As economies fluctuate so strategies need to adapt. This has always been the case, however, now as the world around us changes dramatically and certain elements, such as globalisation and the internet, are irreversible, some strategic changes need to be radical – and none more so than in the way suppliers engage with clients and other key stakeholders. Yet we see most organisations merely tweaking what they did in good times in the hope that the good old days will return. They will not.
Let’s look at 10 things that people in business development continue to do, with the best intentions, of course, but sadly most of these tactics are redundant and are more likely to cause harm rather than stimulate growth.
Sell, sell, sell. The biggest mistake of all. You don’t like to be sold to – you like to be empowered to make a decision to buy. Your key stakeholders are the same. Rather create an environment where they want to buy. Take the long-term view: become a trusted advisor to business leaders by helping them grow their companies – even if it means losing out on a short-term gain.
Prepare to overcome objections. Many people prepare for objections to their ideas and suggestions. If you create the right environment and are not pushing there will be nothing to object to. Clients and other stakeholders want to lead the conversation, and tell you what they need. Stop sounding like a template; ask questions to get to their issue, then offer help, even if it is not your help, to get what they need.
Compete on price. “A race to the bottom”. If you focus on cutting prices at some stage there is nowhere left to go. Price dropping is not temporary it sets a new price point in the market. Most stakeholders who push you on price are actually pushing you on value for money, and that is a very different thing. Focus on value.
Persuade by presentation. Avoid “death by PowerPoint”. I have never had a client say to me “I wish you had just one more slide”. PowerPoint is a safety blanket for the presenter and focuses the conversation on you, rather than connecting into your client’s agenda. Engage in two way conversation not a one way lecture.
Propose by default. Reacting to requests for proposal is the most expensive and dangerous way to drive a business. If you don’t already have the right relationship when the request is issued do not bid regardless of how “strategic: someone says the opportunity is. Your chance of winning or being engaged is too small to justify the effort. Use the opportunity to build a relationship by declining to bid but offering to help the issuing company review the bids they receive – for free.
Use your qualifications to try to sell. What stakeholders need is business acumen – ways in which the client can improve their business or achieve their goals, rather than just technical inofrmation. Do you have what it takes to provide worthwhile advice for your stakeholders?
Rely on social relationships to win work. Business is no longer about charming your way into a client’s budget. If you think that’s the way to go, well, the word that comes to mind is ‘insincere’. Yes, care about your stakeholders as a people, where it’s relevant, but you’re in the meeting or on the line because you have something of value for the client. Know what that value is before you make the call.
Try to seal the deal in the room. If you try to push any deal in the room you will probably alienate the other person. If you already had the right relationship they have probably bought you before you come into the room. If you do not then they will probably make the decision after the meeting when they reflect on how much they trust you.
Aim for low-hanging fruit. It is tempting to go for the easy option. Selling to people you already know through upgrades, new products and trying to squeeze a bit more out of a relationship you already have. Instead be brave. Build new relationships in new organisations, by focussing on a different type of conversation with key influencers. You will get a long-term return.
Focus on problems. Many people are fixated on identifying a challenge which their idea or offering can fix. That drives a negative and narrow conversation and relationship. Focus instead on what the stakeholder wants to achieve and on possibilities. Change the level of thinking and relationship to one which opens up your understanding and the relationship.
Forward-thinking companies are re-examining the dominant logic in every aspect of their business. They are challenging themselves to look for new conversations with different people. They are bringing discipline back into the workplace, in terms of keeping up to date and following through on every promise. They are recognising that honesty – doing what you said you would do – is critical.
Most of all, they are recruiting relationship management roles on the basis of their deep consulting skills in addition to superior product knowledge. Because you can have the best CRM system, but if your people can’t bring value to every interaction with the stakeholder, they are wasting their time, and yours.
As Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Vanessa Bluen is the Managing Director of The Consultant Powerhouse
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