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Selling it to the Stakeholders

~ By Kenneth Darter

Man buying an idea

No project exists in a vacuum. There are a myriad of people concerned about how the project is going, what the problems are and when it will be finished. These people are often referred to as stakeholders; they are the ones who have sponsored the project, or paid for it, or are responsible for the outcome of the project. It is often the project manager’s job to sell "something" to these stakeholders; that "something" might be simply the project status, or it might be changes to the project, or the need for more time and money. Whatever it is, the project manager should be prepared to sell it to the stakeholders so that the project can move forward. A few strategies can help the project manager become a better salesperson.

Substance Versus Flash

Some salespeople like to use flashy techniques and misdirection to make a sale without concerning themselves with the customer’s well being. This style might generate a short-term sale, but it does not build up a long-term customer base. While a nice PowerPoint presentation with flashy graphics and a jazzy message might help the project manager get his point across, it is important that the project manager does not rely on those techniques without including the substance. The stakeholders are long-term customers when it comes to project management. They should be provided with solid and truthful information, instead of just another fancy presentation with no real sustenance.

What's in It for Them?

Every buyer wants to know that they are getting a good deal. This is why stores sell some items as loss leaders; if the customer comes into the store for a great deal on a camera, then the store hopes they will buy a bunch of accessories as well (at full price of course). A project manager will not want to play such a shell game with the stakeholders, but they will need to know what the benefit is to them. Perhaps the project needs to be delayed and the project manager must get the stakeholders to buy into the new finish date. They will need to know what they are getting out of the date change; is there additional testing to be done that will create a more stable system, or are there requirements that were not factored into the original schedule that must be done in order for the system to meet new regulations. These are the kinds of messages the project manager must bring to the stakeholders during a sales pitch on delaying the finish date.

Know Your Audience

A salesman must know who he is selling to in order to be effective. You cannot sell a luxury car to someone who needs a work truck, and you cannot sell a work truck to a mother with three children. The project manager should understand clearly who the stakeholders are and what they expect before attempting to communicate to them, or sell them on something about the project. The CEO and the CFO need vastly different information about the project, and the status of what is going on should be tailored to meet their needs. The CEO will need a high level overview while the CFO will be focused on the finances of the project. Whatever the message is to the stakeholders, the project manager should tailor it based on how well he knows the stakeholders and that will make the message much more effective.

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