executives trust their people. Most of them listen to the consensus of the individuals that are closest to the problems, closest to the decision, and who will ultimately own the outcome. You may spend an hour with a C-level executive, but their people have her time and attention when you are gone—their access and their responsibilities give them a greater influence than you may possess now–or ever.)

Who has the formal authority? (None of this is to suggest that you can ignore the formal organization or power. Sometimes, you need a signature. You may need the person or people with the real power to get you to the point where you can get that signature, but you need to know and understand what is going to be required of you to obtain it.)

Motivating Factors: Dissatisfaction is the motivator. But there are other, more complicated reasons that people buy. Take a deep breathe, some of this is a bit unpleasant.

Within companies, there is a struggle for power. Your product, your services, and your solutions can end up smack in the middle of a struggle for power between departments who are vying for resources, and between individuals who are vying for position, authority, and power.

Maybe your product, service, or solution is the sexiest thing that marketing has ever seen; they absolutely have to have it. Your very same offering may look like something that gives the engineering or manufacturing department nightmares. At the same time, there may exist a personal struggle to define the future of your dream client’s company, with turf wars between departments and between individuals to define that future. This is occurring whether you are aware of it or not.

Then, there are the defenders of the status quo. Your solution may bring dramatic changes and kill the status quo. The defenders of the status quo can organize against you and any consensus you have built. Sometimes the most powerful motivating factor against you and your solution is that “it isn’t the way we do things around here.”

What is motivating the individuals I am working with? (How you sell may depend on these motivating factors. Who you need on your team may depend on these motivating factors. Even though you may not be interested in playing politics, politics may be interested in playing you.)

Constraining Factors

There are constraining factors that can kill your opportunity. Some of these exist because what you do to produce a result for your clients may be in conflict with some other results that the client must also be able to produce. These constraints can be the root cause of the conflict between individuals and departments, and they can put you in the center of a political conflict.

Where does my product, service, or solution cause a problem for some stakeholders? How can that problem be overcome or mitigated? (Asking and answering these questions can help you to surface the motivations to kill your solution. Once you surface these ideas, you can work to overcome the politics, and, if you are really savvy, you can find a way to mitigate the problems that your solution causes some of the obstacles between you and a deal.)

There are also human constraints. There are some people who will do whatever is necessary to kill your opportunity, sometimes with good and pure intentions, and sometimes because they have political motives.

Who is likely to kill this opportunity and why? What are their personal motivations? (Some of the people within your dream client company have vendors with whom they have long and successful relationships. Some of them have a political axe to grind with another department and they are going to grind that axe on your opportunity—and maybe on you! You and the team of stakeholders you assemble are going to have to deal with this reality, even if it is an unspoken reality).

This is a longer, and still incomplete, course in stakeholder analysis. But these ideas and these questions are enough to start you down the right path in figuring out what you need to know and what actions you need to take to effectively move your complex opportunity from target to close.

Questions

When as an opportunity complex enough to require a stakeholder analysis?

How do you determine who really has power and influence? Is it always the person with organizational chart authority?

What questions do you need to answer to find a successful path through your dream client company?

Is it possible to avoid your dream client’s politics and still win? Is it better ignore them and hope for the best?

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