Customer research: how to get commercial stakeholder buy-in

Wil Wylie • 9 min read

When project timelines are tight and resources are limited, companies often consider research and customer engagement as only a “nice-to-have”. In a commercial sense, the omission of this research and engagement is often seen to provide greater project efficiencies. In many cases however, jumping straight into tactics without understanding results in poor project execution.

It can sometimes be difficult to convince stakeholders that time and resources should be invested into community engagement. It can be even harder to prove its value if they’ve never been through such a process. While small projects may only need a low level of community engagement that could, for example, be satisfied with a small campaign, larger projects require a greater commitment.

Such projects affect more sizeable groups and have a larger pool of stakeholders. As a result, large projects benefit greatly from good community engagement. Success in this area enables project teams to deliver on-time and in-budget.

Struggling to convince your stakeholders to invest in customer research? You could say it’s something we’ve come across before. So, we’ve documented responses to seven common pushback comments we get in boardrooms where research isn’t a priority. Use this resource to empower you to inform stakeholders of the financial importance of community engagement in project development.

1. “We don’t have enough time”

Project timelines will suffer if local communities feel that they haven’t had sufficient information or opportunity to provide their input. Political decision-makers will stall the process if their communities are dissatisfied with the level of engagement.

In such cases, elected representatives will refrain from making any final decisions until you’ve conducted proper community engagement. This additional time would be much better spent on advance engagement.

Indeed, by taking a more considered approach, companies can avoid irritating local communities by instead seeking their input. In many cases, up-front engagement offers a much more efficient option than retrospective consultation.

2. “We don’t have enough money or resources”

Positive community engagement doesn’t need to break the bank. There are many online options that are much more cost-effective, resource-efficient, and successful than traditional meetings.

Social media and online engagement tools also provide a platform for managing communicative content, while disseminating project information among wider communities. They allow project teams to gather real-time feedback from affected communities and limit the risk of misinformation. In cases where communities have specific, vocal minorities, online engagement can avoid costly negotiations, budget blowouts, and associated delays.

Although online engagement may take time to prepare, promote, and analyse,  information gathered will generate significant value. What’s more, it will allow project teams to limit the impact of engagement on project timelines and budgets.

3. “The community isn’t interested”

Perhaps your local community has previously shown little interest in your work, and you often experience silence when consulting on large projects. In such cases, it’s easy to assume a lack of interest. It’s important, however, to consider how these individuals were previously engaged.

Was the consultation well-planned? Did it incorporate a clear marketing strategy and varied, convenient methods of engagement? Or did it amount to an unassuming, unrelatable advert in the local newspaper, quietly requesting community feedback on long-term projects?

Unless an individual is very passionate about a specific project or concerned about its impact on their way of life, they’re unlikely to know about your plans, and even more unlikely to comment on them. Even if they’re willing to engage with you, they’ll be discouraged from commenting if the engagement process is complicated. That’s why it’s essential to create an effective digital communication strategy to drive positive engagement.

4. “Our existing method works fine”

Many companies stick to tried-and-tested community engagement methods. Your challenge is to convince your boss that the organisation and community will both benefit from a new approach. Communities can be engaged through a variety of means, whether offline or online. Combined approaches prove particularly successful.

By valuing community engagement, not only does an organisation create greater project success, but it also generates better, more trusting relationships with the community it serves.

5. “It won’t add any value”

Communities often provide new project insights that elected representatives, engineers, and project leaders have previously overlooked. Community members, after all, have a much more intimate and unique relationship with the local area.

Public consultation ensures that decisions are better informed, provides scientific and technical input, and gives personal, geographical, and historical context. The more informed the decision-making process, the better the decision.

6. “It’s too difficult”

Engagement might require some extra effort. It certainly doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Project planners can take advantage of a number of tools that have been specifically designed to enhance the engagement process, such as Bang the Table and Social Pinpoint.

With the right online tools, project teams can gather information electronically. Real-time displays and reporting functions allow you to leverage data, with no need for manual data entry.

7. “Prove me wrong”

It’s important that you have relevant examples and statistics to back up your argument. You need to be able to prove to your boss that effective community engagement is worth the effort.

Find other areas in your organisation that prioritise community engagement, and identify comparable projects. Note the associated methodologies, levels of engagement and response, and project outcomes.

There is a range of online tools that can deliver quantifiable data in digestible formats. Speak to colleagues in other areas of your organisation and find out how they approach their engagement efforts.

Final thoughts

Once you recognise that community engagement is essential for projects of significant local interest, you may need to convince doubtful stakeholders. Unless you can persuade them to see engagement from your perspective, your proposal will probably be rejected.

Have some counterarguments up your sleeve, but remember that it’s vital to bring stakeholders across the journey as early as possible. To do this effectively, apply empathy. Consider if they might have a different opinion, or want to skip the engagement process in order to improve project efficiencies. Perhaps there’s another reason they’re hesitant to invest in customer research.

Is lack of stakeholder buy-in something you’ve experienced? If it is, how have you gone about convincing them and proving the value of community engagement? The Plural team would love to learn more from you. Get in touch.

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