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Hannah Taylor

Stakeholder Buy-In: How to Get Stakeholders on Your Side

Securing and maintaining stakeholder buy-in is vital for project success. Explore these strategies and win over even the most challenging stakeholders.

There are many factors that stand in the way of project success. But few have the power to send progress screeching to a halt altogether. One such factor is stakeholder buy-in, which is essential to attain if you want your project to succeed in the long run.

If key stakeholders lose faith in your project, it’s game over. So, how do you prevent this from happening? How do you achieve buy-in, and why are stakeholder relationships so integral to strong project management?

In this guide, we’ll answer these questions and provide our top tips for getting stakeholders on your side every time.

What is stakeholder buy-in?

To understand what buy-in is, we first need to understand what a stakeholder is in project management. In short, a stakeholder is anyone involved in the running of your project, whether you’re constructing an apartment complex or launching a brand-new app, and those whose interests may be affected by the project’s outcome.

This could include internal stakeholders, such as:

  • The people working on the project, including the development team
  • Key decision-makers whose approval you require, such as the CEO, senior leaders, or the board
  • The finance department
  • Marketing and sales teams

Or external stakeholders, like:

  • Clients
  • End users or customers
  • Investors
  • Regulatory authorities
  • The local community
  • The media

➡️ Related: Primary vs Secondary Stakeholders

So, what do we mean when we refer to ‘buy-in’ in project management? Stakeholder buy-in is about more than getting the green light for your project. It means your stakeholders have bought into your project’s value, believe in the project goals, and are committed to providing support throughout the project and championing its implementation.

Remember, buy-in is not static and can be lost over time if not maintained through careful stakeholder management.

Why is stakeholder buy-in important for project success?

As mentioned above, achieving buy-in goes beyond getting your project green-lit and plays a significant role in any project’s success. Many project managers see stakeholder management as a thorn in their side, but stakeholders provide a huge amount of value when engaged properly, becoming advocates for your project.

Here are five ways bought-in stakeholders can provide value to your project:

  • A new perspective. Stakeholder feedback is invaluable. Engaged stakeholders are more likely to provide constructive feedback regularly, offering insights you've not considered, supporting a cycle of continuous improvement, and ensuring the project meets their expectations.
  • Project advocacy. When a stakeholder is invested in a project’s success, they will advocate for it. This may mean championing projects internally, helping get other stakeholders to buy in, or encouraging others to use your service or product.
  • Removing roadblocks. Projects require funding, and if you lose the support of the person holding the purse strings — such as a client or the executive team — you can wave goodbye to future funding. On the flip side, committed stakeholders can remove roadblocks such as financial barriers by championing your project to those in charge of allocating project resources, including funding, personnel, and materials.
  • Ongoing support. Project journeys aren’t linear, and you’ll need to maintain support throughout the process, which could last for several years. Once you gain buy-in, stakeholders can provide this support and facilitate alignment with strategic objectives.
  • Adoption and impact. A project doesn’t end when the product is in consumers' hands, the app is launched, or the skyscraper is built. Next comes implementation. In other words, you need to ensure your intended audience uses and values what you’ve built. Motivated stakeholders can smooth this transition, helping integrate solutions into business operations and advocating for a product’s benefits among ideal users and beyond.

How to get stakeholder buy-in

While the stakeholder management process can be tricky to navigate, it’s essential to motivating stakeholders. Here are seven steps you can take to get stakeholders excited about your project (and singing its praises from the rooftops).

1. Identify your stakeholders

First, you need to identify who your stakeholders are. This will include writing a list of their names, their roles and responsibilities, their challenges or needs, and how they’ll fit into the workflow.

You can do this through stakeholder mapping. This is the process of mapping out everyone who has an impact on a project. In stakeholder mapping, you’ll identify your internal, external, and key stakeholders and determine the level of contact they'll require to remain engaged based on their interest levels and influence.

2. Understand what motivates your stakeholders

Next, it's time to identify your stakeholder's motivations. Getting to know each stakeholder and their interests, goals, and needs can be time-consuming. Yet, it will save you a whole load of hassle in the long run. Understanding each stakeholder’s motivations will help you frame the benefits of supporting your project more effectively, enabling and maintaining buy-in.

For example, if you need buy-in from senior management, you can pique their interest by linking project goals to organizations' wider strategies. External stakeholders, such as end users, may be motivated by their own personal interests.

While you can't meet every motivating factor, this step provides an opportunity to connect with stakeholders and align your projects with individual needs and company goals.

3. Set a timeline

When creating your project scope and timeline, we recommend making a note of when you expect to engage each stakeholder. The project manager must factor in time to share updates and gather feedback at each milestone, as forgetting to build in time for consultations can slow down momentum.

Not every stakeholder needs to be looped in at every milestone, which is why it's important to specify roles and responsibilities up-front. For example, stakeholders such as board members and investors need to be engaged in the project's early stages to secure approval and financing, while end users and internal teams may be informed once you have more information to share.

