Who determines whether your business achieves its goals and realizes its vision? Who impacts the trajectory of your company? And who is impacted by it? Your stakeholders. Knowing who they are, and what they want, need, and care about, enables you to build a bridge that connects your interests to theirs. As the importance of knowledge in business grows, identifying your key stakeholders – the people who need that knowledge to move your business forward – is critical.
The People Who Matter – Inside and Outside Your Company
Your company has two distinct – but equally essential – groups of stakeholders:
Internal: These are the people within your organization who have a stake in your success. Internal stakeholders – anyone from a senior leader to a customer-facing employee to your core service providers or product makers – have a hand in moving your business forward.
External: Individuals outside your company also play an important role. Your customers, prospects, vendors, social media influencers, governmental agencies, potential hires, and others are impacted by your decisions and actions. These are the people with whom you do business. Their actions also determined your success.
Thinking Beyond Generalizations
Though heaped together as groups, not all internal stakeholders are the same, nor are all external stakeholders.
Internal: Transferring knowledge effectively means understanding the audience in a highly targeted and strategic manner. It’s not enough to simply talk about “employees”, as a general audience. For instance, you may have different departments, or categories of staff. Sub-segmenting talent by their roles within the business enables you to tailor your message more effectively. Surely your engineers require at least some different messaging and training than your customer service agents. These stakeholders have diverse cares, concerns, and needs – which you start to uncover when you identify them.
External: The same applies for your external stakeholders. For example, when you’re talking about “customers”, who exactly do you mean? You need to break down this broad, and tremendously diverse, category by product line, by geography, or even by demographic. These customers buy differently; they think about your product differently, and they want it for different reasons. They all have a stake, but that stake may look different.
A Stakeholder Ecosystem
How do you get started?
1. Create one big stakeholder ecosystem. Write down everyone who plays a role in your company’s success, from the senior leadership team to frontline reps to vendors to administrative staff.
2. Think about ways to sub-segment stakeholders. As mentioned above, a customer isn’t just a customer. They could be budget-conscious customers who want your product because it is durable and value-priced. They could be status-conscious customers who want it because it is the sleekest, most advanced product on the market and they care about being early adopters. When you identify a group of internal or external stakeholders, break it down further.
3. Prioritize. You will quickly have a whiteboard full of people with a stake in your company. As Harvard Business Review’s Graham Kenny writes:
“In no time at all you’ll have a large list – and potentially a nightmare. If you don’t focus on the relationships that matter most, [you] will be running in all directions, not meeting anyone’s needs very well.”1
Before that nightmare comes to fruition, realize that some of these stakeholders are more important than others. Dr. Kenny suggests asking targeted questions to start narrowing down your list, including: “Does the stakeholder have a fundamental impact on your organization’s performance?” And, “Can you exist without or easily replace the stakeholder?”2
Always map back to your goals: prioritize stakeholders based on how impactful they will be in helping you achieve them.
4. List Your Top 10.List your top five internal stakeholders and your top five external stakeholders. For example, if your organization’s goal is to increase revenue this year, salespeople are likely among your most important stakeholders. If that revenue is going to come from existing customers, then those relationships become a priority.
5. Ask yourself, “What do these stakeholders need to know, care about, and do?”Let’s say that your salespeople are at the top of your list. They may need to know what products to sell, how to address customer pain points, and whether they have room to negotiate pricing or terms.
They may care about their quotas, competition with colleagues, their rank or status, the company and its products, or their customers. Finally, they need to act: will they hit the phones, follow up on leads that come in, go business-to-business to sell in person, or handle presentations? What does the actual sales process – the doing – look like?
The answers to these three questions – what do your stakeholders need to know, care about, and do – will inform your next steps – mapping this knowledge and mobilizing it in a way that reaches these stakeholders directly and with relevance.
The importance of knowledge in business is undoubtedly growing – but you can only gain traction when you deliver the right knowledge, to the right people, at the right times. Identifying, and prioritizing, your stakeholders is a key step in achieving success.