How to build rapport with your stakeholders
Building relationships with your stakeholders doesn't happen overnight, but over time, you have to be present and deliver consistent results to them. Uncover how you can build rapport with your stakeholders and manage your relationships with them.
Engaging with your stakeholders can be challenging, but it’s one of the most critical contributors to your organizational success. Interacting and communicating with crucial decision-makers helps your organization strategize its short and long-term goals by setting expectations and securing stakeholder buy-in early.
While successfully interacting and communicating with your stakeholders helps build rapport, it doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, building rapport will become easier as you consistently deliver results. With that in mind, here are three ways to build stakeholder rapport:
1. Understand who your stakeholders are
2. Communicate with honesty and transparency
3. Create/use the proper communication channels
1. Understand who your stakeholders are
Setting expectations with your stakeholders early on can help make your procurement projects successful. In addition, they will feel encouraged to be more involved and motivated.
To promptly secure buy-in with your stakeholders, you should understand who external and internal stakeholders are and how they will influence and impact your procurement process.
Mapping out your stakeholders
You can use a stakeholder map to determine which stakeholders are critical to your project. These maps assist in identifying them, putting you in a better position to communicate and elicit information. You can create them manually or through a software application to construct a visual of all stakeholder relationships, ranging from your C-suite executives to your customer base. Here’s how you can create your stakeholder map.
1. Identify potential stakeholders
The first step is brainstorming who your key stakeholders are. They can be internal stakeholders (e.g., your company’s top leadership, team members, project managers, and department supervisors) or external stakeholders, such as your client, their team, and potential end-users.
As you evaluate possible stakeholders, think about the following:
- Who has the most influence on this project?
- Who will be most impacted by this project?
- Who controls the resources I need?
- Who has a financial stake or interest?
- Who might be an essential person but not a central stakeholder (i.e., a different department head)?
2. Prioritize stakeholders
Now that you have a solid list of stakeholders, it’s time to prioritize them based on their impact and influence on your project. In other words, you are categorizing your stakeholders based on their ability to bring out the desired changes and how involved they are.
It’s important to uncover who these key players are so you can effectively communicate with this stakeholder group and create buy-in throughout the project. By organizing each stakeholder according to their influence and impact, you can determine what action(s) you need to take, including:
- Keep satisfied (high influence, low impact)
- Manage closely (high influence, high impact)
- Inform regularly (low influence, high impact)
- Monitor and anticipate needs (low influence, low impact)
For example, stakeholders that can set deadlines and the project schedule would be classified as high impact. If you’re unsure whom to place on your stakeholder map, here are some stakeholders to consider for your map.
Your finished stakeholder map might look something like this:
3. Create a plan for engaging with stakeholders
Once you have that information, you can create a plan for communicating with stakeholders throughout your project.
You may want to consider factors such as
- Who has an emotional interest?
- What are the top motivations or priorities for each stakeholder?
- Who are the biggest supporters or sympathizers?
- Who are the blockers or naysayers?
The answers to these questions will affect how and when you should engage with each stakeholder. They will also help you identify your biggest allies on your project team and anticipate potential roadblocks to your project.
Use the map you've created to chart where different players align on the matrix and take note of their motivations, priorities, and level of support. It's also essential to utilize people with pre-existing connections to your stakeholders so you can uncover and map out those who might be able to persuade less-enthusiastic players.
“Everyone has their own agenda and it’s essential to understand your role in the business. At Vendr, I work with our buyers and customer success managers and it’s important to know their responsibilities and roles so that we know our parts when helping our suppliers get what they need. Set up 10 minutes to get to know who you’ll be working with. It will be easier to ask anything you need once you get comfortable and that relationship will develop over time.”
-Samantha Swartz, Procurement Specialist, Vendr
2. Communicate with honesty and transparency
It’s essential to communicate with your stakeholders transparently. Conflicts can arise without effective communication within the team, and projects can fail.
Maintaining open, two-way communication with stakeholders about the overall status of a campaign helps keep them up-to-date on its progress and milestones.
Here are a few ways that you can improve your communication with stakeholders.
Be attentive and listen empathetically
Let your stakeholders speak their minds and dominate the conversation. Doing this will help you get the whole story regarding stakeholder needs, their workload, the blockers and challenges they face when doing their tasks, and any concerns that come up.
Pay attention to your stakeholder’s emotions when they speak. At the same time, maintain eye contact and notice nonverbal cues such as fidgeting or adjusting their hands.
