The Relationship Development Process

Success in business starts with successful relationships. Because of this, the relationship development process is often the guide that is used to govern the marketing and business development roles in companies. As you look at these stages of the relationship development process note that marketing plays the pivotal role of effectively laying the foundation for relationships, while business development facilitates the initiation of those relationships.

The Relationship Development Process

Name Recognition – During the name recognition phase of the relationship development process a company or an individual goes from being an unknown, to being known. This foundation sets the groundwork for a relationship as others are at least aware that you or your company exists. Name recognition is one of the primary objectives of a strong marketing department and it often takes the form of advertising, promotions, mailers, and press. It is also handled in business development and sales when a new relationship starts. A common introduction when you meet someone new for the first time often builds name recognition: for example: “I’m John Adams with ABC company.” Note: I have found that if your company is an unknown, prior to initiating a new relationship, your chances of turning the relationship into a sale are reduced significantly.

Develop Understanding – During this part of the relationship development process, a company or individual goes from just being a name, to being recognized for how they fit into the world. This stage establishes a thorough understanding of your company, the services you provide, and how others see you in the industry. Most importantly, it is during this stage that others will learn how your company can be of benefit to another individual or company. This stage should be handled by marketing at the company level and business development at the relationship level. In marketing, this often takes the form of websites, brochures, newsletters, and articles. In business development, it often happens during conversation and should include how the individual fits into the corporate structure.

Interactive Communication – During this part of the relationship development process you must begin to engage at the human level. This is no longer about facts or information, it is about building a personal relationship. Because of this, business development should take the lead at this stage with minimal marketing support.

Solidify Relationship – Relationships are solidified when you engage in mutually beneficial action. When you call someone that you have solidified a relationship with, communication is easy and most of the time you will be able to quickly find direct and indirect topics of conversation. This stage should be headed by your business development staff in conjunction with your project management staff. Often, this is the point at which new work or projects are begun with your new client.

How are you doing?

Looking at this process, you can see the importance of both business development and marketing in the sales process. Take a moment to identify the areas that you need to strengthen in order to improve the effectiveness of your sales process. Is your marketing department truly laying a foundation with name recognition and developing understanding, or are they just producing glossy brochures? Is your business development staff regularly initiating interactive communication with important potential relationships, or have you yet to identify who is responsible for business development at your company? As you think about these questions, I hope you can see the steps you need to make to improve your sales process.

Warming Up a COLD Contact

I greatly dislike making cold calls, so several years ago I decided that I was going to change my approach to calling someone I didn’t don’t know: I decide to start “warming-up” calls before I made them. For years now I have successfully implemented a simple three step process to warming up a cold contact when other traditional methods such as referrals and introductions are not readily available. The process takes time, but when followed completely, I have found that it increases my success seven to eight times more than making a cold contact. I hope you find it helpful:

Step one: Name Recognition
I initiate name recognition by sending out two post cards exactly one week apart to the person I want to contact. Note two things here; one is that I always know the name of an individual I want to speak with before I start this process (not simply a company name), the second is that the information I send them is memorable. Oftentimes this will be done to a group of people I want to connect with to minimize effort. This first step provides me with name recognition, and the excuse to implement step two.

Step two: Develop Understanding
One week after I send out the second post card I call the individual to tell them who I am and to ask one simple question. It sounds something like this: “Hi, I am Tim Klabunde from Gordon. You should have received two post cards from me recently and I was wondering if I could send you some more information about what I referenced in my post cards.” Of the hundreds of times I have made this call I have only been told “no” once.

Note a couple of things that make this step successful: First it is an excessively short conversation, in other words I am very respectful of their time. Second, I never leave a voice message; I keep calling back at different times of the day if I miss them until I get through. Third, I fully expect that many of the people that receive my step two packet will discard it, but I have ensured through the phone call that they will at least look at it before they throw it away and remember it.

Step three: Initiate the Relationship
Step three is simply a warm follow-up call one week after I send out the additional information. By this point I have developed name recognition and they understand who I am and how I fit into their world. When I call, I reference our last conversation and information I have sent so they recognize who I am. With this foundation I initiate a conversation and relationship. Setting up lunch or a meeting becomes easy because a foundation has been laid for our relationship over the past month.

Building Relationships
Remember when you are working a cold contact that most people fail because they call someone else for personal gain, rather than laying a foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship. Instead of focusing on your personal objectives consider helping your new friend to reach their objectives. The result will be a relationship based on trust and and an individual that wants to help you succeed.

It’s Back to the BD Basics

itsbacktothebdbasicsRecessions have a tendency to remind us about business fundamentals. It is through the refinement of a recession that wasteful spending is eliminated and that we again focus on the core capabilities that make our companies successful. It is also recessions that remind us that marketing and business development are not the functions of just one or two departments. When company backlogs decrease we recapture the essence of our mutual corporate responsibility to bring new projects in the door. 

Focusing on existing clients and services
It is easy to want to expand into new markets during a recession. The problem is that during a recession work is much harder to come by, both in the markets you currently serve as well as in markets that you don’t serve. Expanding into a new market requires both time and money to enter the market – two things that are not readily available during a recession. As a result, a recession is not the time to expand into new markets, but rather it is the time to focus on your existing clients and services.

