In the last couple of years, I’ve given more than 20 presentations on business development as a speaker for The Executive Connection (TEC), a membership organisation for CEOs and senior leaders with 21,000 members in 16 countries around the world.
From Brisbane to bayside Melbourne, from Perth to Parramatta, I’ve had the privilege to work with several hundred very clever and switched-on people through TEC’s monthly member meetings.
The businesses these leaders represent vary enormously, from small technology start-ups to medium-sized professional services firms to huge multinational corporations.
Yet they all have one thing in common; every business relies on customers to survive.
When I ask the CEOs in my sessions to identify their most important contract or customer, this usually comes pretty easily.
What’s less easy for them to put their finger on is what’s getting in the way of winning more customers, or of keeping the ones they already have.
It comes down to what’s hiding in plain sight inside their business – the culture and habits that have built up around the way that business development is managed.
In my experience, the most successful businesses are those where everyone in the business understands the role that they play in business development.
This includes the front-line staff who deliver the work and interact with customers every day; the managers who support those people in their role; and the senior leaders who free up staff to pursue value creation projects and to pilot new programs.
Here are five ways break the business development habits that no longer serve you, and to build a more successful business development culture in your organisation.
1 Make sure that everyone’s job description contains at least one thing that requires them to contribute towards your company’s business development effort.
When it comes to business development, there are three things you need your people to deliver. Firstly, professionalism, meaning customers can be confident that your company knows what it’s doing. Secondly, a pipeline, meaning your team is opportunistically positioning themselves to help customers with new work when it arises. And finally, preferred supplier, meaning your business is strategically positioned for the big contracts you really want to win. The primary owner of the professionalism category is your operations team. When it comes to the sales pipeline, it’s your line managers, who are in contact with customers at a more strategic level. And when you need to be seen as the “preferred supplier”, that responsibility rests squarely with you and your executive team.
1 Invest in training and development that builds business development skills, confidence and knowledge across the organisation.
People at every level need to be able to do at least three things: to identify the value they create for customers, to write persuasively on their area of knowledge for bids and tenders, and to contribute their best thinking to retaining existing business.
Senior staff also need strategic pursuit and proposal leadership skills.
3 Reward people for contributing their knowledge and time to important bids.
Proposals have become a “five to nine” job for most people. Recognising their valuable contribution towards important bids will go a long way towards preserving their goodwill for future pursuits and bid projects that ask them to go above and beyond the requirements of their day job.
4 Encourage strategic, cross-functional teams to work on value creation projects.
This means giving them the time and space away from the rigours of their “day job” to do so.
5 Convene customer-specific teams to develop customer re-engagement strategies.
According to Bain & Company, a 5% increase in customer retention yields profit increases of 25% to 95%. Businesses are often very good at developing innovation, best practice and continual improvement ideas that benefit themselves. Turning this process around to focus on your best customers will be a game-changer for your retention rates – and your margin growth.