This month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) is about how to win and keep customers. Why is this relevant to PMO’s? It's my belief that many techniques used by marketers to build customer relationships are equally useful inside the organisation, and can make stakeholder engagement much easier for internal service providers such as PMO's and IT. The purpose of this article is suggest ways that we can apply HBR's customer retention research to help PMO's nurture and maintain collaborative relationships with executives, partners, internal suppliers and customers.
The psychology of customer loyalty is what drew my attention to HBR this time. What influences an existing customer to come back to the same supplier rather than use another solution? Apparently, customers are incredibly lazy when it comes to making a choice. Actually, they don't want to have to make a choice, they look for the easy decision path - reach for what is familiar and what's right in front of them (leading brands reinforce their popularity by ensuring their products are prominently displayed on the retailer's shelf).
Your customer (internal or external) anguished over value propositions and process performance when they first decided to work with you. When they need further training, or have another process improvement requirement, they would prefer not to have to make another conscious, rational decision. Repeat purchase decisions are largely influenced by instinct, what just comes automatically to mind. And therein lies the trick: suppliers just need to ensure that customers can recall who they are and have that positive vibe when they come to mind.
Three steps to heaven
The core message from HBR is that maintaining customer and stakeholder relationships is not about constantly revisiting and sharing your value proposition and latest service offerings. Indeed that could inadvertently cause relationships to cool because you're always challenging them to think. Instead, the route to nirvana has 3 steps: build familiarity, create positive associations with what matters to them, and avoid being scary.
Is it worth the effort? Engaged stakeholders enable the PMO to get to work faster and deliver better outcomes for the organisation. Research by Lynda Gratton has demonstrated that the most productive, innovative teams are typically led by people who focus on stakeholder relationships. So this is about using the advantages you've already got (the foot in the door) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your PMO.
So how can we apply this bit of marketing theory to help PMO’s nurture these stakeholder relationships? Here are my 6 suggestions:
1. Be a familiar face
People prefer things they can recall quickly as opposed to something that feels unfamiliar. Getting that automatic recognition requires regular exposure and that’s a challenge when you may not have much direct contact with key executives, or you did some work for a PM but it was over a year ago. The trick is to use some 'PMO Marketing' to keep in contact:
- Be there even when you can’t be:
Provide engaging information about your PMO in places where stakeholders will see it. For example: posters in the staff canteen that illustrate in a fun way who to contact in the PMO; infographics displayed in meeting rooms about the types of finance data processed by the PMO; videos about project success stories distributed to department heads to share with their teams; a “Briefing The Board” newsletter to your director to share with senior executives.
- Be there even when you don’t need to be:
What often happens with customers and stakeholders is that we wait for them to call us. Regular exposure requires being a visible part of their environment even when there’s no particular call for your services. For example: not just working in the same office space but proactively contributing PMO insights about designing better reports or resource management; asking for feedback about the PMO to help improve processes and services; encouraging milestone recognition by helping project leaders create internal case studies.
2. Create a positive association: PMO = Value
It is certainly important to keep evolving PMO services and offerings to keep pace with changing stakeholder needs, but a key message from this research is to stop over-rotating about updating your value proposition. It’s more important to ensure stakeholders can bring to mind the contribution your team has already made. And you do that by providing reminders, such as:
- Focus on outcomes not output:
Use performance metrics to clearly associate your PMO with value delivered. For example: measure performance based on how useful reports have been to the recipients rather than number of reports produced; after training courses ensure customer feedback questions focus on whether participants now feel able to achieve their objectives rather than what they thought about the venue.
- Reveal the “PMO Inside”:
PMO value is often hidden in stats about project delivery improvements or organisation efficiencies. Building a positive association between “PMO” and “Value” requires bringing evidence to light about the impact your PMO has made. For example: after each engagement write a case study about the outcomes for the business and the role played by the PMO; create a Quarterly Value Review document to brief senior executives about value delivered over the past quarter and how solutions developed can help to deliver the next quarter’s goals.
3. Avoid being new and scary
Change is often perceived as difficult and unwelcome. Stakeholders will feel more comfortable about a solution that feels familiar (“It’s a new dashboard but I don’t have to learn a new user interface”). As HBR put it: ‘“Improved” is more comfortable and less scary than “new”’. When stakeholders need the PMO to provide a new solution to move the business forward, how do you put forward your new technology / planning tool / P3M method without scaring them off?
- Tailor stakeholder communications:
PMO perceptions that new technology is exciting may not be shared by your stakeholders. Help people focus on the improvements not the ‘new’. For example: provide evidence that a solution has been tried and tested within the organisation, even if only by the PMO; emphasise what doesn’t change – people, infrastructure, user interface.
- Support the transition:
Very often people can be put off by something as simple as uncertainty about whether they will be able to use the new system. Head-off concerns before they come to mind, for example: provide a road-map for achieving key milestones; avoid executives feeling out of their comfort zone by providing 1-1 briefings and training on the new system; provide FAQ's about the support available and how your PMO will create a smooth and painless transition.
Simple steps can move engagement from low to high
When you’ve succeeded in engaging with a new part of the business for the first time or gained the support of a key executive, you’ve done the hard work. What the HBR marketing insight is telling us is not to take that fledgling relationship for granted. Some simple actions and regular attention may be all it takes to nurture a long term partnership.
What’s your view about applying marketing ideas to your PMO? What actions would you recommend to nurture stakeholder relationships?