Bridging the gap between sales and project management: Issue 5 of 6

Tips for onboarding your stakeholders

Put your project folks on the same page

This is the fifth instalment of our mini-series on Bridging the gap between sales and project management.

Issue 1: Assess your client & project alignment
Issue 2: From sales to project setup
Issue 3: Stakeholder types and their quirks
Issue 4: Stakeholder alignment
Issue 5: Tips for stakeholder onboarding
Issue 6: Wrap-up & resources

Let’s dig in:


Last week we deconstructed the concept of alignment together and built it back up with some tips to improve relationships and get both context and clarity. This week, you’ll be taking these tips and some new ones to heart, so you can smooth out that stakeholder onboarding process.

Alright, let’s set up a beautiful metaphor…

You’re a customer relationship hero

Imagine you’re a server at a high-end dessert shop. The customer sits down, looks at the menu, and, with watering taste buds, settles on the triple strawberry cheesecake (obviously). You serve her, paying careful attention to the wobbly table leg, the shine of the plate, the fold of the napkin. She eats and asks for the bill. You smile, take her money, and she leaves, hopefully sharing glorious reviews of her experience across the internet. You feel pretty good. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you’re in the business of keeping people satisfied, not the food service business. All the tiny details and your careful attention add up to the experience she remembers. Terrible service makes terrible cheesecake.

Surprise! You are a customer relationship manager as soon as that customer breezes through your door. In the same way, you are the customer relationship manager for not only your clients but for every stakeholder as soon as that project waltzes in after the sale closes. You welcome them, you set the pace and tone of the project, you communicate the plan, and you offer consistency while defining the emergency route in case things go wrong. That’s a pretty expansive role: in a lot of ways, it’s just as important and valuable as the sales role. The biggest difference? Unlike a customer relationship manager’s role, you’re not there to make sure your stakeholders are happy: you’re there to make sure they’re heard and that their voices shape the goals and outcomes of the project. Your team is there to help stakeholders avoid making bad project decisions that will harm their process, organization, and customers. This should, indirectly, also make stakeholders happy. It’s really important that you get this part right. If this translated to cheesecake, you’d be just as concerned about the ingredients as the wobbly table leg.

Let’s walk through the core pieces of onboarding so you can set up your stakeholders for success.

Welcome

Your salesperson has handed over the project, so the next step is to send out a hearty welcome to your stakeholder point of contact. Whether you’re a client facing team or an internal team working with new stakeholders, it’s a good idea to set your intent and introduce yourself warmly.

Here’s a template to make things simpler:

Handy welcome email template

Set the pace and tone

This is your chance to use your project management charisma to set the pace and tone of the project. The language and terms you include, the level of confidence and authority you command, as well as the tone of your communication, will naturally leave an impression. The key is that you want that impression to feel completely natural, relaxed, and in control. You can teach your stakeholders to treat you well and respect your org’s processes by maintaining this poise throughout the project, even when things get tough (as they tend to do). In fact, I’d recommend defining your style early on and sticking to it. Here’s are some things to think about:

  • How fast or slowly you speak (slowing down slightly creates a sense of project tranquillity and also eases new faces into processes)
  • How short your written communications are (shorter is always better; if you need to write a dictionary length email, consider a different format for communicating your thoughts)
  • Your jargon (words and concepts that are easy breakfast snacks to you are a full meal to your stakeholders—keep things simple, avoid abbreviations and jargon, explain necessary terms)
  • Your posture (relax your shoulders, open your chest, stand tall and confident)
  • Eye contact (holding a gaze shows power and interest, so use eye contact meaningfully)
  • Smile with your eyes, and smile when you talk (it disengages the fight or flight response)
  • Other nonverbal cues (your body language does a huge chunk of your communicating work)
  • Model the communication style you want back from stakeholders

Feel free to bring candour to the conversation: being open to improvement and quick to admit your mistakes, while also telling stakeholders you’re committed to learning shows confidence and increases trust they’ll reciprocate.

Introduce a clear plan

Help your clients understand how your organization’s processes are set up. Be clear about how things work (and clarify how they don’t). Remember to talk to them about:

  • What your expectations are for their involvement and behaviour (this one’s so important: not clarifying leaves the door open for misinterpretation)
  • What format and channels you want them to use to communicate (we flesh this out in a communication plan)
  • When you are available and when you’re not
  • How many revisions are included and how to handle additional revisions
  • How clients or external stakeholders should communicate with your team

Be consistent

The biggest thing you can do to support your stakeholders is to be consistent. Changes to processes or expectations shake trust and prevent stakeholders from creating behavioural patterns that they can start to automate which causes fatigue and irritation. This means you need to have a clear idea of goals, behaviours, and outcomes you wish to see before you reach out to them. Be clear about what you as the project lead want out of this relationship and this project. Even better? Bring your ideas and then further refine that success with your stakeholders so you have their buy-in. Find out what you can do to be an ally and help them overcome their own barriers that negatively impact the project direction. You are the best shot they have at being successful—and they are the best shot you have, too, champ.

Define your fire route

What should stakeholders do when things go wrong? Give them a path and outline clear boundaries that help them feel safe. More often than not, your clients only take the steering wheel if they feel uncertain about your driving, but otherwise want to trust that your organization has a plan and a process for how that work happens, even if things get a bit bumpy. Give them confidence by outlining the following:

  • How should things work?
  • How will we know if they are/aren’t working?
  • What are the next actions if we feel something is wrong?
  • Who needs to be aware?
  • What is the best format for that communication?
  • How do we know we’ve addressed the problem?
  • How do we reinforce a good relationship after that problem been solved?

Having answers to these questions in an early conversation helps set the tone for the project and makes you an authority your stakeholders’ trust because you don’t dodge the tough bits.

Did you do all the steps?

It just so happens we have a little checklist to highlight the project sales to setup tasks, so take a look. See any steps that you would incorporate into your own organization? It’s yours to adapt.

Stakeholder onboarding checklist

See? When you set up clear expectations and match your tone to the cadence you want for your project, you become a magnet for positive project interactions. Ultimately, this smooths out the handover process between sales and PM and realigns expectations early on. You’re the warrior and champion your boss never knew they had. Maybe it’s time to sit down and reset some goals and expectations around your role.

Boss: you listening? You got a gem here. We just help with the polish.

Up next

Keep your peepers on your inbox. Next week (our final week) we’ll be sharing a pile of resources and wrapping this whole ‘Sales to PM’ sandwich in a crafty bow so you can make the most out of those project transitions—turning them into longer-term value for you, your team, and your clients.