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A Word About Business Development

I had an interesting discussion this morning about business development.  My friend and I agreed that business development is the most difficult sales discipline.  In many cases, you must convince your own company to change so you can sell change to a prospect.

Business development sales people are change agents.  You may hear that change agents are respected, glorified, and rewarded.  In most cases, this is not true.  Human beings hate change  Why do you think “tradition” has such a hold on our cultures?  We crave stability, and the reassurance that things today will be much as they were yesterday.  When “change agents” disrupt this stability, they do not win popularity contests.

When you look at business development from the view of the prospect, there is much to fear.  If you have a process in place, and it works, why disrupt it?  There is high risk in making a change including failure, embarrassment, unnecessary cost, and the loss of  your job over the consequences.  This is especially true if you must depend on your vendor to assist you with a decision.  The business development sales person has to overcome this fear of change and minimize the risk as perceived by the prospect.

From the view of the business development sales person’s company, a new client also brings changes.  These changes include cost that may be hard to quantify because the opportunity is new business, without a track record.  The new client may require changes in how operations does business.  It may involve new techniques or services.  All of these changes may be resisted by the company as too costly, too hard, or just plain impossible to implement.

So, to be successful, the business development sales person must manage the “fear” of change at both the prospect and at their own company.  This takes a specific skill set, that unfortunately doesn’t show up in many business development job descriptions.  Instead, companies begin searching for a “closer” although many have a tough time defining exactly what a “closer” is.

A recent book I read described the “closer” as James or Jamie Bond.  You know if you send Bond out into the field they will come back with the business.  Unfortunately, they leave many bodies in their wake, along with customer expectations that cannot be met.  The result is a relationship nightmare, additional cost to “fix” things, and a short-term gain that leads to unhappy clients, and a ruined reputation.

So, what are we do to about business development?  Well, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Companies must recognize the difficulties inherent in business development, and be prepared to recruit and compensate the best they can find.  You can define business development sales persons as “hunters,” which they are, but they must have the ability to conduct research, effectively communicate the value of your offering, be confident and sure of themselves and their abilities, be project managers in many cases, be up on the latest and greatest in your industry, and have the ability to work with the many cross-functional teams needed to develop a proposal and implement a solution for a new client.  I’m sure I have missed some important skill here, but you get the picture.
  2. Executives must have patience with their business development departments.  If you want the business to be profitable and long-term, you have to wait for the opportunity to develop.  To overcome the resistance to change, business development sales persons may need to work with several teams at both your company and at the prospect’s to develop a compelling case to move forward.  The very best deals are the result of a consensus developed between your business development team and the prospect.  Sure, you can send in James or Jamie Bond and have some short-term success, but it may come with a huge bill for cleanup and long-term customer dissatisfaction.
  3. Provide your business development team with the resources needed to get the job done.  This could include travel, equipment, marketing and even entertainment expenses.  Your business development sales person is building relationships, and that means one-on-one time.  The relationships needed to overcome change resistance are not developed over the phone, or with e-mails, or as the result of a winning presentation or proposal.  They are developed because your business development sales person becomes a trusted Advisor.  Someone whose opinion the prospects respects.
  4. Work with your business development team on a sales discipline that adds structure to the process and assist with time management and forecasting.  An excellent discipline or “rules of engagement” identifies qualified prospects, eliminates  “tire kickers” and keeps everyone focused.  It also encourages communication between the business development team and upper management eliminating expectations that are too high.
  5. Finally, turn your company into a business development machine.  Make sure that “operations” cannot kill a deal because they do not want to change to meet the prospect’s needs.  Ensure that everyone in the company understands the importance of new business and their responsibility in the process.  Instead of erecting barriers, everyone in the company must look for ways to help the business development team succeed in closing new business.

Business development is difficult at both small and large companies.  There is no “magic” bullet.  The resistance we all have to change is too strong.  It takes discipline and time to overcome.

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