The success of your business is heavily contingent on the types of business development activities you spend your time on. Whether it’s prospecting through social media or following up on warm leads, business development “activities” can mean many things based on the situation. For this article, it’s just a fancy way to say “the things that you do to grow your business.”
This includes forming partnerships, increasing sales, product expansion and finding ways to reach new markets. As a business owner, you likely spend a great deal of your time on those activities each day. The most successful business owners follow a basic code of business development etiquette.
If your business development efforts don’t employ any sort of etiquette, you’re likely wasting your time. Bad manners or poor practices could be turning people off before you ever get a chance to tell them about all the great things that your company can offer. So before you pick up the phone or draft your next email, here is a simple list of guidelines to follow to ensure that your business development practices are conducted tactfully.
1. Research Your Contacts
Qualify leads, know what investors are looking for, investigate potential partners and so on. You are wasting your time if you are contacting the wrong people. Furthermore, without due diligence, you may even waste your money. Spend the time beforehand to ensure a good fit before you contact anyone.
2. Tailor Your Communication Tactics Accordingly
You may not always be able to avoid cold-calling clients, potential partners or investors. However, don’t cold-call C-level executives. They are too busy to be bombarded with phone calls from a person they will likely consider a stranger. Your best bet is to network your way to the person you are trying to reach, whether it’s from using LinkedIn or finding out who his or her assistant is. The end goal is to set up a phone call or an in-person meeting. The more of a relationship you can build before that meeting, the better your chances of success.
3. Limit the Number of Times You Contact a Prospect
If you email or call more than once or twice a week, you will be seen as a nuisance or desperate. No one wants to do business with a person like that, so it’s best not to do things that put you in a negative light.
4. Listen More Than You Talk
So many people fail to close their mouths and open their ears. Active listening is critical to forming relationships with people, and those relationships are key to landing a new client, gaining investors, creating partnerships and just about any other business endeavor. Ask plenty of questions to get them talking. Learn their pain points, and increase their comfort level with you.
5. Don’t Put Your Needs First
When it comes to clients, this is a no-brainer. You may be counting on a sale to keep your business afloat, but even in those dire circumstances, you still need to focus on how you can help the client. The same applies when you want to form a partnership or seek funding from an investor. Always show them first how their support will benefit their ventures, not yours.
6. Keep Conversations on Track
While you want to allow the other person to do most of the talking, you also want to ensure that you control the direction and the tone of the conversation. If the topic veers off track, bring it back on topic by asking the other person a relevant question. If you sense the other person is confused, stop for a moment to clear up any misunderstandings. Be hypersensitive to the other person’s body language and tone of voice so that you can make adjustments to keep the conversations moving in a productive direction. This skill requires plenty of practice, so unless you have experience, start practicing right away.
7. Don’t Force Face Time
Plenty of deals still take place in person, and a lot of your business development deals will take place over a conference or lunch table. Just don’t force in-person meetings with people. Ask them how, when and where they prefer to conduct business, and then adapt to what suits them.
8. Earn Follow-Up Conversations
Just because you manage to schedule an initial contact doesn’t mean you have the right to follow-up with the person again. You have to earn the right to follow-up with the customer, investor, potential partner or whoever it may be. You earn that right by spending time nurturing the relationship and focusing on how you can benefit the other person. Take the initiative, and offer substantive reasons why a relationship with you is beneficial to them. Chances are that the other person will want to meet with you if the relationship makes sense for them to do so.
9. Keep Researching
Do not lose momentum when the sales cycles get longer than expected. Relationships are hard to establish and build, and depending on the time of year, your success rate with contacting people will slow down. Even when a prospect seems like they are almost about to buy or do a deal with you, do not lose momentum. Keep putting in the effort to develop new contacts because you always want to keep the top of the funnel full.
It should be clear from the tips above that the most important part of business development is building relationships. This is the reason why etiquette comes into play and why it is important to understand that your business’ success is very much dependent on the people skills that you and your salespeople have.