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Aug232011

Considering Your Stakeholders

I was listening to a final demo at NYC Startup Weekend recently when one of the presenters uttered a muffled word that sounded a bit like "ushers".  One of the other judges quickly chimed in, "Did you say.. 'Users'?" to which the presenter said, "Yes".  "Do you mean 'Users' or 'Clients'?" was the next question, and the presenter responded: "Uhh.. Clients, yes."

This got me thinking a lot in the days that followed.  We work with lots of teams that are providing value at varying spots on the Services vs. Product continuum, where the definitions of "Client", "Partner", "Customer", and "User" often get conflated.  A famous letter-writer once said, "No man can serve two masters", but as companies, particularly on the Service end of things, are finding: businesses need to deliver value to multiple parties, all of whom may play a critical role in growing a company's levels of engagement, loyalty, and revenue growth.

These parties are company Stakeholders.

Of course investors are Stakeholders, as well as management teams, employees, and advisors.  But in today's climate of lightning-fast product cycles and information and pricing transparency, it's incumbent for Product Managers, Engineers, Marketing Heads, and CEOs to remember that developer partners, design contractors, and distribution agents (among others) are all Stakeholders in the business, sometimes as much as paying clients/customers and end users are.

Consider HP's recent decision to shelve the webOS TouchPad after just 48 days on the market, and this open letter to HP on an "investment in your DeadPad product".  The dollar-value of his investment in HP's product and brand is merely one method of evaluating his Stake, while his time, effort, and obvious willingness to broadcast (positively or negatively) are others.

And what about the Developers, Designers, and Strategic Partners that sunk thousands of hours and millions of dollars creating and delivering the apps whose unique content and user experiences would be equally crucial drivers for customer adoption of the TouchPad in the first place?  Those Stakeholders will have to consider that immense investment largely a write-off, and a painful one.  How will they look at the prospect of building future apps, tools, and services for HP in light of this recent sting?

Users, Partners, and Customers are Stakeholders whose actions, time, money, and voluntary evangelism ought not to be looked at as simply "click-throughs", "conversions", "lifetime values", and worst of all, "churn".  Mature businesses and startups alike would do well not to forget their constituents have made tangible and significant investments in their products and services, and to address decision-making from the top-down in this light.

Lest we also forget: Stakeholders often wear many hats -- Content Partners can be Marketers, Lessors are often Lessees, and power Sellers are often active Buyers.  Acknowledging these cross-value chains and paying close attention to optimizing any one significant Stakeholder's interests will very likely improve many other core business functions: stronger content partnerships gets you wider readership/viewership, more and varied inventory attracts larger and more diversified buyers, while pulling out all the stops in customer service for a loyal User sometimes gets you massively valuable PR.

(Not to mention, one of your satisfied product or platform partners may just well end up being your Largest Stakeholder one day..)

 

GN | 23 Aug 11

 

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