Getting buy in for your digital strategy

Paul Boag

As digital becomes more crucial within large organisations, the number of stakeholders grow and the importance of buy in increases. How then do you get all of these stakeholders moving in the same direction?

Perhaps it is a sign of age, but I look back on the early days of the web with fondness. In those days the majority of people within the organisations with whom I worked didn’t understand or care about the web. That made my job easy because I could just do as I saw fit and nobody ever questioned me.

Now it feels like everybody has an opinion. This is not surprising because digital has become so crucial to the success of most organisations. When there is so much at risk the level of scrutiny goes through the roof. Unfortunately, this can lead to slow decision making in a medium where speed is of the essence.

How then do you get people on board while maintaining the momentum so crucial to the success of the web?

The keys to buy in for your digital strategy

Based on my experience of working with highly complex organisations full of stakeholders and internal politics, I would suggest there are three keys to getting buy in. These are:

  • Consultation: People want to know that we have heard and thought about the particular issues and challenges they perceive in the digital strategy.
  • Openness: Stakeholders want to know what is going on with the project and be kept informed about decisions being made.
  • Understanding: There is a need to educate stakeholders about digital best practice and why certain decisions are made.

If stakeholders know all of the facts, understand the process and feel consulted, they are generally willing to support your decisions. However, as soon as they feel in the dark they have the desire to want to control the situation.

Ultimately it comes down to trust. If you can show stakeholders that the process is under control and the right decisions are being made, they will trust you to get on with the job.

How then do you demonstrate this? How do you practically build that trust?

Facilitating openness, consultation and education

In my role as a digital strategist (whatever that is) I have used and been involved in various different ways of engaging with stakeholders in an attempt to educate and consult with them. Here are some of the most successful.

  • Stakeholder interviews: These one to one interviews are a great way of making stakeholders feel consulted, while also educating them about the challenges of the web. Stakeholder interviews are a subject I have written about in depth before.
  • Surveys: Although surveys are good for canvasing feedback from large numbers of stakeholders, they do not help educate or create a strong sense of consultation. However, they can be useful when taking a “design by community” approach.
  • Internal conferences: Why not run your own mini-conference with external and internal speakers? This is a great way of building awareness of the web project, being transparent in your approach and educating stakeholders. In fact I have just returned from this kind of conference at the University of Strathclyde and it was a phenomenal success.
  • Workshops: Interactive workshops that actually get Stakeholders making decisions about wireframing, design and other aspects of the site are a great way to improve collaboration and educate clients. I run these sessions all of the time and they are always a huge hit.
  • Presentations: Another thing I often do is give presentations to internal stakeholders. These presentations are aimed to inform them about the project and also about best practice. For example, I give presentations on everything from writing for the web to best practice in mobile.
  • Blogging: I have encouraged some web teams to openly blog the process of creating a new website. This raises the profile of the project within the organisation, but also creates a more open, consultative process that helps to educate stakeholders.
  • Newsletters: As with blogging a regular newsletter is a great way of keeping stakeholders informed, while also educating them about best practice and your decision making process.

As you can see there is no shortage of ways to include Stakeholders in the process of evolving your website. However there is one key component that I have not mentioned. It has to be a sincere consultation!

Don’t patronise stakeholders with insincerity

Too many website managers go through this process because they have to. They don’t really feel stakeholders have anything to add to the process or that there is a real need to keep them informed. Not only is this entirely wrong, but these are smart people who will know you are just going through the motions.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the web has become business critical and it effects all parts of the organisation. As a result, we do need feedback from all of the stakeholders. Sure, you won’t act on all of their comments but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be aware of them.

Always remember, stakeholders have a valuable role to play in the process and shouldn’t be ignored.

“approved stamp” image courtesy of