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Topics: Lessons Learned, Organizational Culture, Stakeholder Management
How to influence "indifferent/inactive customers" as a vendor PM?
I'm struggling with a nut I can't seem to crack, and wondering if there's some found wisdom in the community I can leverage.

My company is a security software vendor; we sell to a wide variety of customers globally. While many of our projects run smoothly, my team frequently run into one of the following scenarios:

1. The person we sold the product to has no influence over the technical team tapped to support the project, and there is little internal alignment/management. As a result, we have a "customer" who wants results, and a customer technical team who has little interest or incentive to show up.

2. Competing priorities mean incredibly slow progress. Even though the customer's investment in our product may be substantial, there are daily fires or other priorities that reduce our progress to a trickle.

3. No one knows who is needed internally. The firewall team doesn't know who manages network security. The risk team only vets policies; they don't implement them. Device management is owned by a vendor, and they never seem to be available for calls.

My PM brain says this is a problem of stakeholder management, but - as a vendor - we are very often on the outside looking in, with no access to the right leadership at the right level to drive effective change within the customer environment.

It's also not simply a visibility gap. We hold status calls (which sponsors never seem to attend), send status reports (which no one seems to read, despite efforts to keep them lightweight and readable), and provide complete schedule visibility for all stakeholders.

Does anyone have suggestions on how to manage accountability when you have neither authority nor influence nor sometimes even an escalation path?
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At outset, it appears that the problem lies with the project sponsor and communication with the stakeholders.

Your contact needs to engage project sponsor/top management to communicate strategic importance of this product and priority of this implementation. Has client allocated sufficient resources to achieve milestones?

As an outsider, you can help your contact to share useful details to attract the attention of the sponsor/top management.
Hi Ken,

This situation is more common than you'd think - you sold your product to someone from the "business", that purchased without IT's involvement and now IT is frustrated by being left out in the first place and do the very minimum possible to not be accused of not cooperating (however, they would like a failure to be able to say to their business "if you would have involved us from the beginning you wouldn't have made a mistake!"

Is that close to what's going on? If so, your focus should be on repairing the bruised ego of IT folks - cannot count on your customer for help because he/she is the one that harmed it in the first place. One could say that it's not your problem to spend time dealing with their internal issues, but do you want to be right and fail, or be successful?

Your first step is to find out all the relevant parties inside the client organization that you have to deal with. Declare a "reset" - making sure to not look like it's the customer's fault, otherwise they will think you're assigning blame to ask for more money for contract infringement. Ask your client to organize a kick-off to form an "integrated team". Prepare a list of all the areas you need support from and get your client (assuming Director or higher) to invite all the directors responsible for those areas to a "strategic" meeting to plan the reset. Draft the message for your client to be sure that in includes sentences such as "your department is essential for achieving such and such corporate objective".

In the strategic meeting make sure you reiterate how important each domain is, how only working together they will make this a resounding success that will reverberate throughout the company... Remember, it's about "what's in it for me?" - right now it's all work for someone else's benefit, you have to change the tune so they partake into the success and it will positively impact their image in the organization (and potentially their careers).

In the strategic meeting ask the Directors whom else should participate on the day to day activities. When you connect with them (or, better yet, ask the Directors to send an email connecting you) you now have implied authority from their organizational executives - but don't forget "what's in it for me" at operational levels either, because they are the ones actually putting in the hours and need to be enticed to do so!

This should at least get you the foot in the door, and continue to work your way in from there.

Hope it helps,


George Jucan
...
2 replies by Ashok Kumar and Ken Prush
Jan 03, 2020 5:12 PM
Ashok Kumar
...
Excellent response from George.

Ken - Please keep us updated with your experience ...how you approached and what helped.
Jan 03, 2020 6:13 PM
Ken Prush
...
Very solid feedback - thanks.

I had been thinking that our "stakeholder mapping" was insufficiently robust; we've often relied on our customer partners to fill in the blanks for us, but some proactive guidance could (hopefully) prompt internal resource discussions before they impact the deployment.

As to your second comment - about internal politics and "what's in it for me": this is where we're seeing less success. The unfortunate reality is that teams are often overworked, and this project is just another brick on the pile. The management layer may want to help us, but that only lasts until the next crisis.

