The art of Business Development

As part of my role with Lewis and Hickey, I’ve been actively involved in Business Development for around seven years now. It’s been an interesting journey, from a standing start really, which has been largely self-directed. Indeed business development is not something you can really teach/ learn in any sort of formal way I don’t think. It’s about who you are as a person and how you engage with people. That’s a natural thing that you’ve either got – or not. A lot of Business Development work is a form of sales; selling your business, experience and ideas, to generate new business with new and existing clients.

There are many other areas of Business Development activity which focuses on how you promote yourself/ company and also how you manage your company from an operational perspective. I’ve played a lead role in trying to change some of our culture within the company; something which Richard Branson states is one of the hardest things to do in business! Getting people to think and act differently when habits and ways of working have been long established is a challenge, for all concerned. However I have maintained the strong view for sometime now that the way we do business has changed and will continue to do so. The same can be said for Architecture and the Construction Industry as whole.

I remember being sat in a supply chain briefing meeting many years ago at the Boots HQ in Nottingham. The speaker said that Retailers can never stand still if they want to survive; they must keep evolving and changing to reflect and respond to market drivers and consumer choices. The same is completely valid in business generally.

I regularly get invites to meet with people under the banner of a “Business to Business” (B2B). This idea/ format has been around for a while now and provides a simple and open agenda to introduce two companies and seek out opportunities to work together. Recently this concept has been challenged and is now refereed to as “Human to Human” (H2H) meetings. This is actually nothing new to anyone who understands BD/ Sales, but is a far more accurate idea/ title. Fundamentally any tangible outcomes from two companies introducing themselves will be determined by whether those two (or more) people in the room get on with each other. This is a personal thing. In life, we all want to be around people who we get on with and this affects how we do business.

Human 2 HumanImage above from LinkedIn this week.

I see success in Business Development being heavily influenced by three key components;

  1. Be personable. Understand people and what they are about. Find some personal similarities. A family friend of ours, Simon Gallyer, who sadly passed away was a lawyer. He told me once that you need to remember 1-2 personal things about your most important clients; their children, their hobby’s, what sports they follow etc. Reference these when you see them. That demonstrates that you remember them and makes the relationship personal.
  1. Have a strong network. I think I’ve built up a good network of contacts, this is really important. It can be done in many ways and Social Media has been key for me (LinkedIn, Twitter and of course this little blog!) Speaking with authority on what you think about your world is again important. Having some sort of public profile is essential and that involves getting out, talking to all sorts of people, pushing media exposure and having something relevant to say. My wife recently googled me and was really surprised by how many things came up. To be honest a lot of the links relate in some way to my blog, but its still proof that I can be found pretty easily and have generated a public profile. Having a strong message about your business is critically important, this relies on being confident on your subject and passionate about what you do; delivering it with conviction.
  1. Be able to join the dots. The last thing is what really counts I think. You can have a network and get on well with people – and that might be effective in generating business to a point. But being able to link other people and companies together has real added value. You need to think constantly about what you are doing and how you can make a difference. That will define you and make you memorable. Generating business is definitely not a one-way street, it needs to be reciprocated. And that’s where personal relationships count, a referral from someone else is valuable, to both you and your client. People only make referrals for people they know, can trust and they believe in their abilities/ offer.

One thing I have definitely learnt in my time doing BD is that cold calling and writing generic introduction letters/ emails has never worked! It’s impersonal and meaningless in my view. Any potential cold approach needs to be informed, relevant, well considered and directly applicable to the specific target recipient. Even then you probably have a very outside chance of getting a response.

I could probably expand on the above in many other ways, there are lots more layers. I will however restrain myself as I don’t want to go on about this too much and become a bore (that’s another key thing to remember too!) The points made above I believe are valid and have certainly influenced my journey so far.

Business Development is influenced and driven by personality.
It’s about relationships – and that is an organic evolution which is built on trust, respect and effort. The more you put in, the more you get out.

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