It’s that time again. The U.S. Open.
And I’ve heard more about loft and wedges and getting a swing coach than I thought possible. And the more I started thinking about it (as I do every year), I figure business development is like a game of golf. As opposed to my thinking “golf is life.” That’s for another person to blog about. One probably associated with the USGA.
When you think about it, business development is like a golf course during a tournament. I mean, there are constants: 18 holes, the rules, everyone uses clubs. And then there are the variables: the choice of clubs you use to play the course, the weather conditions, how the course is changed for each day’s play and just about everything else that affects your game.
It’s like business development. And I’m addressing the engineers here as well as the business development, non-techie folks.
We all understand the need to retain our existing customer base and build business from that base. We also understand the need to acquire new customers, who may not play the game the way our existing customers do. We have our tools or golf clubs: our skill sets that we can pick and choose from.
Now which clubs do you use – depending on the situation, depending on the lie of the course and the location of the hole and the undulation of the greens? Depending on the conditions established by the customer? Which include all of the offline factors impacting their decision to do business with you.
Although we want to close the deal, the length of the sales cycle is anyone’s guess these days. And even if we have a tremendous shot off the tee – a meeting with a prospective client where you really feel rapport and positive momentum to move forward – how many of these initial opening drives end up falling short of the green, if not getting lost in the rough somewhere?
Even if you thought you were doing everything correctly Playing by the rules, following good form, using the right skills. Using that new sand wedge you bought yourself for Father’s Day.
For you engineering folks, doing things “correctly” doesn’t translate into dazzling presentations of technical capability. That’s not business development. You may be rushing the field. And besides, the conclusion, that is so obvious to you, may be way beyond the decision maker’s head or not even related to their real issues. Or both.
For the non-technical, sales-types, you spend loads of time in discovery whose sole purpose, ultimately, is to lead the prospect to the (really, your) inevitable conclusion: your solution is “the” solution. This tack doesn’t hold water either. No prospect wants to feel that your questions are, ultimately, self-serving.
Because the last thing the prospective customer wants to do is make a decision. In fact, most of the decisions they make are to make no decision at all. So if you tee off thinking about sinking the ball in the hole, you are missing everything that can happen to your shot between the opening drive and sinking the putt… if you end up doing that at all.
Business development is never rote. You may have your bag of clubs and highly refined skills. But you know as well as I do that if you regard business development as “same old same old” – and you figure you can do it in your sleep – you will fall flat on your face. No matter how good you are at winning business. And that goes for engineers who feel that their history with a client guarantees repeat business.
It’s the clubs you choose to play the course and the skill sets that you employ at various stages of the business development process that can make or break the game or the sale.
While employers continue to apply pressure to win accounts and create sales goals that may or may not be realistic, you need to asses what you are overlooking during the business development process that impacts the length of the sales cycle. And churning and burning and calling more people (“it’s a numbers game”) to overcome your sales quota simply doesn’t work. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
Having bigger and better presentations with slick graphics and even holographic designs are impressive displays of engineering solutions. But are you really solving the client’s problem? It may not even involve the solution that you are proposing. There may be so much gridlock in their infrastructure, that they are paralyzed in their decision making. Your solution is really the last thing they may need. Even if they want it.
Every day, when you go out on the business development course, take the time to be confident and listen to your customers and prospects. You may need to change your game, constantly, for each customer call you go on. You may not use any of your technical skill sets to “wow” the prospect. You may find that the tool set you’ve been relying on is not effective. You may need to walk the course, not only before you engage a prospect, but AS you engage the prospect.
Taking the time to understand the factors that impact the sales cycle, and learning a business development process that doesn’t focus on your solution, may be the best club in your bag.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.