Expert Insights

Managing the Unknown: What to Do if Stakeholders Don’t Know What They Need

Simon Pilkowski, Global Lead Digital Performance Management at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, shares tips on how to make stakeholders care about analytics results and drive more action.

Simon Pilkowski
March 18 · 5 min read

Analysts struggle with stakeholders that don’t value input or ​care about documented insights. Find out from Simon Pilkowski, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, how to drive more impact and reach them more effectively.

Listen I 12 min long

Does this sound familiar?

If you are working as an analyst you most probably went through this scenario multiple times before. After crunching all your marketing data for days you finally have prepared a presentation to share the collection of potential insights you generated. What happens next is totally unintuitive and hard to digest for anyone who loves to spend 24/7 with metrics, dimensions, and charts.

  • Your stakeholders really don’t care about the results provided
  • Your stakeholders focus on the wrong things
  • Your stakeholders really value your input but no action results from your input

If you have encountered one of the above scenarios before this article is for you.

To better understand why we have experienced a message mismatch let’s run through a short analysis for each of the cases and let’s see how to ensure our message lands with our customers. Yes, recipients of our messages are our customers and therefore we should consider running a personal internal marketing and positioning exercise before getting lost in data. As long as you don’t really know who you are targeting you might not be able to tailor your messages and transform yourself from being a data provider to becoming the superhero everyone wants to consult with.

So let’s get to the solution...

The recipients of our messages are our customers. We should consider running a personal internal marketing and positioning exercise before getting lost in data.

Why do stakeholders really care?

As we all are human beings we are driven by some kind of extrinsic or even better intrinsic motivation to achieve a particular goal. This might be a pure focus on the monetary outcome for ourselves (extrinsic) or the passion of delivering outstanding performance (intrinsic), just to name two potential factors. Let’s run our first segmentation exercise and split up our target audiences into those two groups.

The extrinsic motivated, tick the box kind of people and the intrinsic motivated, passionate kind of people. Now let’s address them individually with tailored information and messages.

For the extrinsic, tick the box kind of person, your first task is to understand what their checkbox looks like and how you as an analyst can help them to place the desired checkmark. What data do they actually need and what are the insights they are missing to achieve their marketing objective.

If you try to convince this persona to go the extra mile and maybe aim for midterm success you might not get their attention. Imagine consulting a tick the box performance marketer moving over from a pure PPC focus to a mixture of PPC and organic growth. In the long run, the organic approach might deliver a higher return but from a short term perspective, this might not lead to the desired outcome - which we know by now is to tick the box. Therefore your recommendations most probably might not be well received.

For our intrinsic and self-motivated segment you actually might want to even move into additional directions and suggest a more holistic and long term oriented presentation. What are the potential opportunities which go beyond just the current short term box to tick? Do you already have a hypothesis to be tested or did you spot potential changes to be made immediately? This is your time to land the message as this segment is likely to listen to your advice.

This second customer segment of yours actually might be the one you want to invest the majority of your time in, especially if you are at the stage of trying to establish data as an asset within your organization. Once you convinced this audience of the value you can bring to the table they naturally will act as your ambassadors and proactively will help you to convince other parts of the organization.

Why do stakeholders focus on the wrong things?

So you already went through your first internal stakeholder landscaping exercise by defining two potential customer segments - the “tick the box guy” and the “go the extra mile guy”. After thoroughly tailoring your message towards those personas, you still realize that your message does not stick and your recipients focus on the wrong things. But why?

There are various reasons why this is happening, but one every analyst should be aware of is the cognitive biases your customers have. Actually, we all have biases as we leverage those as shortcuts for decision-making processes in a world full of information overload. Rather than assessing from scratch what we should do when confronted with a situation we experienced multiple times before we subconsciously rely on past experiences - this way perception will become reality and for you, it might become hard to convince your stakeholders. A specific bias is the confirmation bias and this one is totally in line with the just explained behavior for biases. When looking at charts and data, we are more likely to believe in the data that already confirms our assumptions and supports our predefined mental model. Here, you will have to carefully disprove past experiences and convince your audience of the ever-changing digital landscape.

When looking at charts and data, we are more likely to believe in the data that already confirms our assumptions and supports our predefined mental model.

Another potential candidate you should be aware of is the groupthink phenomenon. In order to achieve harmony within a group, people have the tendency to agree to each other and this might be a challenge in case you are presenting to a group that contains some people with predefined mindsets. Those members within your audience that might be more likely to follow your advice might end up following the others to achieve harmony within the group. Try to overcome this setup by onboarding parts of your audience upfront to ensure they are supportive and in line with your argumentation process.

A third and last example is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias describes the tendency of people to rate their skills and capabilities higher as they usually are. This is especially the case when people have achieved a competence level which is slightly above being nonexistent. This peek of perceived competence is also known as the peak of “mount stupid”. You have to help those stakeholders to increase their level of competence in order to rescue them from “mount stupid” and make them less annoying by adjusting their perceived competence level to a more realistic perception. This way you will become the expert again and not someone who is surrounded by a group of self-perceived experts.​

Why does your valued input not drive action?

So, you finally got your stakeholders to care about what you want to tell them and they also seem to understand the recommendations you are making but still, nobody is taking any action. This is the moment where you should become aware of “Le Chatelier's principle”. This chemical principle describes the behavior of systems in equilibrium when exposed to changing conditions like temperature or pressure. In order to regain a state of balance, those systems will take the pathway which will require the least energy spent to achieve the desired equilibrium again. Your recommendation to change is generating this state of imbalance with your customers.

Now imagine that based on your solid and well-researched facts you have recommended, a change of the website in order to be more conversion-oriented. This might have larger implications on the content and technical architecture, design, and even more important workload for your stakeholders. They will probably take your advice and maybe implement some minor changes as a reaction to your ability to bring them out of balance. But they will most likely ignore or not see the big picture. So, in terms of actions to be taken after the thoughtful presentation you gave, you have to understand that from an objective perspective your recommendations might totally make sense and deliver additional business value. But, for your stakeholder, this will always generate extra effort which might go beyond their previously committed scope. Especially taking into consideration our target audiences, the “tick the box” and “go the extra mile” persona you might want to know what their state of balance looks like and how much energy they are willing to invest to temporarily move into a state of imbalance.

Yes, the above personas and examples are chosen on purpose to be fairly binary. We obviously have more of a grayscale color palette when it comes to stakeholders and behavioral patterns we experience in our daily routine as analysts. But we always start with makro segmentation first before creating a ton of micro-segments.

In a nutshell

  • Your stakeholders are your customers and you, as an analyst, have to treat them alike. Know what drives every individual (or at least a segment) and how you can turn your perceived value from data provider to superhero consultant.
  • Be aware of the fact that the majority of our decisions are taken subconsciously in order to reduce the workload for the main processor we call our brain. Once you discover cognitive biases your customers have you can start to tackle them one by one to land your message.
  • Don’t try to boil the ocean at once and help your customers to understand how to constantly improve. Once you break your recommendations down into more digestible changes to be made you will see your recommendations being implemented one step at a time.

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