What is important to have a successful stakeholder relationship? Trust. Gaining trust is the quintessential keystone to a successful engagement; getting the client on your side ensures you give the project the best chance of success.

When meeting my stakeholders for the first time, my three primary goals for the engagement are to:
1.      Come prepared; this means going into meetings with the proper knowledge on their category, supplier base, spend and potential strategy options that best suit their needs
2.      Encourage collaborative thinking and communication through comprehensive conversation, brainstorming and goal setting while keeping the stakeholder’s category strategy and goal in mind
3.      Gain trust by showcasing my expertise and speaking their language, “Marketing Speak”

I have found through my experience that with these three mindsets, I have been very successful in gathering all of the information I need to present a comprehensive opportunity assessment and strategic plan for project execution and success. Where I want to draw your attention is to the term “Marketing Speak”; when you speak someone’s language in any aspect of relationship engagement, don’t you find it easier to communicate in a more fluid and open manner? The same goes for stakeholder engagement. Marketing speak, specifically within marketing procurement, refers to utilizing marketing terminology when speaking with your stakeholders to showcase your expertise in marketing. For example, if you are you working on a Content Syndication project, you should understand what content syndication is, what it is used for, how it is typically priced and the benefits/downfalls it may produce; this alone will show your stakeholders that you know what you are talking about, gain their trust and as a result, they will naturally open up and provide the information you need to execute a positive project outcome.

Speaking the stakeholders language is only one piece of the puzzle to gaining trust; you not only need to come prepared to the meeting but to continuously encourage collaboration. Keep in mind, the kickoff meeting sets the tone and image for the entire engagement! Going into a kickoff meeting with a knowledgeable team and applicable plan(s) will help you get the most out of your discussion with the client and the stakeholders; it’s crucial for your team to do their homework and know as much as possible about the client and project before questions are asked that should be. It’s also significant for the team to work together to come up with a few applicable strategies that are going to instill confidence in the client and to collectively align ahead of time, so that valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time isn’t wasted with internal debates with the client watching, who rest assure me, will become progressively apprehensive that your team doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

Communication, communication, communication! I cannot say it enough how imperative collaborative, clear and empathetic (yes, empathetic!) communication is to a successful engagement. Let’s discuss the shocking word, empathy, which isn’t present in many business transactions. You must establish a human connection by being empathetic to your stakeholder’s situation; you and your team just walked in and to them, you are potentially taking over, diminishing or completely wiping out their job. This absolutely causes stakeholders, the information keepings, to regress and not engage in open conversation; this is why being empathetic to their situation, setting the tone of collaborative synergies, conversations and working towards the same goal is a positive and calming way to kick off a project. What can you do to ensure this? Discover your stakeholder’s goals, apply strategies that that support said goals, establish teamwork and constantly provide transparency and drive communication over and over again.
Again, gaining trust is the quintessential keystone to a successful engagement; getting the client on your side ensures you give the project the best chance of success. Practice and implement the three primary goals for a successful engagement and you (and your client) will push through projects, roadblocks and successes together.
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Liz Skipor

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