The goal during a recession is to focus on bringing work in the door immediately. Most marketers will tell you that the fastest, least expensive, and easiest way to bring in new work is to focus on your existing clientele. This includes people you have sold to previously and others in the industry that are familiar with your work. So what can you do? Here are several things that you can do during a recession that will position you to succeed: 

  1. Don’t Wait, step-up your current marketing: When faced with the possibility of a decline in your workload initiate action immediately. Often when the slowdown reaches your doorstep firms find themselves among a large group of competitors that are competing for work. The idea is to immediately step-up the everyday marketing efforts that you have found to be successful in an effort to build your backlog going into the recession. In our industry this usually includes follow-up on outstanding proposals, using qualifications to bolster the effectiveness of your fee proposals, and pre-marketing RFPs.
  2. Call your existing clients: Especially at service firms, the “last line of defense” when you are in need of work is to pick up the phone and call your best clients to ask for work. Firms often hesitate making these calls because they are afraid of what others will think. Simply put, get over it! Calling your existing clients and asking for work is the most effective way to get work in the door in a down market.
  3. Focus on being the best: Now is the time to set-aside change orders and additional work authorizations (within reason) and give all of your clients 1,000 reasons why they should never even consider another firm. Begin by asking yourself, “What can I do to help this person that is above and beyond what they hired me to do?” Remember that focusing on being the best isn’t something that just one person or a group of people can do, it is a company-wide focus that requires buy-in to be successful.
  4. Diversify within your current markets: Pursue relationships and work in market sectors in which you are currently working that are stable. Generally in a downturn these markets include the federal and healthcare markets. As discussed above, now is not the time to pursue new sectors, but it is a great time to place emphasis on some of your markets that will handle the downturn better. This does not mean that you should simply respond to more RFPs, rather initiate new relationships and build inroads that will position you to win.
  5. Be Patient: Markets change. Just when you think you will run out of work the markets will start moving again. Firms that survive this economic cycle will again experience an upswing as industry and opportunity prevail in the free market.

Building your Marketing Culture

In marketing and business, recessions provide us the opportunity to unite our companies for future growth. The proceeding actions are just a handful of things that can be done to empower everyone in your company to be a part of the sales process. In addition to these, think about how you can leverage today’s challenges to develop a culture that embraces marketing and business development. Firms that succeed in building this culture today will reap the rewards of growth in the future.


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It’s Back to the BD Basics by Tim Klabunde was published in the February 2009 edition of Marketer.

Marketing vs. Business Development

‘Marketing’ and ‘Business Development’ are often used interchangeably in the business community because many people struggle to understand the difference between the two terms. The reality is that Marketing and Business Development have two distinct yet interrelated roles in the sales process. Most businesses define the roles and responsibilities of the two business functions as:

Marketing develops assets and materials that facilitate the foundation for business and relationships.

Business Development focuses on the development of relationships through direct communication channels.

I recognize that this is an oversimplified view of two complex aspects of the sales process, but I have also found that the reason many people misunderstand the difference between the two terms, is because of the drawn-out definitions that we often use to explain their functions. If you are a Marketing or Business Development professional that has a hard time educating staff on these functions then start with these simple definitions and expand on their intricacies after this foundation is understood.

Changing Corporate Culture: Define Expectations

Step 2 – Define Expectations

Originally, John had felt good when he hired a consultant to educate his staff on the culture he was trying to create. During and after the training he had even been encouraging his staff when he saw that they were modeling what they had learned. The problem, however, was that only a handful of his staff really even cared about the new direction for the company. Most were busy doing their jobs just as they always had and didn’t think much about a ‘cultural change’.

Cultural change is more than a one-step process. In the all-to-common story above we can see how managers feel after they begin to implement a cultural change process. The reality, however, is that John has succeeded at the first step. What he sees happening in the office is commonplace and it is nothing less than an indication that he needs on move to step 2 in the cultural change process: Defining Expectations.

The Individual and the Culture
Defining expectations simply means identifying where people fit  and how they should act in the new culture. Note the emphasis on the individual at this step; changing corporate culture is dependent on changing one person at a time. This also means that what is expected of individuals may vary. In the case of changing corporate culture to embrace business development, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific goals relating to meeting prospective clients while a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.

Cultural Goals
The key to defining expectations is to develop clear and measurable goals for people in the organization. It should not be done in the context of threatening or coercion, but rather by clearly identifying what is expected.  The good news is that the “defining expectations” step is the easiest of the four steps. For decades managers have refined the process of establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals that help their staff succeed. This is simply an extension of the employee goal model that already exists in most companies.

The Most Important Steps
Many companies fail at changing corporate culture because they stop here. It is very easy to hire a consultant to provide education, and managers’ typically don’t mind defining new expectations for their staff. But culture is dependent on the long-term acceptance of the changes by staff, not by senior management. As a result, the most important steps of changing corporate culture are steps 3 and 4.

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Networking, Marketing, and Business Development Resources

I am excited to announce the addition of a new “Resources” tab/page to this blog. This new page is designed to contain a variety of free resources on training in the areas of Networking, Marketing, and Business Development. 

Of all of my speaking engagements my favorite topic has always been networking.  As such, I thought it would be appropriate to make the first resources on this page two of my presentations on Networking: Rethink Networking and Networking: From Theory to Reality. The Power Point presenations contained on this new page are fully editable and downloadable .ppt files (not .pdf copies) that you are welcome to edit and reuse for training at your company. I can’t embed my stories and personal touch, but I am certain that you will find the slides beneficial.  As always, please provide credit where appropriate. 

I hope that you will find this new page as a valuable resource.  As always, I welcome your feedback and additions to this blog. – Tim Klabunde