11. Learn as much as you can about the potential partner and their competitors before you contact them. Determine how your deal can make your partner's company more profitable. That is, list all the ways in which your proposed joint agreement adds value your partner's business. What holes does it fill in your partner's product/service line? How does the deal enhance your partner company's core business? How will your product attract more customers to your partner company's business? How does "doing the deal" brace your partner against the trends of the industry, for which they might otherwise be unprepared?
Business Development Tips
2. Make sure there exists a market problem/pain that currently demands a solution. Is the problem large enough to justify the price of your solution? Is someone with P/L responsibility willing to pay for the solution? Test: Are you able to clearly delineate a value proposition that gets a customer’s attention?
3. Solve the customers problem, don’t just build cool technology. Value is always in the application of the technology, not technology.
4. Have a clear understanding of your value chain. Know who are your partners, competitors, and customers – it isn't always obvious.
5. Understand where you are in the market cycle, from a timing perspective: new technology, competitors entering, segmentation, consolidation, solutions offering, commoditized, etc.
6. Don’t fight the market and where it is in its life cycle – you will lose.
7. Price based on value of solution, not to undercut competitors. Compete first on functionality, not price. If you truly are the only one solving the customer’s problem, you should be able to price your offering based on value of your product/solution to the customer You compete on price only after the product/solution has become a commodity – end of the life cycle.
8. Techies should never hire sales people; they don’t know what skill-sets and personality traits to look for. Test: If it's someone who is too aggressive and a person techies don't want to hang out with, it's probably a good sales guy.
9. Identify the end user of your product or service before you start thinking about Business Development. Even if you do not sell directly to the end users, you should know as much as possible about them. Don't be fooled by the misconception that your target market is "everybody".
10. Write a detailed plan of action. Prioritize your opportunities and consider partnering with proven and profitable businesses first. It is very common to see announcements of strategic alliances between companies with so-called "ideas" and not solid business models. Don't invest much time talking to your suppliers or companies you have to pay money to. It is their job to give you the best deal. Always assign a monetary value to the deal before exploring it. Form alliances with companies that will bring you revenue first.
12. Identify the personal issues. What are the personalities of the people who will be influential in the decision to sign the agreement? What are their personal motivations? Growth/expansion? Hot buttons? Family? Loyalty and commitment to the company they represent? Business process simplification? Eventual merger/acquisition?
13. Identify the PR potential of the joint agreement. Why is it hot news? To whom, in particular? How can you leverage these PR possibilities in negotiating the deal? How do they add value to the overall equation? Be careful in announcing so-called "strategic alliances" where only a purchase of equipment or services was made.
14. To insure that the partnership will successfully evolve, commit the necessary resources to insure that the deal is implemented and periodically evaluated. Set guidelines and performance metrics as part of the deal. Involve senior management in every step of the way. Assign a single point of accountability for the deal.
15. Business development is much more than simply going to trade shows and being a wheeler dealer. Business development is hard work and you must stay focused on the long term. Hopefully the above tips will help you whether you are experienced in biz dev or if the role of business development was thrust upon you due to layoffs, firings or other factors.
1. Contact past clients at least once per quarter using a variety of
media: personal visits, phone conversations, networking events, e-mail
messages, or handwritten personal notes.
2. Don't go it
alone! Exposing potential project team members during the business
development process has the dual benefits of demonstrating a
collaborative approach and mentoring younger professionals in the art of
3. Brainstorm ways to involve past and current
clients in your efforts (e.g., charettes, co-presenting at a conference,
serving on town and technical committees).
provocative, inquiring, open-ended questions to learn more about your
client's universe. Then (and only then!) provide specific information
about your firm and the benefits it provides in the context of their
5. Provide free advice, resources, and/or industry
best practices during the business development process. Doing so will
demonstrate that you have your client's best interest at heart versus
just trying to land a job.
6. Always invite clients and prospects to workshops and presentations you and your colleagues will be delivering.
Use “affinity” groups (e.g., your alma mater, a fellow 4-H Club member)
to help get a foot in the door to prospective client organizations. Of
particular value is your alma mater, which likely has a digitized
searchable alumni database.
8. Don’t forget to include
executive directors of professional associations in your firm’s “army”
of business development advocates. Interview them for a newsletter
article and make sure they receive your newsletters (as long as it’s
useful information). They have a fiduciary responsibility to
provide information and resources to their client base— the association
members you’re targeting. They can also be a tremendous resource when
conducting market research.
9. If your firm provides value
to its clients by addressing community resistance to a project and
shoring up support, then ramp up your detective skills by joining a
NIMBY group using your personal e-mail account. Being on the receiving
end of communications yields a wealth of intelligence that can shape
your strategy and that of your client’s.
