Survey Tips

How Surveys Can Help You Get Stakeholder Buy-In

David Jones
6 min read

In any project, you need stakeholders – they’re the people who have a personal investment in your project or business. Sometimes this investment is financial, sometimes it’s not. The problem is that when people have an investment in your project, they can either be supportive or they can be roadblocks. What they become depends on how you handle them.

So what is the best way to transform stakeholder roadblocks into support? Survey data can be used to convince your stakeholders to give you the leeway, funds, and control to act on your findings.

This sounds simple in theory – you create surveys to gather data, then you present the hard data to your stakeholders. After all, who can argue with concrete numbers staring them right in the face?

Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way. Why? Because numbers lack emotion and nuance. If you want to get your stakeholders to give you the authority to act, you can’t just present them with raw data. Rather, you need to tell them a story about what your data says.


What Your Stakeholders Are Worried About

Most stakeholders are notoriously risk averse – particularly when they have their own money on the line. This means that they want proof that something is going to work – before it’s even been tried.

Your stakeholders are looking for a historical precedent. They want to know if they invest X amount of money into product Y, they’re likely to see a certain amount of return on investment. Unfortunately, this approach does not work when your business is attempting to do something new – it’s far easier to look at works in the rearview mirror than it is to drive the car.

How do surveys play into this? Until you have hard data, you’re selling nothing but hope. By collecting hard data, you’ll be able to make a case for your business to your stakeholders. Your role will be to build their confidence which will allow them to encourage you to take risks. You must use data to show potential to people who won’t be able to see it.


Get the Data, But Numbers Aren’t Enough

Imagine this. It’s a big company meeting and someone wearing a nice suit stands at the front of the board room. They rattle through a slide show of numbers and graphs, followed by a brief PowerPoint presentation that prominently features pie charts. While doing it, they’re speaking in a monotone voice.

Imagine how difficult it would be for you to pay attention to this presentation.

Even if all of the numbers are right, even if the data gives you all the evidence you need to act, it’s going to be hard to find the motivation. Because while people care about data, it doesn’t drive change. Rattling off statistics won’t convince your stakeholders to give you what you need. Numbers, by default, are emotionless. If you want your stakeholders to help you, you need to give them an emotional punch.


You Need to Tell a Story With Data

Emotions lead to motivation, and motivation leads to action. Whether people want to admit it or not, the vast majority of us are more likely to be motivated by a presentation directed at our emotions than one directed at the logical part of our brain. When you collect survey data, you need to use it to tell a story that appeals to your stakeholders’ emotions.

Consider the previously mentioned presentation. Now, imagine if instead of just providing you with charts and graphs of raw numbers, they told a story around the new direction the data shows your business should take. It’s a little like the iconic Carousel scene in Mad Men. In it, Don Draper tells an emotional story that becomes the marketing direction for the Kodak Carousel slide projector. 

Even if you’re not an English major, you can look at your survey data and use it to tell a story. If you need some help, here are two broad types of stories that typically resonate in a business environment:

  • The Fear of Loss
  • Everyone’s Doing It (Except for Us)


When Data Shows Loss, Tip Into the Fear of Loss

This story focuses on what you’re going to miss out on if you don’t act.

Now, few people will respond well if every story you tell is full of doom and gloom. Instead, think of this narrative as a way of making what’s at stake tangible.  In same ways, it could be better to call this “the promise of gain” rather than the fear of loss.

For example, your data might show that by not marketing to a particular section of the market, you’re missing out on a potential 2% increase in profits.

But what does 2% of profits really mean?

Now take that raw number and turn it into something tangible. What could your stakeholders do with an extra 2% of profits? Instead of saying “You’re missing out on 2% of profits,” say “You’re missing out on a first class trip to Europe.” Or, maybe, those updated laptops everyone in your department realy needs.

By tell the story behind the number, you show the emotional experience that your stakeholder might be missing out on.


What to Say When the Data Shows Everyone’s Doing It Except Us

When your neighbor pulls up with a brand new car, it’s easy to feel a bit envious. That’s the emotional response this type of story targets.

If your data is telling you that successful companies are doing something your business isn’t, this is the story you want to tell.

Show what successful companies are doing and show the emotional result.

Maybe you have a picture of their CEO winning an award, or their online reviews . The key is to show your stakeholders the things they want to have, then show how the data will help them get there.


Play to Stakeholder Hearts, Not Their Heads

Always remember – your stakeholders are people. And as people, they’re more prone to make decisions if they can understand the emotions behind making those decisions.

If you want your stakeholders to back you, you need to take your raw survey data and then translate it into a story that has an emotional appeal.

Show how developing a new product will improve their lives.

It’s easy to gloss over numbers, but it’s impossible to gloss over emotion. Your challenge is to derive the meaning from your data and build a narrative around that meaning.

So what story are you going to tell to get your stakeholders on board?

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