I want to talk about working with people in a business development context.
I find that most of business development training is focused on improving techniques, or what I call the “doing part.” Let’s step back and address a philosophy that comes before the doing part. I’m talking about something we call “workability.”
Business Development Workability
When I introduce this term, most people don’t know what I’m talking about. OK, they have some clue. But it’s not really clear to them.
Picture a bicycle wheel. Let that represent a business development relationship. Now, what makes that wheel work? What holds it together? The spokes, right?
If you remove some spokes, will that wheel work?
That wheel will still work, but not well. If it continues in that state, it will eventually collapse.
Now ask yourself: “how many business development relationships do I have with missing spokes?”
I find it interesting that we walk around maintaining many relationships that are kind of working, but not nearly at a 100%. It can get to a point where that relationship doesn’t function at all.
For example: that’s the point where someone quits, or you fire someone, or a client fires you, or you fire a client. In business development, that’s when you didn’t get the deal.
Why? Because there wasn’t workability.
There are many reasons why there isn’t workability. But we’ve discovered that the primary reason is because commitments aren’t honored in a timely basis. We call this “unworkability.” Unfortunately, this is very common in business development relationships.
Making Business Development Relationships Workable
Here are four examples of unworkability and what to do about making business development relationships workable.
1. Prospects don’t give you enough time and respect for you to do your job.
You walk into someone’s office and sit down for a meeting. They tell you they only have 15 minutes, which is about a 25% of the time you agreed to when you made the appointment.
During your meeting, they keep checking messages on their smartphone. Or they take a non-urgent call and talk endlessly, while you stare at the wall.
What to do:
- Ask upfront how much time they have. If it’s significantly less than the time you expected, then by all means take the time they give you. But ask if it’s appropriate to schedule a follow up meeting before you leave. Do this only if you and your prospect agree that it makes sense to continue to explore the possibility of working together.
- Ask if they anticipate any interruptions. This plants a seed that you want their undivided attention. Perhaps set an example by making it a point to put your own smartphone away and explain that you want to make sure you give them your undivided attention.
2. Prospects, or even clients, don’t keep meetings or don’t start meetings on time.
You scheduled a call and they either don’t show or show 10 minutes late.
What to do:
- Worst case: send a calendar invite and email them that you are on the line after 5 minutes.
- Best case: remind them of the meeting ahead of time by emailing an agenda. In the same email, include specific questions you intend to ask in the meeting. This serves as a reminder, and also establishes a purpose in advance, so people can prepare if necessary.
3. Prospects don’t know how to run business development meetings.
I believe that prospects don’t really know how to run a well-structured business development meeting. They don’t know how to establish if you’re a good fit for one another.
In a business development meeting, prospects tend to wing it and wait to hear something they like or ask irrelevant questions. Certainly, they don’t manage the time for the meeting as well as they could.
What to do:
- The responsibility is in on you to run a well-structured meeting. You want to make sure that there is adequate time. You want the key stakeholders to be present at the meeting and establish clear next steps. If your prospect wants to keep the dialog going, then make sure the next step is scheduled in everyone’s calendar.
- Fifty percent of your business development meeting time should be spent asking good, problem probing questions. Be ready to provide examples of how you solved these problems by telling short success stories, where appropriate. Better yet, create a common problems list and bring it to the meeting!
4. Prospects go radio silent.
The prospect asked you for a proposal and you dutifully send a proposal via email.
Then you wait and wait and get no response. You follow up with another email asking if they got your previous email.
You call and leave voicemail and get no call back.
What to do:
- During your meeting, early on, promise that you will send a follow up email, summarizing the prospect’s key goals, what you request from them, what you are committing to, and a way for the prospect to determine if you are a good fit. I’ve found that they are less likely to ignore you when your follow up is specific and action-oriented.
- During the meeting commit to sending a proposal and at the same time, request timely feedback. Schedule a specific time to review the proposal and address questions and concerns, preferably in person.
A client recently had come to a meeting late and before sitting down, she apologized for being late. Although it was not a big deal, I mentioned how much I appreciated her apology. This was a good example of workability. After a healthy discussion on this very topic, we both agreed that the core to workability is honoring your word. This translates to a relationship where there are no missing spokes!