10. When pursuing a
past or prospective client to schedule a conversation or meeting, use a
variety of communication media, including office voice mail, e-mail,
and cell phone (if appropriate). While some folks find it easier to
respond to e-mail, your original message may not have penetrated the
company’s spam filter.
11. Befriend administrative
assistants, who can be important influencers in the business development
process. Ask them for their help and advice in connecting with their
boss. They can “unlock” calendars and be a unique advocate for your
12. Go the extra mile— conduct a client/prospect
study. Formally interviewing (in person or over the phone) 25 or 50
clients and prospects enables your firm to: (1) “touch” the organization
several times through the initial letter, the interview, a thank-you
note, and a follow-up meeting; (2) elicit trends, drivers, and your
clients’ changing needs; (3) learn about their knowledge and perception
of your firm and its services, as well as your competitors; (4) for
clients, assess their satisfaction with your project management and
delivery; and (5) identify upcoming needs and opportunities to work
together. Outsourcing this type of study typically yields more robust data (both quantity and quality).
Be judicious in using online networking tools (e.g., LinkedIn,
Facebook, Twitter) in the business development process. If you're not,
they can eat up valuable time with little to show for it.
example, identify and join industry/client-specific LinkedIn user
groups. Become familiar with the site, and then try posting a "news"
item in the form of a recently published article, an upcoming talk, or a
new service offering.
14. Follow up on any and all client inquiries within 24-48 hours. Responsiveness is a proxy for project management.
Clients and prospects respect honesty. If you don’t know the answer to a
question they’ve posed, tell them so. Promise them that you or a
colleague will contact them with the answer.
16. Stick to
your word! If you tell someone you'll call them or e-mail an article on a
particular day, then do so— this is the most basic litmus test for
whether you'll be trustworthy during a project.
assume that just because a prospective client hasn’t gotten back to you,
you should avoid future contact. While it’s easy to want to retract
back into your shell, persistence is a differentiator in business
18. Make sure your client-focused newsletters
and other direct mail pieces contain useful content (e.g., advice, case
studies, resources, regulatory updates, trends), not self-serving
material. Few people have time to or want to read about some firm
tooting its own horn.
19. Don’t turn client-focused
newsletters into a science project! Be easy on yourself— interview key
target clients and prospects to help generate content. Eliciting their
thoughts, needs, and opinions in a disarming way solidifies existing
relationships and builds new ones.
Doing so also boosts
readership, as peer organizations like to benchmark by reading about
their competitors in print. (Be sure to boldface the name of each
20. Conduct a debrief after your
firm has won a project. Most firms only conduct debriefs after project
losses. If you’re lucky to even get a response, the feedback is often
measured and general in nature. In contrast, you’ve got greater leverage
when debriefing a client that has just selected you.
these debriefs (1) sends a strong message that you don’t take them for
granted; (2) enables you to learn why they selected you (i.e., what you
did right and your differentiators), as well as what you could have done
better; (3) allows you to determine what your competitors did well and
not so well; (4) helps identify your client’s hot-button issues; and (5)
how your client will measure success on this project (this data should
be fed back to your PM and the team to recalibrate their project
SOME MORE TIPS:
Chances are you’ve been part of a sales pitch – a meeting to demonstrate your product or capabilities with a potential buyer. In my career I’ve been involved in many – both as the discussion leader, as I would prefer to call it, and as the audience. Several months ago I was part of a call with a social media technology vendor that went badly. Very badly. I captured my thoughts on Twitter at the time, and a recent similar experience caused me to go dig these up. Due to karma, Murphy’s Law and several other corollaries my next presentation is likely to flop, but I still thought this was worth capturing. All of these measures actually happened in one meeting.
Ten Business Development Tips from the Master of the Obvious
- Don’t focus on previous clients that barely used your services many years ago. Lead with the best examples and case studies.
- If you’re new to the company and the one delivering the presentation, don’t play the “I’m new” card every other sentence.
- If you have multiple product or service offerings, don’t open with the ancillary ones – focus on the meat first, especially if it is the foundation for the others.
- If you are a software vendor and include screen shots, don’t put in ones that are blurry. A live demo is usually better anyways even though it can be more challenging to arrange.
- If you are a software vendor don’t ever say the phrase: “I’m not sure what this does.”
- Here’s another phrase to avoid: “We haven’t found a client who likes this yet.”
- When you share a recent example of client work, don’t start with what went wrong on the project.
- Don’t be
afraid to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.” It’s way better
than making up an answer and the follow-up opportunity allows another
contact or inquiry. I’d rather hear a confident “I don’t know” with a
follow-up than a wishy-washy explanation.
- When sharing who your business partners are, don’t start listing partners you are no longer partnering with. (Wow)
- When you schedule a software demo (aside from screenshots mentioned in #4) have someone available who knows the product. Either be that person or have an engineer on the call.