Seven thoughts on stakeholder management, engagement and buy-In – Workshop summary (April 2021)

This post is for the fabulous delegates at the recent PM Forum  session on stakeholder management, engagement and buy-in. I don’t want to repeat what I have written about in previous stakeholder management, engagement and buy-in blogs so I have selected just seven thoughts from the emerging themes at the workshop.


Selling ideas internally (which is what buy-in is all about) is no different to selling externally to clients. First, we have to develop empathy, rapport and trust with those we want to influence. Then we have to learn about their view of the world and the daily pressures they face. Then we explore their needs – the pains or problems they want to relieve or the ambitions they want to achieve. At this stage we are in a position to package up what we want them to think or do in terms of the value or benefits it delivers to them. We have to constantly ask ourselves – from their point of view “What’s in it for me?”. There is a short video on persuasion  and this is a good book on persuasion.  For those with little sales experience, I have listed some introductory sales books.

Bite-sized pieces

It is, of course, important that we have a “big picture” plan of where we want to be – a vision of the future. We also need to know each of the steps to get us there. But for those we are trying to engage, once we have presented the persuasive vision of the future we need to break things down into bite-sized pieces for them tackle. What do we specifically want them to do today, tomorrow and next week? In the excellent book How to change when change is hard” the authors advocate three elements for any successful change: 1. The rational argument (the business case) 2. The emotional motivation and 3. The first, small step to start the process.

Content and Delivery

As with all persuasive communications there are two elements – the content or WHAT we want to say and the delivery or HOW we say it. A breakout session group demonstrated beautifully that often we have fantastic content but pay insufficient time in how that content is best delivered for the target audience. In a way that resonates and connects with the fee-earners. This post explores the issues in preparing the content and delivery for pitches and the principles are similar.

Cultural change

You don’t need me to tell you that marketing and business development professionals have a really tough job. Often, what we need to do flies in the face of the traditions and established culture of our firms. So while it may seem like we are tackling a simple task – in effect we are swimming against the tide. Battling against years of tradition, culture and entrenched behaviour. We are  driving cultural change. And it’s really tough. So let’s be kind to ourselves and recognise that we are doing a really important job and making critical but baby steps towards changing our firm’s culture each and every day. Look at techniques to deal with resistance.  I found this book on using neuroscience to drive organisational change helpful.

Expectations Management

It’s natural that we get excited about the potential impact of a new system, policy, process or project. However, our enthusiasm might mean that we inflate expectations beyond what is realistically likely to be achieved in the short term. So we get people excited and motivated about something – they make a big effort and invest lots of time – but nothing happens. So they become disillusioned or frustrated and stop trying. So whilst we must share an exciting vision, we must also manage expectations. It can take a while for the benefits of new data or systems or processes to be realized. The sales cycle in professional services can be long. So under promise and over-deliver to keep them engaged.

Influencers and role models

I read some research recently that said if the dominant monkey in a tribe does something – all the others in the tribe will quickly do the same. So we can save ourselves a lot of time by targeting the most senior and/or influential member of a group and getting them to adopt the new behaviour first. Then all the others will follow. Never underestimate the power of role models in professional services – they are the best influencers. During the workshop we looked at a number of tools to help segment and analyse our stakeholder groups.

Regular reminders

Humans spend 70-90% of their time on auto-pilot – in habitual and familiar (and often unconscious) patterns of behaviour. So it takes enormous effort (and a tolerance of risk) to change behaviour. A simple way to prompt behaviour change is to remind people regularly to do something. A 15 minute slot in their calendar to remind someone to do something – repeated every week – might help. Yes, they are likely to over-ride or delete it a lot. But the message will get through eventually and you might just find that the constant reminders pique their conscience into action on occasion.

This 10 minute video summarises – in a fun way using animals – 11 top tips to help with buy-in.


Delegate poll results

Delegates represented different levels of seniority. There was an even split between those with a broad marketing and business development role and those focused on specific areas such as CRM or events. Delegates were from law firms, accountancy practices and management consultancies. During the session, there were various polls. The results were interesting.

Topics of interest There was an even split amongst the delegates on the topics of most interest:

  • Managing stakeholders
  • Improving internal engagement
  • Achieving rational buy-in
  • Achieving emotional buy-in

Business case The majority (65%) had produced a business case for the change they wanted to implement – and the rest are now working on this

Fee-earner engagement Most firms have some way to go on engaging fee-earners in M&BD

  • 65% felt 25% to 50% of their fee-earners were engaged
  • 35% felt that 50% to 75% of their fee-earners were engaged

Resistance The main reasons for resistance to change were an evenly split:

  • 25% Lack of fee-earner time
  • 25% Lack of fee-earner motivation
  • 25% Lack of data
  • 25% Perception of marketing and business development

Key takeaways

The key takeaways for the delegates were:

  • Inclusion – Everyone is a stakeholder to some extent so we need to tailor communications accordingly.
  • Empathy  – Learn more about the views and pressures of those we hope to engage as their priorities rarely include marketing and business development.
  • Adaptation – Understand why people behave the way they do (e.g. forceful “bulldozers”) and develop strategies to work with them rather than against them. There are many resources for dealing with “difficult” behaviours including:
  • Influence – Consider how each of the stakeholders can influence others and identify the most important role models.
  • Education – Where people’s views are tainted by the limitations of past systems, get them to think about what their ideal system would look like and how it would transform their work. This book on compassionate coaching demonstrates the need for a positive future vision in achieving change.
  • Process – Build on successful processes and best practice so that desired behaviours become embedded in daily life.
  • Evidence – Benefits, results and ROI information provides evidence of what works.

These themes – and others on building internal relationships – are covered in my 2018 book published by Bloomsbury “Better Business Relationships” .

Related subject: Change management

There are many other posts about the overall topic of change management, for example:

Change management basics – personal and organisational change (

change process – Emotions when reacting to change (

Change management and Employee engagement (

thoughts on managing change and leadership (

Change management and creativity – the adaptive third (

Your personal transition – Endings, neutral zone and new beginnings (

Change management – Change Catalyst book review by Kim Tasso

change management and organisational change (