That being said, one of the reasons I was able to sidestep issues like these in my consulting days was that I built relationships within the organization, and could rely on those relationships as needed to get things unstuck. Perhaps the takeaway here is that I should focus my PMs on being more consultative. (Which is another way of saying "help them see what's in it for them, I suppose.)

Points taken - and thanks for the feedback!
Ken

George’s response is spot on, I couldn’t think of anything more to add other than letting you know that I totally agree with his analogy.

Food for thought.

RK
Jan 03, 2020 3:41 PM
Replying to George Jucan
...
Hi Ken,

This situation is more common than you'd think - you sold your product to someone from the "business", that purchased without IT's involvement and now IT is frustrated by being left out in the first place and do the very minimum possible to not be accused of not cooperating (however, they would like a failure to be able to say to their business "if you would have involved us from the beginning you wouldn't have made a mistake!"

Is that close to what's going on? If so, your focus should be on repairing the bruised ego of IT folks - cannot count on your customer for help because he/she is the one that harmed it in the first place. One could say that it's not your problem to spend time dealing with their internal issues, but do you want to be right and fail, or be successful?

Your first step is to find out all the relevant parties inside the client organization that you have to deal with. Declare a "reset" - making sure to not look like it's the customer's fault, otherwise they will think you're assigning blame to ask for more money for contract infringement. Ask your client to organize a kick-off to form an "integrated team". Prepare a list of all the areas you need support from and get your client (assuming Director or higher) to invite all the directors responsible for those areas to a "strategic" meeting to plan the reset. Draft the message for your client to be sure that in includes sentences such as "your department is essential for achieving such and such corporate objective".

In the strategic meeting make sure you reiterate how important each domain is, how only working together they will make this a resounding success that will reverberate throughout the company... Remember, it's about "what's in it for me?" - right now it's all work for someone else's benefit, you have to change the tune so they partake into the success and it will positively impact their image in the organization (and potentially their careers).

In the strategic meeting ask the Directors whom else should participate on the day to day activities. When you connect with them (or, better yet, ask the Directors to send an email connecting you) you now have implied authority from their organizational executives - but don't forget "what's in it for me" at operational levels either, because they are the ones actually putting in the hours and need to be enticed to do so!

This should at least get you the foot in the door, and continue to work your way in from there.

Hope it helps,


George Jucan
Excellent response from George.

Ken - Please keep us updated with your experience ...how you approached and what helped.
Jan 03, 2020 3:41 PM
Replying to George Jucan
...
Hi Ken,

This situation is more common than you'd think - you sold your product to someone from the "business", that purchased without IT's involvement and now IT is frustrated by being left out in the first place and do the very minimum possible to not be accused of not cooperating (however, they would like a failure to be able to say to their business "if you would have involved us from the beginning you wouldn't have made a mistake!"

Is that close to what's going on? If so, your focus should be on repairing the bruised ego of IT folks - cannot count on your customer for help because he/she is the one that harmed it in the first place. One could say that it's not your problem to spend time dealing with their internal issues, but do you want to be right and fail, or be successful?

Your first step is to find out all the relevant parties inside the client organization that you have to deal with. Declare a "reset" - making sure to not look like it's the customer's fault, otherwise they will think you're assigning blame to ask for more money for contract infringement. Ask your client to organize a kick-off to form an "integrated team". Prepare a list of all the areas you need support from and get your client (assuming Director or higher) to invite all the directors responsible for those areas to a "strategic" meeting to plan the reset. Draft the message for your client to be sure that in includes sentences such as "your department is essential for achieving such and such corporate objective".

In the strategic meeting make sure you reiterate how important each domain is, how only working together they will make this a resounding success that will reverberate throughout the company... Remember, it's about "what's in it for me?" - right now it's all work for someone else's benefit, you have to change the tune so they partake into the success and it will positively impact their image in the organization (and potentially their careers).

In the strategic meeting ask the Directors whom else should participate on the day to day activities. When you connect with them (or, better yet, ask the Directors to send an email connecting you) you now have implied authority from their organizational executives - but don't forget "what's in it for me" at operational levels either, because they are the ones actually putting in the hours and need to be enticed to do so!

This should at least get you the foot in the door, and continue to work your way in from there.

Hope it helps,


George Jucan
Very solid feedback - thanks.