4. Build a business case 

Achieving stakeholder buy-in is like setting up a line of dominos: once the first has fallen, the rest will soon follow. Winning over those first few stakeholders is the tricky part, but once you've got their support, it will be easier to gain buy-in from others.

This is where building a business case that clearly demonstrates the project's value to each stakeholder comes in. The goal is to show each stakeholder why the project's goals are relevant to their needs, motivations, and challenges. By framing the project around how it will impact them, you can prove its value and gain their cooperation.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Define the opportunity. Simply summarize the problem your new project will solve and why this is relevant to each stakeholder.
  • Present your solution. Outline your solution and explain how it solves their challenges or meets their needs.
  • Analyze the benefits. Visualize the cost benefits, such as ROI, using graphs and share data that proves the project's impact on relevant factors like customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, or market share.
  • Assess the risks. Every project comes with risks, so it’s important to show you’re prepared to overcome these with contingency plans and risk mitigation strategies. This helps build trust.
  • Share your plan for project execution. Share the project’s timeline, the personnel and finances you’ll need, your metrics to determine success, and your plan to support adoption following launch. 

5. Gather feedback

Gathering stakeholder feedback allows you to adjust project goals and direction, ensuring stakeholder expectations are met. You’ll need to determine what type of feedback you need from each stakeholder and how you’ll collect ideas and factor this into your schedule.

For example, if a B2B SaaS company is developing a new feature for its most popular tool, the project team should lean on its sales teams' expertise and take the time to understand their challenges.

Not only can the sales team shed light on barriers to adoption among users, which may impact the feature’s development, but they’ll be the ones promoting the tool to prospective customers. By getting them involved in the development process, the project team can gain their support and build enthusiasm for the project.

6. Actively listen to concerns - and address them

It’s all well and good to gather feedback, but you actually need to do something with it. Make sure to not only listen when stakeholders share criticisms or raise concerns but also take measures to address them. By showing you take their concerns seriously, you'll strengthen your stakeholder relationships and bolster their faith in the project.

7. Provide regular updates and celebrate milestones

Despite being incredibly important, this final step is often forgotten. Stakeholder engagement is a long-term process; you must consider their experience well after buy-in is achieved, as you need to maintain momentum. One way to keep project stakeholders invested in the process is to share regular progress updates.

You may even want to celebrate project milestones with stakeholders. Celebrating milestones, such as a successful round of prototype testing to securing a new round of funding, keeps everyone motivated and invested in the project’s long-term success.

➡️ Related: How to Create a Milestone Chart / Schedule — A 9-Minute Guide

Three bonus tips for engaging project stakeholders

Want to go beyond basics and secure stakeholder buy-in every time? We're sharing our three top tips for making sure your engagement plan goes off without a hitch.

Establish a feedback process

Collaboration is integral to securing buy-in, so creating a robust feedback process early on is important. This provides a structured approach to asking for, collecting, and assessing feedback, ensuring project teams have access to the valuable insights that will inform the project’s direction.

Make sure expectations are managed

Managing stakeholder expectations is key to keeping excitement levels up and preventing disappointment. If you fail to manage expectations and begin promising things you can't deliver, stakeholders will quickly become disillusioned with the project — and your team's abilities.

Communicate the value of your stakeholders' contributions

Your stakeholders may not understand why their contributions matter. After all, what does the HR team have to do with the creation of a new app?

Stakeholders are more likely to provide feedback — and good feedback at that — more quickly when they understand why you’re asking them for it. Making time to explain why you need their input supports buy-in and builds trust.

Common mistakes when getting stakeholder buy-in

You’ve created a process for collecting feedback. You know what your stakeholders value. And you're doing a great job of keeping them informed along the way. But if you’re making one of the below mistakes, you may begin tripping over your own feet. Here are three common pitfalls project managers make that derail their engagement efforts and impact progress.

Poor stakeholder analysis

You know the old adage, fail to prepare, yadda yadda yadda. The first stage of attaining buy-in may feel long-winded, but don't fall into the trap of underestimating your stakeholders’ influence over your project’s outcomes.

If you don't understand your stakeholder's motivations and roles, it becomes impossible to tailor your communications, leading to ineffective engagement strategies and a potential loss of support.

Poor communication

Stakeholder engagement is all about playing the long game. That means maintaining open communication throughout the project, as neglecting your stakeholders will only result in a lack of trust and cooperation moving forward.

You also need to consider the quality of your communication. How much detail are you providing? Are you communicating in ways your stakeholders understand? Different stakeholders require different approaches to communication, so take the time to uncover their preferences and adjust accordingly.

Failing to action feedback

Finally, if you want to lose buy-in quickly, then don’t act on your stakeholders' feedback. Engaged stakeholders will provide invaluable insights, but you'll likely lose their support if your actions suggest you don't value their input.

Final thoughts

By understanding how to achieve stakeholder buy-in, you can overcome one of the largest hurdles to effective project management. Not only that, but you will gain valuable advocates who can make your journey to the project finish line much easier, smoothing over internal disputes and granting you access to key resources.

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