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Connection as an inside job: building relationships for greater buy-in

By Kristin Johnson / December 26, 2018

As marketers we often ask ourselves what our goal for social is. Is it awareness? Engagement? Conversion? But the truth is, we should be asking what our audiences’ goal for social is. And the answer to that question is simple: They want to feel connected–to each other, to a cause, a larger vision and yes, even to your brand.

Therefore, our goal on social and, more broadly, marketing should always be to connect with our audience. That connection is what inspires their trust and ultimately leads to purchase.

But building relationships shouldn’t start and stop with our external audience. Creating real connection is crucial to getting work done and ensuring buy-in across your entire organization.

Many marketers believe that creating consensus in your company comes down to the strength of your argument. But it’s really about the strength of your connections.

In order to earn the degree of trust, endorsement and solidarity needed to push an idea forward and bring about real progress, we must create real connection with stakeholders and executive leaders. To start, we have to understand the full scope and impact of our idea.

Consensus building for business starts with the why

Each discipline within marketing has nuanced measurement and success metrics, but they should always ladder up to a common purpose and vernacular. That purpose is where you should start every conversation. “Why should we do this? Why will it help us reach our goals? Why should everyone care?” And while that may sound simple enough, the challenge is in making sure the goals of the idea or individual align with those of the larger organization.

For instance, a social campaign with the goal of awareness may not resonate with executive leadership when their biggest focus is on churn and retention. That’s why it’s important for marketers to really be in tune with what’s important to their company at any given time. Because what was important last year may not be the focus for this year.

And lastly, not every idea or program is going to meet the goals of every team. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it just means it needs to be that much better. If a solution is only going to help one specific team or goal, marketers need to show that it’s capable of creating a significant, measurable impact.

This is often the most overlooked step in the buy-in process. Sometimes people just have a good idea. But that’s not enough. If they’re not focusing first on the goals and the why – it will never get off the ground.

Get buy-in with a little help from your friends

A social campaign shouldn’t just live within social. It should inform or impact all of marketing, and potentially the entire organization.

Consider the insights learned from social listening. Knowing what customers need, feel and care about affects pretty much every discipline across a company.

While the impact of social media can be felt across an entire marketing department–and larger organization–the scope and influence becomes limited when it’s siloed within a single department or potentially within a single person.

In order for it to live up to its full potential, marketers should seek buy-in outside of their immediate boss and involve multiple stakeholders. Think of all the people and teams who might be impacted by–and possibly benefit from–what’s being proposed. Meet with them one on one. Start with the why. Use them to pressure test the idea and see if it really does help achieve multiple goals.

In addition to a good gut check, these 1:1s are an opportunity to expand on and improve an idea. With the input and insights of fellow stakeholders, what might have started as just a couple of videos could potentially turn into a full-blown campaign.

This is also a chance to get as many people excited about the idea as possible. When it eventually moves to the executive level, it’s nice to have a full army of support behind you.

Preparation is the key to a c-suite yes

After those initial stakeholder discussions, marketers will most likely have some tweaks to make. Ideally that would mean adding to and building on the idea, but in some cases it may mean revisiting and tightening in some areas.

When approaching leadership, the conversation should follow roughly the same format as the stakeholder 1:1s. Except this time, when you start with the why, it’s less of a hypothesis. You’re no longer proposing that the idea will impact the broader team’s goals, you’re proving it. Showcase the value of the idea for what the team–and the company as a whole–is marching toward.

Always come prepared. Have something on “paper” like a deck or presentation and send it to leaders ahead of time so they have a chance to digest some of it before the meeting. Quotes from stakeholder conversations make excellent qualitative data. But it’s also important to use numbers to speak to their business mind. Stats and tangible business metrics are a must.

Equally important to how well we prepare is how well we respond–especially if we’re sensing hesitation. When an exec appears unsure, it’s important to always call it out. Marketers should avoid getting defensive of their idea, but should definitely push to find out what’s holding someone back from getting on board.

And if it’s still a no? Don’t let it get to you. Sometimes an idea or a time just isn’t right. But don’t let it stop you either. It’s our job to take that no, digest it and figure out how we can learn from it. Really understanding why it was a no will help get a yes next time.

Being positive is underrated

An often overlooked, underrated part of the process is positivity. A lot of times when people start with their why, they spend too much time highlighting the negative–complaining about the problem more than championing their solution.

But no one responds well to negativity. Instead of vilifying the current situation or process, it’s important to simply recognize where the company/team/organization is, identify how it got there and where there may have been a missed opportunity. It’s all about presenting an opportunity for improvement.

Once a “campaign” for an idea or solution is well underway, marketers should be sure to highlight wins as they go. If people don’t hear much after an initial chat, they forget about it. That’s how ideas lose momentum. Whether it’s a successful meeting or some really great feedback, acknowledging those wins can really drive the spirit of the team and motivate them to keep pushing and feeling confident.

For example, whenever my team has a really great meeting, I like to send out a quick Slack message to acknowledge and appreciate the participants and the conversation. Not only does that keep the team engaged and energized, but it’s also a great way to show leadership tangible wins along the way. I love that such a small gesture can make such a big impact.

Connect for change

Even the most brilliant, creative ideas for social don’t sell themselves. The key to making your vision a reality is to identify your goals, align them with those of the rest of organization and then seek to create real connection with the people whose lives and business you hope to improve.

Kristin Johnson

Kristin Johnson

Kristin Johnson is the VP of Content and Communications at Sprout Social. She is an experienced marketer with a passion for impactful storytelling, fostering her team's growth and sparking thoughtful discussion. Outside the office, she enjoys yoga, cooking and a great pint of beer (usually, in that order).
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