Three Steps to Implement a Business Development Strategy
Business Development (BD) is ironically one of the hardest things in business, and for good reason. It requires empathy and being real over the long haul. In a nutshell: hang out where your prospects are; make friends and establish trust; be there when they're ready to make the leap. If this is a little blurry, read on.
BD is the classic function of a business. I don't think of it in terms of sales, the pushy kind where you're trying to convince someone of the value of your offering. That's a little backward these days when we have so much technology and insight at our disposal. It's really a matter of empathy, connecting with your prospect to then delve into their situation. You're trying to solve a problem they have, presumably. So getting to that problem is the crux of the matter.
The status today is that we receive on the order of 10k marketing signals per day, by way of advertisements and messages designed to interrupt. And it's horribly toxic. Unfortunately, we're accustomed to a certain baseline of this noise. But with the advancement of technology, the noise factor is only getting worse. Multiply this factor if you live in a big city, or if you have a huge digital focus in work or life.
Spending a lot of time on your phone..? (If you need to put down this post to go spend a moment staring at the trees, by all means, go for it! This'll still be here when you come back. If you come back..)
Due to the horrid state of a noisy life we're in, I've come to appreciate BD as a sanctuary for connection. A chance to get real in terms of communicating expectations and strategy. Delving into the problems of a company, with the aim to help, by providing or finding whatever solution is best. No wonder people struggle with it. Everyone, including me. As much as I am a people person, someone focussed on communication, an extrovert even; it is still the proverbially shit job.
It's like dating. Sometimes you get lucky and the dream boy or girl lands in your lap. Cute. Actually, that's a lie! In reality, it takes time. Perseverance through lots of trial and error, putting your self out there and knowing what you want in a partner and relationship. It's a dance. Learn to dance.
Taking the eternally optimistic stance, let's break BD down into a simple all weather approach.
The All-Season BD Strategy
1. Hang out where your prospects are
Get to really know them. Practice observing them, what are their mannerisms, their preferences. Be like them. Walk a mile in their shoes. Come to understand the view of the problem you're looking to solve.
This applies to the online world and your digital presence, as well as the real world. For me, this is mostly networking events and coworking spaces. For you it could be bars, or other meetups. Are they in certain communities, clubs, forums, congregations. What’s another product or service that your target commonly uses?
Meet, connect, make the right impression, pre-qualify, keep it loose.
2. Make friends and establish trust
How do you behave with your friends? Hopefully, you're honest. You probably let your hair down. Why? - because you know they won't judge you. They'll give you shit for everything you do though because they love you. Be like this with prospects. Just be open. Be yourself. Not some polished version, a fake filter. All that veneer facade is hard to maintain down the road.
Trust is naturally built over time, there's no way around it. It's built on a reliance on your strength, confidence, accountability, and accuracy. Unless you get referrals; and that's when the trust is implied. But you still need to confirm the assumption.
What do you do with your friends? How do you treat them? Maybe you're generous. You do favors for them, you help them out. Be like that with an air of professionalism and you're on the right path.
The reality is there are no guarantees. And it's a drawn out process of maybes. It's still a numbers game in the end and you have to do everything you can to keep that funnel filled with potential partners. This is why qualification is key. Be friendly, but targeted. You want to get all the thrashing out of the way upfront. And if it turns out you're not meant to be, then better know as early as possible. Ideally, before you've engaged.
3. Be there when they're ready to make the leap
The final stage is really simple. You want to be present in their minds as the suitable solution when the time comes for them to make a leap of faith. Idealy this final step is a foregone conclusion. Such that when you make the offer, they're right there with you.
We know folks need 7-12 touches to recall your brand at the right time. Substitute yourself, offer or solution and we have the same thing. To go from first meeting to friend for life is a lifetime journey. We need at least an incling of that kind of commitment. Checkin regularly. Offer updates via a newsletter. Stay present.
To be clear, I'm talking about complex sales here. As opposed to transactional sales, like buying milk at the store. That's a different interaction that sometimes involves brand relationships or measures of simple convenience. In the world of complex sales, we're talking about relationships. And those are about trust, at least at this level. You're not looking to marry your business partners, but it's on that scale of relating. (More on that to follow.)
Play the long game. You should have a stock of trust to fall back on, so when the time comes, you're ready to spring into action. The corollary is that you should by now have a fairly thorough understanding of what your new client is doing, and how you can best slot yourself into their operation to help. You intimately know their problem, and how to solve it.
I honestly think that's all there is to it.
Some people have the gift of the gab. Others are really good at reading people and mirror their prospects to make them feel at ease. There are plenty of tactics out there. But they all focus on some form of empathy. It still amazes me, but marketing is only ever about people trying to connect with people. I think we all just want to get along. We all want to be liked and feel like we have a place in our community. To be welcomed and accepted. To craft a sense of all of this humanity, and deliver in a genuine manner, tailored to your new friend; that's the sweet spot.
BD is the one. The biggest issue my clients face. In a sense, it's the main function of marketing; getting people in the door. Of course, if you make something people want, and you prove this with validation, then you've done your due diligence and should expect to reap the rewards. Otherwise, if you're overly reliant on marketing, it might be back to the drawing board. But that's another story...