I had been thinking that our "stakeholder mapping" was insufficiently robust; we've often relied on our customer partners to fill in the blanks for us, but some proactive guidance could (hopefully) prompt internal resource discussions before they impact the deployment.

As to your second comment - about internal politics and "what's in it for me": this is where we're seeing less success. The unfortunate reality is that teams are often overworked, and this project is just another brick on the pile. The management layer may want to help us, but that only lasts until the next crisis.

That being said, one of the reasons I was able to sidestep issues like these in my consulting days was that I built relationships within the organization, and could rely on those relationships as needed to get things unstuck. Perhaps the takeaway here is that I should focus my PMs on being more consultative. (Which is another way of saying "help them see what's in it for them, I suppose.)

Points taken - and thanks for the feedback!
...
1 reply by George Jucan
Jan 04, 2020 9:37 AM
George Jucan
...
Hi Ken,

Regarding "another brick in the pile"... everyone has 120% load, and finding time between firefighting is not easy... However:

- there must be a reason for them purchasing this in the first place, a business advantage or something - repackage that in something that appeals to the IT as well, e.g. if the company does better their job is more secure, they will have more money for salaries but also to enhance their aging technologies (don't know if it's true, these are just samples)

- them being so busy may actually be the immediate WIIFM, if you can make them see how a bit of effort now will save them effort in the future - a.k.a. the faster they get this implemented the faster they will have less work on their plate.

Hope it helps!

George Jucan
George nailed it. But I'll add some thoughts.

I wonder if anything could be improved contractually for future engagements? With these experiences, would be a shame not to take a step forward from it.

But these things are not uncommon. This is why it is just so important to have some intake process to properly ensure an 'idea' is vetted out and turned into an actual business case, that is solving an existing problem, and with the optics of other departments; IT, Vendor Management, Compliance, Enterprise Architecture, etc. Ideas cannot exist in a vacuum. It is with this joint effort that things properly, and sustainably, move forward.

Potentially incorporate some sort of 'Discovery' period to ensure line of sight with the right folks in the organization. Ensure the CIO is involved, etc. Have specific sessions not just for business, but for IT. In short, put things in place to ensure the right folks are involved.
Ken,

George nicely showed options to go forward.

You might also think about adapting what you are selling. Most SW vendors have similar problems, that implementation and change management for their products are in the hands of the clients and then do not happen as described by the vendor.

You could think about widening your offer by implementation and change management process and even offer services how to do that.

Or, beyond that, offer a solution run for the client, e.g. as outsourcing.

The goal is to understand what your product needs to be delivering benefits and to find the minimal impact on the client operations.
Dear Ken
Interesting your question

Thanks for sharing

I think it's a matter of sales philosophy

Some want to sell for sale

Some are interested in finding the best solution to meet customer needs and wants (in the short and medium term)
Jan 03, 2020 6:13 PM
Replying to Ken Prush
...
Very solid feedback - thanks.

I had been thinking that our "stakeholder mapping" was insufficiently robust; we've often relied on our customer partners to fill in the blanks for us, but some proactive guidance could (hopefully) prompt internal resource discussions before they impact the deployment.

As to your second comment - about internal politics and "what's in it for me": this is where we're seeing less success. The unfortunate reality is that teams are often overworked, and this project is just another brick on the pile. The management layer may want to help us, but that only lasts until the next crisis.

That being said, one of the reasons I was able to sidestep issues like these in my consulting days was that I built relationships within the organization, and could rely on those relationships as needed to get things unstuck. Perhaps the takeaway here is that I should focus my PMs on being more consultative. (Which is another way of saying "help them see what's in it for them, I suppose.)

Points taken - and thanks for the feedback!
Hi Ken,

Regarding "another brick in the pile"... everyone has 120% load, and finding time between firefighting is not easy... However:

- there must be a reason for them purchasing this in the first place, a business advantage or something - repackage that in something that appeals to the IT as well, e.g. if the company does better their job is more secure, they will have more money for salaries but also to enhance their aging technologies (don't know if it's true, these are just samples)

- them being so busy may actually be the immediate WIIFM, if you can make them see how a bit of effort now will save them effort in the future - a.k.a. the faster they get this implemented the faster they will have less work on their plate.

Hope it helps!

George Jucan

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