Rachel Brushfield explores the role of insight and client relationship management (CRM) systems in effectively managing and influencing your key stakeholders at work in an organised and compelling way for career success, and shares some practical tips.
In-house lawyers have only one client – their business. Right?
In fact, they have multiple clients: stakeholders working in their own legal department and in various other departments around the business. If it’s an international company, stakeholders can also be located around the world and will need to be influenced remotely.
So, what is the best approach to market yourself effectively and efficiently in your employer by influencing and engaging your internal stakeholders, to give yourself the edge and increase the likelihood of success in your in-house career?
Who are your career stakeholders?
Internal stakeholders are the people who directly or indirectly influence decisions about your development and training, pay rise, and other rewards, promotions and career-enhancing opportunities at work and in your career.
Internal stakeholders can include:
- your manager
- your manager’s manager
- the directors, i.e. the board in the UK and, internationally, if your employer is a global company, non-executive directors
- the HR manager
- PAs to the board
- mentors to decision-makers
- key respected influencers and opinion-formers in the market in which your organisation operates
- alumni (i.e. former managers and directors who are working elsewhere etc).
In-depth knowledge of your key stakeholders will help you to engage with them to support your development and career progression.
What is insight?
An insight is ‘the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something’. In the context of this article, it is the internal stakeholder.
Insights are useful in stakeholder engagement, because they make the communication targeted and relevant so that they hit the mark – what’s in it for them? The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is essential when influencing others.
Mishcon de Reya uses the line ‘It’s business but it’s personal’. No other law firm is expressing themselves so clearly
When cake mixes were first launched, they were not very successful because they were too easy – the cook didn’t have to do enough to create a cake using mixes, which made them feel bad. The manufacturer had missed a vital insight in that, while valuing the convenience, the cook didn’t want to feel lazy or guilty and still wanted to feel that they were baking a cake and were a key part of the cake’s creation. This alleviated their guilt about using a cake mix rather than baking a cake using all the ingredients. An adjustment to the recipe as a result of this insight created a successful cake mix product and a new market category.
The importance of deeper insight
The speed of change is accelerating and the volume of information increasing. Therefore, it is important to develop a deeper, more profound level of insight in communication, both online, on paper and verbally to stand out and be remembered.
This is one of the reasons why storytelling is a growing part of marketing. ‘Foot fatigue’ is a lateral example of an insight that jumped out at me recently – an insight about how customers feel was used in an advert for shoe insoles. The advert showed empathy for how a person with tired feet feels and personified the foot as having feelings, which anyone who has spent hours shopping or standing at a networking event can relate to!
Insight that spells out the obvious or expresses a point in a different way to everyone else is useful to stand out. For example, law firm Mishcon de Reya uses the line ‘It’s business but it’s personal’. All law firms have content and connections, but no other law firm is expressing it in this clear and down-to-earth way.
Many law firms offer similar legal services for businesses to Mishcon de Reya, but making the client feel like they are important using this personal motif, is an art.
You can apply the principles of CRM to manage and focus your communication with key internal stakeholders to help progress your career
Insights inform and shape communication. What insights do you have about your career stakeholders? Insights include what motivates them, what is important to them, their role models, hobbies, and even the charities they support and why. You could gather insights in a notebook. I recommend the Evernote app – you can store anything in there, and find it in future by a keyword or phrase search (e.g. the person’s name).
Social media platforms, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, can be a useful source of deeper insight into people. On LinkedIn, you can see their connections and companies they follow; their groups; posts that they like, comment on and share; even the articles they write. On Twitter, you can see who they follow and the hashtags they use.
A strategic way of storing insights that can bring years’ worth of benefits is by using a CRM.
What is CRM?
CRM is an approach to managing a company’s interaction with both current and potential customers. It uses data analysis of customers’ history with a company to improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on retention, with the ultimate aim of driving sales growth.
You can apply the principles of CRM to manage and focus your communication with key internal stakeholders to help progress your career, recording insights.
At its simplest, CRM can be a Word document or Excel spreadsheet summarising information about an individual stakeholder, from the names of their children, partner, manager and PA to their areas of responsibility etc. LinkedIn and Twitter can offer further, deeper insights which can be useful to have before speaking to them.
There are many software CRM systems out there, ranging from the simple and inexpensive to the sophisticated and expensive.
Why is CRM useful?
CRM creates a structure and focus to plan, manage and monitor your communications with key internal stakeholders. CRM enables the efficient storage and easy updating of relevant information, to record the timing of planned communications with stakeholders, e.g. before an AGM, performance review discussion or the preparation of the annual report. Reminders can be set up to deliver follow-up communications to create a positive cumulative effect. Notifications by text or email will ensure that you don’t miss those rare important opportunities to influence key stakeholders. This can be easy to do when you’re busy and haven’t planned ahead.
Going the extra mile by using a strategic and intelligent approach to gather insights, storing information in a CRM system (however sophisticated) and planning your communication with key stakeholders will reap rewards over time. It could be what sets you apart and clinches your next promotion or pay rise.
Start today by choosing one of the following tips to get the ball rolling.
Practical tips for smarter stakeholder engagement
- Define a SMART career goal and your success criteria for engaging stakeholders, e.g. a pay rise, promotion etc.
- Write down what engages you in two sentences, to ‘tune into’ the topic (e.g. being sent a useful article for a current project).
- Define your internal stakeholders and grade them as either high, medium or low importance.
- Check your organisation’s business and financial planning cycle to plan key dates – ask if you can help or be part of a project team, to raise your profile internally.
- Research your organisation’s performance review process and rewards cycle, if you haven’t already.
- Connect with stakeholders on LinkedIn and Twitter (see above).
- Use CRM software or app to build up insights and plan when, how and with whom you influence key stakeholders, e.g. email; a face-to-face meeting; a coffee out of the office; inviting them to a useful event; or introducing them to a high-profile contact.
- Summarise a key insight about each key stakeholder, to stay focused in communication (e.g. ‘agile self-service human resource management’ for an HR director).This will help you to be consistent in your communications.
- Create a content and communication calendar.
- Diarise specific times to email or speak with key stakeholders. Getting to know their PA or secretary (if they have one) is a good way to find out the best times.
- Find out the names of the non-executive directors in your organisation. They can be invaluable influencers; showing that you know them demonstrates that you are thinking about the business as a whole and beyond your role / team.
- Understand the values and competency framework of your organisation. This will help you to demonstrate the behaviours expected by your employer so that when talent committees meet to discuss promotions and rewards, you are ahead of the game.
- Look through the last five annual reports of your organisation to identify key insights and business priorities.
- Create a mind map of your network to identify any less obvious stakeholders.
- Read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, an interesting book about insights.