Stakeholder engagement can be defined as the way you interact, work, collaborate and build relationships with your internal clients.
As a BD / Marketing professional, it’s one of the most important aspects of your role, as most business will have several important stakeholders who you will need to gain buy-in from in order to actually do your job. This especially applies in a professional services environment.
Relationship management moves you beyond delivering a pitch or the creation of collateral. It means honing in on what your stakeholders actually have to market or pitch themselves and what client or potential client relationships they want to develop.
Stakeholder management is what moves you from simply executing a marketing or BD task to becoming a bonified marketing, bids or BD consultant. It’s also a large part of what makes someone a Manager rather than an Executive.
What is Manager level stakeholder engagement?
One of the largest step changes from being a junior member of the BD and marketing team and moving into management is your exposure to Partners and other senior stakeholders as well as greater responsibility placed on you to nurture the relationship you have with them. This will continue to increase as you become more senior and will often coincide with greater input and responsibility in the delivery of a business plan, strategy, budgets or ownership of projects which differs from being given a project and executing, coordinating or assisting with it.
So, how do you identify your senior stakeholder(s)?
This may sound like a simple task but, especially within partnerships, this is not necessarily the case.
Christine Baltas, a Senior BD professional with over 15 years’ experience in professional services has kindly provided insight: “The first place to start when seeking to identify key senior stakeholders is to work with the structure of your firm. Who are the leaders and operators? Another great option is to simply ask your colleagues their opinion. Your team will also be able to provide background intelligence to corroborate your views.”
There will naturally be stakeholders that are more or less bought into marketing / BD efforts. Equally, there will be those who you will need to develop relationships with because of their importance within the business.
Christine’s point about asking your team for insight is imperative. This will enable you to know not only who your senior stakeholders are but also how they operate, what their motivators are and how they tend to engage with the marketing / BD team. You want to be on the front foot.
Christine continues: “as you begin to build your stakeholder group, it's also important to ask the opinions of those you are connecting with. If you are looking after a particular sector or project, build a road map of the leaders in that group, consider who they collaborate or partner with and this will help you build a picture of your wider stakeholders.”
Understanding who influences the stakeholders you want to engage with is all important in being able to develop your relationships and stakeholder engagement.
Christine surmises “As Managers, it is important to consider that the diverse opinions of stakeholders are critical in developing robust strategies and initiatives. Senior stakeholders will come from wider parts of the business too, not just your fee earners. Think about the other business services leaders such as Operations and HR. Building on these relationships will help you understand the big picture and enable you to have support and buy-in at a wider strategic level.”
This is a great point and one often forgotten in partnership environments. The most effective operators in any business are excellent networkers, developing integral relationships across the entire business, understanding the people they need to impress, those that will get things done and key business influencers.
This not only enhances your ability to do your job - because you know who to go to, can ask questions and get things done well - it also ensures you have stakeholders onside, backing your cause and shouting about your good work when the time for promotion arises.
Remember that Partners are people!
In professional services, the partnership is the BD and Marketing professional’s first client; and it is critical for firms to provide value to their clients and in turn important for BD and Marketing teams to add value to the partnership.
How do you add value?
Be prepared with ideas but also listen.
Rory Grant, a Senior BD Manager who has previously been a lawyer, advises that the key is getting to know your Partners and be genuinely curious about them. Not just their business development and marketing activity but them as a person. If you can build a rapport with a person, the business talk comes easy.
Rory suggests; “Keep a note of what your key stakeholders have been up to recently and remember to ask them about it when you next see them. Building that rapport is no different to building a friendship. If you show interest in someone else, they’re more likely to be receptive to you and what you have to say”. This is true in any working relationship and especially applies here.
Rory also advises that; “a smart executive works with their manager to set objectives to get involved with stakeholders. This proactive approach will both highlight your intentions but also demonstrate that you are taking initiative with your own development.
One example of this may be in preparation of meetings with partners, to agree set discussion points with your manager that you can lead. This will enable you to have a voice, build direct rapport with partners and develop your own confidence.”
At the most basic level, stakeholder engagement is the art of making friends and influencing people, building relationships and getting buy-in.
When you become a BD or Marketing Manager, stakeholder management is crucial. It’s about becoming a consultant to your internal clients, rather than just delivering everything they ask for without question. It’s also about developing your own internal network of advocates. By nurturing and developing these internal relationships, you’ll be far more effective in gaining buy-in and in delivering on your objectives.
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