Feature, Function and Benefit - How To Sell to Project Stakeholders
As project managers, we often "inherit" projects once they have already been sold to and accepted by stakeholders. A sales force in a consulting organization, for example, typically sells a project that is later assigned to a project manager. A similar situation exists within organizations, where a project has been "sold" to upper management and other stakeholders.
Being in the project management realm often means inheriting projects once a property of stakeholders. For instance, within an organization, a sales team first handles a project that later goes to a manager. Most projects in institutions are sold to key shareholders and top executives.
This simply entails that selling does not stop -- it simply spills over to the project manager who eventually takes over. Because of this reality, the Project Manager must to some extent use sales skills and continue to build (and even sometimes repair!) the relationships with the stakeholders.
Most projects have numerous and diverse stakeholders. One of the first tasks of the Project Manager is to identify those stakeholders and establish a working rapport with them. The starting point must be to clarify expectations, initially set when the project was "sold", and to refine those expectations for the next phase. The Project Manager, in the end, must ensure that stakeholder needs are understood and will be met. In addition, systems must be put into place to ensure that they are providing regular input and feedback in the process of delivering the project. The Project Manager must continue to be attentive to stakeholder needs throughout the project, and there are a number of techniques for doing that.
One way that Project Managers can leverage sales skills to establish stakeholder relationships is to think in terms of features, functions, and benefits. Typically, there is one and occasionally a few stakeholders that are critical to the project. They may have a major benefit related to the core benefits of the project. In all likelihood, the Project Manager will be in touch with these select stakeholders on a very regular basis, and they will be included in most communications. The Project Manager keeps in mind the driving benefits that they want, and continuously communicates about the delivery of those benefits.
Since there are typically many other stakeholders, there often is a stakeholder who is not necessarily going to be one of the top beneficiaries of the project. By contrast, many stakeholders will benefit in peripheral ways, or, if they might benefit by avoiding integration issues that could result when the new project is implemented. Perhaps there is a data interface to that system that will enhance the system, or will at least permit the application to continue to be effective and relevant.
One way to think about these secondary stakeholder, like the primary stakeholders, is to think in terms of feature, functions, and benefits. For the core stakeholders, those features may encompass most of the features of the product of the project, but for these more peripheral stakeholders, they may consist of only one or two features. In order to properly understand this pattern of thinking, first determine what features are directly related to the shareholder, and then whittle these down to just the key points. Finally, further break down these salient points into benefits that are tangible and very clear to the stakeholder.
As a first step, all stakeholders need to be identified, and their needs must be understood. With this information at hand, the key then is to think through the features, functions, and benefits of the project to each and every stakeholder, and to communicate that to each stakeholder. A side benefit is a much deeper understanding of the project, and even an expansion of the broader benefits of the project to the organization.
By thinking in terms of features, functions, and benefits for each stakeholder, a Project Manager can train himself to think in the terms of the stakeholders. This helps to recognize specific issues that need to be communicated to specific stakeholders, and also helps to identify the issues that are unimportant to stakeholders. Thus, it will helps to always think and speak of your stakeholder needs or interests. Thinking like a salesperson can be very helpful in dealing with the stakeholders on projects.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Reiling, PMP, manages projects, writes, and provides online training in Project Integration Management at on Project Management Training Online. See "Project Integration Management and the Pareto Principle" also by John at PMcrunch.com.