Monday, July 15, 2019

Do What You Can and Move On - Don't Sweat a Recalcitrant Stakeholder Forever

We've all heard the phrase "good enough for government work", usually uttered sardonically these days. Most people don't realize that the phrase originally referred to the high standards required for government work - work that was good enough for the government was work that met the highest standards. (I bet you didn't know that!)

I use the modern, sardonic variation: sometimes you should aspire to quality that's good enough for government. In other words: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Do I mean cutting corners on critical due diligence efforts? Do I mean failing to negotiate a good deal for your company? Of course not! What I mean is: don't hold up a purchase by sweating every minor detail, amplifying small issues beyond their actual importance, or stressing over a difficult stakeholder.

Suppose, for example, you're considering a new market research vendor to support your financial services consultants. The practice head for asset management consulting has indicated you need a new fund flows vendor. You already know the space pretty well, have met with and vetted the leading providers in the space, and are ready to make a recommendation.

The problem is, you only have buy-in from your Asia and US practice teams. You have been trying to get people in Europe and Canada to participate -- their commitment would scale the costs of the purchase substantially (lowering your unit costs), and you know -- you just know -- these teams are going to want the content eventually.

But you just can't get your potential users to do the work. Frustrating!

What to do? Two options:

  1. Move ahead with just the Asia and US content, knowing you've done your best to achieve maximum buying power;
  2. Make an executive decision to buy the EU and Canada content anyway. 
As a rule, Option 1 makes the most sense and is the least risky approach: it's almost always a fraught endeavor to purchase product you don't have explicit buy-in for. Even if you know the stakeholder could use the content, you're operating with limited information - you may not have visibility into their budget situation, for example. The last thing you want is to have to book the expense on your books or answer awkward questions from the CFO! 

The exception is a small, low-impact contract that's unlikely to raise eyebrows - an amount under a given spending threshold, for example. Perhaps you're looking at a trade publication that is segmented by sector - you know all the sectors will be useful but haven't heard from the Shipping team and you need to get the contract done asap. The incremental cost is $2K - well within your spending authority. Go ahead and add it! 

Before proceeding with a purchase that excludes content you know you'll need, try these steps to get the missing stakeholder to participate: 
  1. Give the recalcitrant stakeholder a hard deadline and tell them their chance to get access to the content will pass for a year (length of contract);
  2. Explain to management that you'd love to get additional buy-in but haven't been able to. Demonstrate the lower unit costs that you're missing out on - perhaps they can reach out to the stakeholder on your behalf;
  3. Enlist the vendor. This is hit and miss. Sales-people can be annoying and you don't want to needlessly irritate your stakeholder. But salespeople while occasionally annoying can be effective - they may be able to demonstrate the value when your efforts have stalled. 
Once you've taken these steps and alerted management, go ahead with the more modest purchase. You can't keep the business waiting forever! And yes, you will likely have to expand the contract later - when the additional stakeholders get their acts together. Such is life as a contracts manager! 

- Kevan Huston

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