Tips for Building Buy-In

December 2007 Issue

Authored by Diana Del Bel Belluz

Have you ever noticed how many new small restaurants go out of business shortly after they open, before they’ve hardly even got a chance to get established? Many people have a dream of owning their own restaurant. Often they’re great cooks and their friends and family encourage them to share their culinary gift with the world. What these budding entrepreneurs fail to realize is that it takes much more than an excellent product to be successful. They invest all their money and effort into developing their menu, equipping their kitchen, and furnishing their new space so that it has an inviting atmosphere. And by the time they’re ready to open their doors, they have no money left for marketing. In many cases, they don’t even recognize that they need to do marketing. They’ve got great food, a great place but not enough customers to make the business viable.

Sadly, many risk management professionals fall prey to the same fatal error. They invest all their effort into developing the product, i.e., the risk management framework, risk assessment tools, and structured decision processes. And they invest little to nothing into explaining why anyone needs to care about risk management. Then they wonder why they have such difficulty getting managers across their organizations to embrace risk management. They fail to recognize that developing frameworks and tools isn’t enough. You have to actively ‘market’ risk management to get your people to try it out and then keep using it until it becomes embedded into business practices.

What secrets do the marketing experts have? I recently heard a crack marketer say, that to make a new restaurant profitable, the most important success factor is a hungry crowd. All you need to appeal to a hungry audience is a simple marketing message such as “Good food available at reasonable prices now!” You wouldn’t need any sophisticated marketing or sales techniques.  You could write your message with a pencil on a scrap of paper, photocopy it and pass it out to the hungry crowd and you would have more business than you could handle. This made me wonder – what are the ingredients of an irresistible marketing message for risk management?

Following the marketing expert’s formula, I wrote down the three critical components of the dream marketing package for the risk management professional:

  1. What is analogous to the restauranteur’s “good food”? It’s “robust risk management”. The risk management methods must generate high quality information to make defensible decisions that result in desired outcomes.
  2. What is equivalent to the restauranteur’s “reasonable prices”? In most organizations managers don’t pay a fee to use risk management but it does require an investment of their time and effort so it needs to be “easy to learn, use, and maintain”. In other words, the processes and techniques to assess, manage, and report about risk must dovetail into existing business practices with little or no additional transaction costs.
  3. What is equivalent to the restaurant owner’s ”now”? For risk management, it’s the ability to “demonstrate value immediately and over time”. You do this by ensuring that you meet short-term objectives and that you exploit opportunities to achieve your long-term goals.  If you can’t demonstrate and communicate the value of your management program, you will not be able to attract and sustain the leadership support and employee buy-in that are critical to success.

So how do you market risk management? The world of marketing offers some well tested steps to success.

STEP 1: Find the hungry crowd.

Take a page out of the marketing handbook and learn to “think like a customer”. As a risk management leader, your ‘customers’ are decision-makers in your organization. Get to know the people that you want to adopt your tools and processes for systematic risk management. What value do they crave?

Sales and marketing experts will tell you that people are motivated to buy for one of two reasons: (1) to relieve a pain or (2) to realize a dream or aspiration. And it is much easier to sell a person on a product or service that relieves their pain than it is to sell something that helps them achieve a dream. To illustrate the difference, a shoe salesman will have no problem selling you a new pair of running shoes if your old pair has a hole in the sole that is causing you cold, wet feet. However, to sell you a second pair, he’s got to find another motivating factor something that resonates with an aspiration you have. Perhaps it’s a pair that makes you look cool with your new workout wear or maybe a pair that is specifically designed to help you win long distance running events.

The lesson for risk management is if you want to generate buy-in, the first step is to find someone in your organization, preferably among the executive leadership team, who has a problem that is causing him major pain – enough pain that he’ll be willing to try out your risk management approach. If you are lucky enough to work in an organizationwhere the leadership team is made up of people who are always looking for ways to better themselves and their organization, you can also appeal to their dreams. Over the years, I have observed that the organizations that are best able to sustain risk management are those whose leaders are constantly looking to improve their business.

STEP 2: Offer your target market an ‘appetizing’ product.

Make sure your risk management tools and methods deliver real value to decision-makers in your organization. Design them to alleviate the pain or achieve the dreams that you discovered in step 1. Typical aspirations for risk management include:

  • ACCOUNTABILITY that arises from a deeper understanding of the factors that can significantly help or hinder achievement of the company’s objectives so you know where to focus your efforts and resources.
  • ENHANCED PERFORMANCE that occurs when you use metrics to encourage desired behaviours, discourage unwanted behaviours, and track performance and risk so that you can account for the progress towards your objectives and goals.
  • COMPETITIVENESS that results when you know you have used a robust, balanced and transparent approach to evaluate your options. You’ll have confidence that you have selected the best opportunities to position your organization for success now and in the future.

STEP 3: Communicate the value that your risk management has created in a compelling way.

It’s not enough to deliver value. You also have to talk it up. To be compelling you need to appeal to the underlying emotion that will motivate them to use risk management and to integrate it into their business practices. Is it pride in a job well done? Is it confidencethat they are making wise, effective decisions? Is it the security they’re going to feel by proving they are creating huge value for the company? Is it the happiness they’ll feel when they are buying their spouse a special gift with the big bonus they earned?Find out which emotion(s) drive your target market to act and then walk, write, speak and repeat the message often and in a way that resonates with them. Again, you need to ‘think like a customer’ when crafting your messages. Use language that your audience finds compelling. Tell and retell success stories that feature the people in your organization who have successfully used risk management and how it looks and feels to have achieved improved results through risk management.


The Risk Wise bottom line… If you want to successfully implement risk management, start by investing in a solid marketing campaign. Learn to think like a customer. Figure out what your target audience desperately needs and what big dreams they dearly want to achieve. Then find out what emotions will motivate them to buy-in to risk management. By doing your marketing homework, you’ll obtain the critical information you need to design and select risk management tools that will practically market themselves!


Tell me your risk management marketing stories. What has worked for you? Send me an e-mail at diana.belluz @

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