Who Matters? 10 Questions to Identify Stakeholders and Measure Their Influence

6 minute read

In our original post, we outlined the 5 key questions to develop a relationship strategy; in this post, we discuss identifying the person who has influence and political status – and that may or may not be the person with the highest title.

Stakeholders and Key Players – Who matters?

Everyone, of course – everyone matters. That’s the first point to make and something to always remember. Respecting everyone and being open to how you can help them and they can help you is a good place to start from. Whether you are speaking with the CEO or anyone in the C-suite, the manager who has been charged with implementing the project you are working on, the administrative assistant (especially the administrative assistant) who helps organize meetings, or the security officer at the door of the company’s office, everyone matters. They might not help you today to close the deal you are working on, and maybe they will never matter in the context of growing revenue with this customer – but everyone matters and it doesn‘t take a lot of effort to treat them respectfully. We have seen business relationships terminally damaged when a senior decision maker observed a potential supplier treating one of their employees poorly, assuming the ‘girl’ in the room was the person who should make the coffee or book the taxi, being dismissive of a junior person in a meeting, or behaving in some other disrespectful manner. Apart from the fact that everyone deserves respect, irrespective of seniority or station, treating people appropriately is the right thing to do, and it happens to be good business.

Notwithstanding all of this, there are specific people in the customer’s company who can influence decisions and make things happen. The organization chart is just one guide and frequently not one that points to the real power base in the company. Think of it like this: If someone is high in the organizational hierarchy, it doesn’t always mean that they are also high in influence. Conversely, even though someone lacks a big title, or does not report directly to the C-level in the company, they may still have significant influence over the outcome of a buying decision or the company strategy.

To determine ‘Who matters?’ in the context of your deal or account strategy, you need to understand the impact that person can have. We can call this their Level of Influence. It’s partly a function of their Rank – their position on the org chart, the formal part of the equation – but also, more importantly, their influence – the informal part, but the element that indicates the say they might have over the eventual outcome.

Who are the Key Player - graphMost people start in a new organization at the bottom left and move up in rank and out in influence. Eventually, they cross a threshold: they become aware of how the business operates – the politics of the organization. People to the right of the awareness border begin to see how the game is played.

When a person learns how to avoid the political traps and become agile enough to dodge the inevitable political conflict, they cross a second border: agility. This is the ability to anticipate events and respond quickly. This is characterized as the Political Structure of the organization.

As a person becomes astute at using their rank and influence to build power, they cross another boundary. People to the right of this line not only can respond to events and take advantage of opportunities, but they also understand how to create opportunities. This is the Inner Circle of the organization. People in the Inner Circle control what happens within the organization. They have a group of lieutenants in the Political Structure who execute their ideas and make things happen.

Key Players are people in the Inner Circle or in the Political Structure. People outside of the Political Structure – well, they just watch and wonder about what just happened.

Measuring a Stakeholder’s Level of Influence:

The following 10 questions will help you to assess the impact an individual might have:

  • Will there be a significant impact if this person says “Yes” or “No” to new initiatives and projects?

  • Is this person responsible for overall business strategy, or do they have business responsibility for solving a critical business problem (that you can solve)? Another way of asking this is: “Will this person get fired if this project/strategy/initiative fails?”

  • Do the end-users of your products report to this person, or does he represent their interests?

  • Is this person the functional leader of the team, business unit, or division, with profit/loss responsibility?

  • Do people seek out this person’s endorsement or expert opinion in areas that pertain to what you sell?

  • Is this person’s influence greater than you might expect, given his position?

  • Can this person work around the company’s policies or procedures to make things happen if he desires?

  • Is this person’s support critical where important initiatives are considered?

  • Will this person be measured on the success of your products?

  • Does this person sign-off on the financial justification for your project?

Conventional wisdom says call high – try to get to the C-suite – but this isn’t really always good advice, at least not as your sole relationship strategy. You need more information than someone’s title to determine whether they have influence. Rank does not equal influence and it is influence that you should care about.

Increasingly, particularly in large enterprise B2B commercial transactions, purchase decisions are made by buying committees. All of the individuals who are impacted by the purchase will likely have some say in the adjudication of who is the best supplier to meet their needs, and each vote will matter – though, of course, some will matter more than others.

In a Customer First world, the customer is not the company; it is the aggregate of the people who will be impacted by a buying decision. Each of these individuals will likely have an opinion based on personal experience, as well as on information they gather from the Internet and their peers in other companies. Because top-down decisions are decreasing in frequency, you will need to establish the ‘what’s in it for me?’ for everyone on the buying committee. Then you must consider how you can make sure all their interests are aligned as you uncover their needs and how your solution can add value to their role.

Continue to part two in this series.

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