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Getting buy-in from the top: ensuring a digital vision for your membership organisation

Adrian Porter Head of Strategic Research

After our recent membership seminar, I was asked by a number of people if we have any techniques for getting senior stakeholders to take digital seriously and release budget for digital projects.

The answer is yes, and of course the easiest way to secure buy-in and get cross-organisational support is to employ an agency like us to cut through internal structures and politics in a stakeholder engagement exercise that delivers a digital roadmap for the future. However, getting to the point of commissioning work like this is often too fraught with internal obstacles. I can say though that having worked with many very complex and multi-faceted organisations, it is evident that there are similarities between them which can be used as catalysts for change.

Where to start?

A digital vision needs to be owned by the whole organisation, which means it has to have buy-in from the top. However, as we all know it is often difficult to get the idea of a cohesive and holistic digital strategy across to those who are likely to release the budget to produce it. This is to say that unless your CEO is a digital evangelist, you will have to prove the benefits of digital first in order to get the idea of a digital future on the agenda.

The best way to get people to take you seriously is to marry your objectives with those of your organisation. So, start with your organisation’s aims and objectives. It is up to you to understand these aims and objectives, and how elements of a digital strategy might help your organisation meet them. You also need to understand the communication and business priorities for individual departments, and the personal objectives, motivations and enthusiasms of the individuals responsible for departmental delivery. Having an intimate knowledge of all this will ensure you are in a good position to attract the attention of a sympathetic ear.

Don’t mention digital, your website, Facebook or Twitter!

Armed with your in-depth understanding of the business and the individuals involved, it is time to state your case. But - Don’t talk ‘digital’! It is no good saying ‘our website isn’t up to scratch; I need £40k to revamp it’. Instead say, ‘I can improve retention rates and attract more members’. Don’t say ‘I think we need a Facebook page’, say ‘I can get 100 signatures on our petition to government’ and instead of mentioning Twitter, ask how valuable 200 more influencers having awareness of your agenda would be to the organisation.

Three options

What and how you pitch needs to be rooted in your understanding of your organisation. You need to ensure that your proposal resonates with your target audience and offers value to as many internal departments as possible. Here are three classifications and approaches to help you. They are not definitive, and there will be elements of each in every organisation, but they should all be part of your broader digital vision, and aimed at demonstrating tangible ROI in order to secure future budget and enthusiasm for digital.

The Hygiene Pitch

For the vain, paranoid

If your organisation sees itself as leading, or if it is scared of being usurped by other organisations, then adopt the hygiene pitch. This is designed to put the case for a website revamp. The case should rely upon competitive analysis and an understanding of your users as well as where your site sits relative to current trends. At a guess I can guarantee your site isn’t mobile-friendly, cannot be personalised, does not have optimised content, or use the latest coding standards, and is not integrating common social channels.

Present a comparison of your site and those of your competitors, highlighting where they are doing things better than you, and include examples from outside of the sector to highlight what you could be doing. Also produce stats that prove things such as search engine position and the number of people accessing your site via mobile.

Your aim should be to demonstrate the benefits of future-proofing your website as a basis for a broader digital initiative.

The Campaign Pitch

For the risk averse, archaic

If your organisation doesn’t get digital then adopt the campaign pitch. This approach should be driven by a clear objective, which will resonate with your stakeholders. It is really important not to mention technology immediately, but rather to talk business. Central to this pitch is a business case which promises a return on investment, such as getting 200 people to sign a petition to government.

Your aim is to create a digital campaign that delivers value to members and the organisation, in order to strengthen your case for future digital projects.

The Tactical Pitch

For the poor, complacent

If you have very little budget, or everyone thinks that there is little wrong with their digital activity adopt the tactical pitch. This approach picks a small aspect of the hygiene approach and remedies it. So for instance if your application process is obstructive, and in need of refinement, produce the statistics and stories that affirm this and a methodology to put it right. Your aim is to drum up the enthusiasm for more digital work, leading to a site re-vamp.

What next?

Assuming you pitched it right, and there is an available budget, which does not have to be that much for the tactical and campaign approaches, then your next job is to implement. But before you do, make sure you have the benchmarks and measurement tools in place to prove your success.

From this point it is likely to be a bit of a slow burn, but make sure that you communicate your successes regularly, either formally to project sponsors, or informally at the ‘water-cooler’. When you have solid evidence of ROI go back and ask for more. Ultimately you will be able to ask ‘Shall we call Precedent now and commission a digital strategy?’ and the CEO should say ‘yes’.

In my next blog I will be describing an approach to produce a digital strategy.