December 28, 2021

Reader question from Sebastian Wolf re primary stakeholders

Fellow list member Sebastian Wolf replied to a recent Ditcherville comic with a question about how to define a “primary stakeholder” (shared with permission):

Hi Jonathan.

I love your content.

One question concerning your last Ditcherville story.

How do you define a “primary stakeholder”?

The background of my question: We often deal with middlemen who are part of a pyramid organization.

They are only project-managers, often have no decision making power, but are assigned to the job of bringing in vendors and quotes.

How do you deal with those people?

You can’t just tell them to bugger off because you want to speak to their manager, can you?

Best regards and keep up the good work,


Great question, Sebastian!

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Yes, you can tell them to bugger off if you can’t speak to their manager. In fact, you have have no choice but to do so if you want to value price a project. You can’t base a price on a value that you don’t know.
  2. Someone who can’t articulate the desired business outcome of the project is called a gatekeeper. Getting past gatekeepers is a necessary skill if you’re going to be selling custom project work.
  3. If you are bad at getting past gatekeepers (and don’t want to invest in getting better at it) one alternative is to set your sights on smaller companies where you can get access to the CEO/owner more easily. You can make more money working with the CEO of a $5M company than with a low level gatekeeper at a $500M company.
  4. If you want to only work with big companies, you need to become famous in the eyes of the high-level decision makers at those companies so that they reach out to you directly. You do this by writing and speaking. Constantly. For a long time.

But I haven’t answered your first question, which was this:

How do you define a “primary stakeholder”?

The “primary stakeholder” is the person who will ultimately say whether or not the money the company gave you was well spent.

It’s the person to whom you are trying to deliver customer satisfaction, which is why it’s so important to talk to them up front.

If you don’t have a good understanding of what will satisfy them, how could you possibly be confident about your odds of success?