This won’t make me popular, but here’s your new year preview wake-up: Unless you’re creating sales opportunities, or converting sales opportunities, most of what you’re spending your business development time on is largely a waste.
The “game” I’m referring to has two components:
- Opportunity generation
- Opportunity conversion
Anything else, you’re hanging out on the sidelines with the other nonplayers, acting like you’re in the game.
“I’ll Get by With a Little Help From My Friends”
With apologies to the Beatles, no, you won’t.
Don’t buy into the chatter about “forming relationships,” “strengthening relationships” and “enhancing relationships.” You’re forgiven if you find the constant drumbeat numbing; feel free to tune it out.
If those peddling this line are to be believed, all you need to do is make a lot of friends and your business generation problems will go away and you’re on the road to prosperity. Really? How many friendships and relationships do you already have who don’t buy services from you?
On the front end, relationship development is bunk. It’s a vestige of a bygone era in which business was conducted among friends within a local social set. It also misleads you into thinking that it’s easy to earn business. Hang out, do some lunches, make nice and “poof,” you have a book of business.
Prospecting and Selling Are Hard
That’s why so few people do it well. It takes skill, discipline, persistence and resilience.
No salesperson has time to cultivate relationships with random “suspects.” (Only after someone has revealed a specific opportunity and discussed money with you do they become a “prospect.”) More pointedly, no buyer has time to cultivate relationships with potential sellers. Why would they want one?
As a marketing tactic, cultivating 1:1 relationships is hugely inefficient. One-on-one interaction is for selling, not marketing.
What you need are opportunities to sell to contacts:
- Whose situation contains factors that trigger demand for what you sell,
- Who associate you with the underlying demand-triggering problem or opportunity that drives those buying reasons, and
- Who perceive that you can make a difference in their situation.
Initially, “making a difference” will take the form of the relevance and usefulness of your ideas and thinking, which helps people understand their problem better and be more successful in their markets or jobs. A percentage of people who are exposed to your “thought leadership” will choose to consult with you to discuss how the demand-triggering problem affects their business, and how your thinking might be applied usefully.
A percentage of those will pay you to apply your thinking on their behalf.
For opportunity generation, the relationship you cultivate is not with individual companies or buyers, which is far too risky and expensive. Instead, it is with a specific segment of a market (such as an industry sub-sector) for which you’ve identified externally observable evidence of conditions that suggest they face your demand-triggering problem now, or likely will before too long.
For opportunity conversion, you cultivate a “decision relationship.” That is, you actually help the group of stakeholders make an informed, sustainable decision without regard to your interests. If you’ve chosen your prospects wisely, your risk of getting too many “no, thanks” decisions is very low. The bigger risk is “no decision,” which wastes the time of buyers and sellers alike, and delivers no value to anyone.
No More Busywork!
Once someone decides to trust you with a problem that counts, and with some of their funds, you have the basis for a real relationship. That’s worth investing in.
The game is opportunity generation and opportunity conversion. Anything else is busywork.