I recently read an article that discussed marketing as a core practice for business. By this the article did not mean that every organization should have a marketing function, but that marketing is a core way to get things done.
I remember an investment banker, who was instrumental in creating Shandwick Worldwide (now a part of Weber Shandwick), for which I worked at one time. He told the senior managers of the organization that their ability as managers was directly dependent on their ability to influence people to get them to do what those managers wanted them to do. This also is what we do as communications professionals.
Marketing is a discipline that enables us to do this in a fair and equitable way. While some would argue that marketing has only to do with selling products, Peter Drucker in 1991 noted that marketing is so basic that it cannot be considered a separate or independent function. Instead, marketing involves seeing the whole business from the perspective of so-called “final” results viz. the customer’s point of view. (http://marketing-guru.blogspot.com/2006/01/article-marketing-takes-on-new-meaning.html) In 1997 Philip Kotler defined marketing as “a societal process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating, offering and freely exchanging products and services of value with others. ” (Ibid)
Kotler doesn’t use the word “customer;” instead, he uses “individuals and groups.” However, if we want to rely on the “customer” metaphor, a shareholder is a kind of customer for a company’s stock; he or she exchanges capital for a share in the profit and appreciation of the company. An employee is an internal customer of the company, who exchanges time and talent for wages or a salary and the other benefits that come with employment. While you might not think of suppliers as customers, they certainly are stakeholders bringing resources to the organization in exchange for money and other benefits.
I find this a very useful lens through which to view the world. It works in commercial business. It works with not for profits, such as churches and charitable organizations. It works between bosses and employees. It works in personal relationships such as those between spouses, parents and children and friends.
So, when you’re trying to influence a stakeholder, the first question you might ask is: “What is this person trying to get out of this? What’s a great outcome for him or her and how can I deliver that outcome in a way that will help me achieve the outcome I want.” This also leads to the “win-win” concept, which strikes me as the best thing anyone could hope for in a business or personal relationship.
Research is useful in this process because it can inform your understanding of what your stakeholders actually want, so you can better deliver it.