If you’re meeting with your stakeholder over Zoom, focusing on the way they tilt their head is a great way to gauge their interest and engagement. In addition, how your speaker holds their head is a sign of confidence.
While there are many more nonverbal cues to read over Zoom, they offer valuable insight into how your stakeholder feels.
In between conversational lulls, take time for yourself to deliberate and for the speaker to reflect.
Echoing and mirroring
Your stakeholders will feel heard when you repeat what they say. In addition, you’ll ensure that the right message is being conveyed. Take a look at a couple of examples below:
- “So what I’m hearing you say is ________. Is that right?”
- “You’re saying that _________. Do I have that correct?”
Expressing curiosity in your questions will show that you’re genuinely interested in your key stakeholder’s needs and concerns. Here are some questions that you can tailor for your own use:
- “How does this project affect you and your team?”
- “What do you think the impact of this project will be for this organization?”
- “What obstacles or concerns do you have for this project moving forward?”
After meetings, you should consistently put in effort to follow up with your stakeholders. It shows that you really care about the issues or concerns that they’ve bought up and that you have a stake in its outcome.
“The biggest thing is communication - early and often. I worry about incorrect messaging being passed down so, for me, it's important to over-communicate and make sure that my messaging is focused. The other piece is humility. Take the time to listen to others. Apologize when you're wrong. People love sharing their expertise, and asking them to share what they know can go a long way in building a trusting relationship”
-Chelsea O’Connor, Procurement Specialist, Vendr
3. Create/utilize the right communication channels
Keeping your team in the loop can be difficult. You may not know which channels to use because some stakeholders are different from others when it comes to receiving or giving information.
Once you've identified your stakeholders, mapped them out, and met with them, follow up with them about their communication preferences, what information they would like to receive, how often they want it, and in what format.
It’s important not to assume that every one of your stakeholders wants the same level of involvement, like daily updates or invites to weekly stand-ups.
Here are some questions you can ask and tailor for your use in the stakeholder engagement process:
- How do you prefer to receive information and updates? Do you prefer formal or informal communication? Which tools are you comfortable with using to receive updates?
- In projects, how often do you usually receive updates from your colleagues? What kind of information or updates do you typically receive from them?
- What information do you personally care about regarding this project? For instance, are you mainly interested in the project's key milestones or a high-level overview of the project’s budget?
After you’ve understood their preferences, you’ll establish a nice communication cadence. Consistent cadence makes them feel they are always in the loop and helps build transparency and trust within your team.
An optimal way to keep everybody on the same page is to establish a communication plan between you and your stakeholders. It is also a perfect opportunity to discuss any stakeholder communication preferences so that you can track them.
You can even use project or workflow management tools (such as Asana or Jira), which help determine what tasks need to be completed and any roadblocks that must be cleared before moving on to the next task.
Having a kickoff meeting to discuss important tasks and potential roadblocks helps set the tone for your stakeholders on who is doing what, keeping everybody involved.
“Personally, I use templates that I then personalize for each stakeholder. It helps keep things organized and personal, and it helps with standardizing communication. In addition, it’s important to limit unnecessary communication. For example, if I’m communicating about an event and the event’s not time-sensitive, I may wait to discuss it in an already scheduled meeting. However, If something is time-sensitive, I’ll bring it up immediately with my stakeholders.”
-Olesya Tehan, Procurement Specialist, Vendr
Finally, just because someone attended a meeting or saw an email doesn’t mean they completely understood what you said. Recap what was discussed and keep it concise so your stakeholders can easily retain information.
How you can build and nurture relationships with your stakeholders
Building relationships with your internal stakeholders leads to cross-collaborating on innovative solutions to get around bottlenecks in your procurement projects/processes. Develop your relationships with them early because you’ll help secure buy-in sooner rather than later, and they’ll be receptive when discussing your ideas.
Stakeholder engagement goes beyond making informed decisions based on the insightful perspectives of different stakeholders, as it also creates an environment of trust and accountability.
How Vendr can help manage your stakeholder relationships
Software solutions like Vendr can help you build and manage your stakeholder relationships with organized renewal calendars to provide more time for proactivity and a secure place to centralize contracts.
The success of your procurement department is tied to how well they work with their stakeholders and what they can do to help them succeed in their goals. Ultimately, how well your stakeholders achieve their outcomes is linked with you and the organization’s successes.