Business Development for Professionals is a bit like….Courting!

BD is about spending time in building long term, high quality, trusting relationships  – so what can we learn about it from our experiences of courtship or dating? Tony Reiss from Sherwood reminisces….

The truth is that romancing your clients is hard work. It’s a bit of a grind. And it’s work that doesn’t pay off immediately. Also there’s all that fear of rejection!

Consistency is the key – you need to be regularly in touch, not just calling when you want something from them. It’s about giving as well as taking!

Consistency requires you to be systematic. And I have to admit, I’m far from the most systematic of people by nature. So this has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I’m always tempted to focus on new experiences rather than keep focusing on old friends. It’s like I’m attracted to shiny new toys! 

To keep myself on the straight and narrow I’ve devised a simple system that even I can use to make sure I’m being consistent with my client nurturing activities. It might be helpful to you too. There are four steps to it.                                                           

Step 1 – List and categorise your potential clients. I use a fairly simple approach. I mark those clients who would be ideal for my business and who could bring me a lot of work as category A. 

Potential clients who are close to ideal, or who are ideal but small and wouldn’t bring me a lot of business I mark as category B. 

People I’ve met who are interesting, but I don’t yet know if they’d make good clients I consider as category C for now. My primary method of keeping in touch with this category is via email or the website (which, of course, my A’s and B’s also get). 

Step 2 – Find out about those individuals and their firms.  What strategy are they adopting (expanding into emerging markets, downsizing, strategic partnering etc)? What are their goals? What are their hopes and concerns? Which other rival organisations do they use and why? How do they decide who to use? Notice my emphasis is on their business and on them as individuals. 

Some of this information can be found online? But some of it is in their heads, so early meetings need to focus on expanding your knowledge of these underlying areas. 

The outputs from this step are the client needs. Some of them will be organisational and some of them will be personal. The next step is to work out which needs to address. 

Step 3 – Write down your goals for your relationship with your A and B category potential clients.  It can be important to consider where the incumbent firm might be strong and weak. Maybe they are a big firm. In which case they may not provide the care and attention (ie ‘love’) that a smaller firm would provide. Maybe the incumbent firm hasn’t got the same experience in a particular sector (eg banking, construction, retailing, etc)? Or strength in a particular region? Or strength in depth to handle a bigger matter or particularly tight deadline? 

With these insights, I then focus on what I’d like to achieve with them (perhaps it’s that they hire your team for working with them on their expansion into CEE or the Middle East, or as a second string firm for smaller projects in the UK. 

Then I consider what I want them to think and feel. So, for example, perhaps they need to think that we are experts in something or that we understand their particular needs to know what’s happening or that we’ll recognise and handle risks appropriately. 

Over time you will find you are able to identify common patterns of what potential clients need to feel to be comfortable hiring your firm – so you don’t have to rethink this stuff from scratch every time. 

I also write down what I know they’re interested in and what would be useful for them. 

Step 4 – Review my lists on a regular basis and take action.  For A category potential clients I’ll look at the list of names, what I’d like to achieve with them and what would be useful for them on a regular basis. For the B’s I take action less frequently, say, every few months. 

Then, based on that reminder, I’ll plan in some activities for the week where I do something to help make progress towards my goal. Sometimes it’ll just be sending them useful information or inviting them to an event I think they’ll benefit from. But it’s better if I can be sure that what I’m doing is leading us towards the goal. 

So if you are sending them useful information, try to make sure it’s something that will build their confidence in your capability (an article you’ve written that talks about some interesting work you’ve done, for example). 

I don’t always manage to come up with something every week. But I do manage to come up with things often enough to start building a good, strong relationship. And thinking about them every week increases the likelihood that during the week I’ll spot something relevant for them as I’ll be more aware of what would be useful. 

It’s this regular drip-drip-drip of action that makes the system work.  We’ve probably all made lists and categorised our clients before.  I’m sure most of us have identified our clients’ needs and interests and promised ourselves we’ll use that information to build a better relationship with them. But where almost all of us fall down is that we fail to turn that into regular action.  If you’re not doing this stuff week in, week out, it really won’t have much impact. 

So if you’re like me and this systematic nurturing doesn’t come naturally – make sure you build yourself a weekly habit like this and plan it in to your schedule. Because for the majority of your prospects, it won’t be your first contact that turns them into clients – it’ll be your 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th or more.

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