Why understanding stakeholders is essential to successful marketing plans?
B2B marketers are doers, and we love to get things done in a quick, cheap, and efficient way. That’s just how we’re wired.
When we need to create a plan for our marketing strategy, we tend to open up PowerPoint and just get started drafting and writing; we’ve been on the job for a while, and we know the ins and outs, right?
Some of us may even know the competitive landscape and past campaign results by heart.
But one pre-requisite tends to be skipped or overlooked when marketers (myself included) embark on their marketing plan preparation: to interview and talk to your stakeholders.
Examples of internal stakeholders include the CMO, VP of Sales, Business Unit Executive, product team directors, or even subject matter experts.
Many have expectations about what marketing should do, so it’s essential to consider their feedback when you put your marketing plan together.
Ultimately, your marketing plan consists of two key elements:
- Your recommendations on what marketing should do to achieve business objectives.
- Your response to internal stakeholders’ concerns.
Most of us (again, myself included) only focus on the first of those two things.
I ran into a situation where I presented my plan and didn’t review it with sales management in advance.
During my presentation, they pointed out several gaps I didn’t address. I lost credibility in front of management, and they rushed the meeting.
That’s not a situation you want to experience.
That’s why it’s imperative to interview your stakeholders in advance to get quality feedback.
This way, you will minimize confusion and set clear expectations when you present your plan; plus, it shows that you care about stakeholders’ feedback and are willing to incorporate their points of view into your deck. It’s a win-win strategy.
Here are 3 key tips to prepare for your interviews:
- Determine interview formats
- Do your homework
- Create relevant interview questions
Determining the interview format
With interview formats, it’s best to conduct your interviews face-to-face. We’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Still, many people feel more comfortable meeting in person if they’re in the same general area. If it’s geographically feasible, offer your stakeholders a cup of coffee or lunch as an incentive. Gestures like this go a long way to show your stakeholders that you appreciate their valuable time and insights.
If meeting face-to-face isn’t possible, host a virtual meeting instead. Make sure to be as accommodating as possible concerning scheduling, and turn your camera on so invitees can see your face. Ideally, you’ll be able to see them as well because I believe it’s really valuable to be able to read facial expressions and body language. That said, be aware that some people prefer a camera-off chat, which is okay.
Whether or not you go the in-person or virtual route, don’t forget to record the session (with guests’ permission) so that you can go back and watch/listen to the commentary again if necessary.
Doing your homework to understand your stakeholders
Here is a list of preliminary questions to answer to understand your stakeholders better before you engage with them:
- What do they do?
- What does their organizational structure look like?
- How does that group stand with the overall company organization structure?
- How do you or your team engage or support them?
- Are they happy with your support?
- Do the top management teams from the two groups get along?
- Are there any unresolved conflicts or issues that you are aware of?
- Are there any political do’s and don’ts you must know?
If you’ve been with the company for a while, you are probably aware of the overall relationship between your group and your stakeholders. If you’re new, talk to other team members to get the gist of working relationships before reaching out to your stakeholders.
You definitely don’t want to sound ignorant in front of your stakeholders, so make sure you understand the history before setting up 1:1 meetings. You also want to show that you value their time, so in addition to doing your homework, you’ll want to prepare thoughtful questions before your meetings.
Preparing a list of questions in advance
Take control of the interview process by creating a list of relevant questions. Asking the right questions is the best way to gather intelligence and information, making your stakeholders feel valued and appreciated.
So, what kind of questions should you ask stakeholders?
Here are 5 main questions to consider as a starting point, but you’ll definitely want to expand on and customize these in ways that make sense:
- What are stakeholders’ challenges and concerns?
- What’s the main focus for the upcoming year?
- What’s the feedback regarding campaigns, results, or service and support provided by your team or marketing?
- What can we do to improve?
- What else can we do to help?
In addition to tailoring the questions you ask based on your general situation, you’ll also want to adjust your questions based on whom you talk to. Insights will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder, so try to make your questions as personal as possible.
If you interview a finance person, I’d bring budget-related and actual expenses-related questions to the interview.
If you interview the product team, I suggest you discuss personas, messaging, and product roadmaps as part of the interview.
Some stakeholders may give you a laundry list when you ask about their challenges and concerns. That’s expected and totally okay.
Make sure you end your interview on a good note by asking what you can do better
You don’t need to solve world hunger, but listen to stakeholders’ suggestions and determine what you can add to your plan.
This gesture not only shows that you listen but that you are also willing to take action to address their needs.
A marketing plan aims to show how you will work with others as a team to achieve your business goals.
By getting their feedback in advance, you are making allies before you present it to your executives and management team.
Of course, this is all just a jumping-off point; check out my YouTube video for even more tips on understanding and engaging with your stakeholders.
Reach out if you have any questions on how to create your marketing plan.