I was talking to a client recently who was pleased to report that he had several proposals out and he was anxious to land some of them soon. He asked me how often he should follow up with the prospective clients to find out if they had made a decision.
“What is the rush?” I asked.
“I want to win the work!” He replied.
“Did you ask the clients when they were going to select the provider?” I asked.
“Well, no, but I assumed they were going to make a decision sooner than this.” He answered.
“Ahhh, so you are making their agenda your agenda. What if their timing changed and they just haven’t gotten around to tell you?" I asked.
He got my point. The excitement to close the deal clouded his better judgment to give his clients space and allow them to get back to him when they were ready. Too often, professionals get antsy about the lag time in hearing back from clients on proposals that have been sent out. I call this “proposal anxiety.” The dreaded waiting game. This is especially painful when you only have one or two opportunities in the pipeline.
We are at the start of a new year which is the common time to make a change. Gym membership applications skyrocket, healthier eating picks up, and ambitious goals are set. The problem with many of these resolutions is that they don’t last.
According to the IHSRA (International Health, Racquet, & Sportsclub Association), 50% of new gym memberships get canceled within the first 6 months. I would venture to guess that many of the members who don’t cancel in the first 6 months stop going and are too lazy to cancel.
It is safe to say that one of the most difficult parts of business development is investing the time, energy, and effort to develop a relationship from scratch to the point where that person trusts you and is willing to give you a shot. It usually requires a strong dose of patience and persistence.
Case in point: When I was the National Sales leader for a consulting firm prior to starting my own practice, I asked my top three performers a very simple question. “What is the average time it takes to build a relationship from the first time they meet you to the time they give you your first matter?”
Do you remember the days when hand-written cards were more of the norm than the exception? Client desks were decorated with cards that would remain visible for many days if not weeks. Gifts would show up that had a personal touch that put a smile on the client's face.
It seems like in today’s hectic business world where no one seems to have any free time, professionals have become complacent when it comes to showing gratitude toward their business contacts. Hand-written cards are perceived to take too long and are easily replaced with a digital card produced by the firm, or a simple email that would quickly disappear in the Inbox.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
Now that I have caught your attention in the subject header, we can talk about one of the most important parts of building a successful business – communication.
Often, deals go sideways, relationships fall apart, and pipelines dry up due to poor communication. There are so many components of communication that affect business – communicating early and often in an engagement, staying in touch with important contacts in between engagements, and active listening are just a few. One I want to shine a light on today is responding to an important business contact (often a client or colleague) in a timely manner. A simple and quick acknowledgment of their message seems so basic and intuitive yet is often delayed or overlooked.
Photo by Dean Moriarty
Trying to figure out who the best prospects to target can be one of the most challenging parts of business development. We can spend years courting promising clients only to scratch our heads wondering why they never hire us. We wine and dine them, provide free advice, remain diligent in staying in regular contact, yet generate little if any business from them.
So, what is it that prevents them from engaging us?
One of the most common reasons I see is that professionals don’t learn enough about their prospects to determine if they are the right prospects. They may think they are going through the proper motions to build a new client, yet they are doing it blindly. It is like flying a plane without instruments. You may still get from point A to point B, but with the proper flight information, the chances of reaching your destination safely and accurately are much higher.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
I have had several client coaching sessions over the past few days where I have heard, in so many words, “I know how to do that. I just need to do it.” Well, that seems easy enough. Then why do so many experienced professionals struggle with getting back to the basics?
Business development does not need to be a complicated mystery. It is a combination of exercising our innate personal skills and incorporating newly learned skills to develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
I was talking with one of my clients, John, a couple of months ago who was dealing with a challenge that many professionals face – short-term burnout. He was buried with client work, had a wife and two kids who wanted to spend time with him, needed to conduct business development per his coach’s instruction, and had no time to pursue his own hobbies.
John is a sports nut and recharges his batteries by attending sporting events. His only problem was that he had no time based on the other responsibilities mentioned above. The fix was relatively simple. Start combining work with pleasure by inviting clients to sporting events. Whether it is attending a live baseball game or catching a basketball playoff game at a local venue over a beer, John was much more motivated to reach out to his network to find ways to keep his relationships warm while recharging his batteries.
In a conversation with a good friend and client, Pete, who was the head of litigation for a large law firm, I asked him what was one of the costliest business development mistakes he has made. It was safe to assume that even someone who was as successful as Pete has made a mistake or two in his career.
Pete didn’t hesitate in his response. He said, “Oh that is an easy one. It cost me a lot of business at the time, yet it also helped me build a successful practice thereafter.
I was talking with a client, Jessica, last year in a coaching session who shared with me one of her “aha” moments. This particular discovery pertained to how to describe to prospective clients what she does. Jessica is a white-collar partner at a large international law firm who works with companies that face complex white-collar issues.
She was practicing her “land and expand” approach by meeting additional colleagues of her main contacts at existing clients. In a conversation with a large Silicon Valley client, a colleague of Jessica’s main contact asked, “Jessica, do you mind if I run a problem by you?”
Before Jessica could reply, Jessica’s contact said to her colleague, “Kathryn, that is exactly what Jessica is here for; to make any of your problems her problems.”