Why No One Calls You Back

While looking through Facebook today I came across this article about why people check their voicemail and I had to laugh because it’s so true.  I don’t check my email to get the message (most of the time) I check it to make the blinking stop!  So the question is, how are you reaching out to clients and prospects?  Do you think they really listen to your voicemail?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/04/voicemails_n_4723562.html

Let’s face it gatekeepers and phone systems have become better at keeping you from speaking to your “target” so how do you reach your prospect, how do you let them know all the awesome things you can give them?  I get emails every day from people who found me on Google, looked at my website (yes I know it needs work) and are reaching out to me to tell me how great they are at SEO, web design, blogging, etc.  and yet they found me in a search so it can’t be THAT bad, right?  Do these emails annoy me, you better believe they do.  I didn’t ask for them to send me a proposal (yes some actually send proposals), some get frustrated with me for not responding as if their frustration will make me respond, right?  So no one wants your voicemail, no one wants your email, how in the hell are you supposed to find prospects?

While part of the issue is the means by which you have chosen to communicate the real issue is what you are communicating.  Please don’t do the features and benefits vomit on me.  I don’t care that you have “x” number of years experience, went to such and such a college, are cheaper than the competition, have the best whatchamacallits…I just don’t care.   I want someone who understands my business, understands my challenges, has solutions that really work for me and understands that I don’t have the time or desire to do things because they want me to.  So what’s it really about:

  • You need to demonstrate that you understand your prospect’s industry, challenges, how they do business
  • You are flexible in communication style and frequency
  • You recognize that it’s a buying cycle and not a selling cycle and if you don’t do your job you are not permitted to go to the next step
  • You have a legit solution for me and can show me how I will receive tremendous value with your services
  • Prospects still value relationships – they need to feel like they know you and trust you, they buy on emotion (unless its a commodity then its price first) not  features and benefits.  To get to the right prospect you need to be where they are, get introduced, be viewed as an asset first and a sales person last.

Don’t forget to ask your prospect how they prefer you communicate with them.  It’s all about them.

 

 

I Close Deals for Our Clients Every Month and Other Assorted Business Development Lies

Last week we lost a deal to a company outside DC, it wasn’t a big deal, it was a new prospect but one I knew we could help.  We had 3 meetings, multiple phone calls and developed a proposal.  This company was new to the federal market and had a product we believed would sell even considering the current state of the federal budget.  There were a few challenges:

  • No one knew who they were
  • They were foreign owned
  • The entire leadership team had a commercial background
  • and of course Sequestration was in full effect

Even given all the challenges we still believed given the right investment of time they would find tremendous success.  They had a tool that was in need, one that solved a major security issue that was top of mind… at the moment.   I had 2 amazing consultants ready to get to work – both cleared, with a strong technical understanding and connections in all the right places.  And yet we lost the deal.  The prospect said he thought we probably had better access to decision makers however the competition offered substantially more time (at a higher rate mind you) and according to their online claims “close deals every quarter for their clients”.

This is just one of many examples where the rubber doesn’t meet the road in business development.   I’d love to tell you exactly what we will and will not close for you during our relationship but there’s one thing I can guarantee  – anything I tell you will be complete and utter bullshit.  I’m sorry to have to phrase it that way but I want to make it perfectly clear that no one in sales can guarantee anything after 2-3 conversations.  We can guarantee activity or time dedicated to the activity, we can create goals for meeting with decision makers but we can not guarantee a number of deals closed or an amount of revenue generated.  Anyone who claims to be closing deals for each client quarterly, every quarter is lying through their teeth – especially on the federal market.  In the world of sequestration its simply not possible.   On the commercial side, it is possible, given the right amount of time and investment (you should not expect this is you aren’t paying for a minimum of 40 hours monthly).

Let’s take this prospect for instance, we knew their product was desired for now, but we also knew that being foreign owned presented some real challenges.  They did not have a contracting vehicle so we needed to partner or go through the process of acquiring one.  We also knew there were a number of hoops to jump through to validate the security of the product due to foreign ownership – more so than the usual scrutiny.  There was no past performance so we had to find that one person who wanted us badly enough to be the guinea pig.  Our conversations went from developing a pipeline of $5 M in one year – which while tough we considered doable – (pipeline meaning opportunities identified, decision makers met, a better understanding of the deal and the need and an idea on when and how this would be procured/paid for) to a $5M pipeline developed and invoiced.  Invoiced, where did that come from??? That wasn’t in our conversations.  Our proposal conversation changed on a dime to $5M invoiced by next summer means we needed to have started last year.  No one knows who your are, your technology isn’t vetted, your foreign owned, etc and to get to invoiced that means you need contract vehicles, teaming partners, won contracts or IDIQ’s and received and performed task orders.  NOT POSSIBLE.  While it would be great if it worked that way, it simply does not.  We essentially left the conversation saying we wish you the best and if for some reason it doesn’t work we’d love to have to conversation again and I believe we will.  It’s hard not to fall into the trap of believing what you want to hear but in this market that spells failure.

The best relationships we have rely on communication.  We need to give you enough information so you feel comfortable in what we are doing and how we’re spending our time on your behalf.  We also don’t need to fill up your email with conversations about prospects that were the wrong fit/had no money/weren’t interested/etc – that’s why you pay us, so you don’t have to do this stuff.  Our goals should be focused on activity directed towards winning opportunities, pipeline development, market research, new opportunities identified, etc.  With a proposal environment it’s a total crap shoot – we have no idea what others are planning to bid, we can only put together our best solutions.  If we consistently lose on price but the opportunity is a good fit – where does the fault really lie?  Essentially this blog is about accountability and how do you hold your business developers accountable – the answer is it’s tough.  We are held to results when we sell opportunities, we recognize the difference and it simply is what it is.  My suggestion is to look behind the smoke and mirrors – if anyone is guaranteeing you business you should be asking how can you do that?  If anyone is guaranteeing you a set revenue amount, you should be wondering how the came up with that number.  Mostly you need to keep your business hat firmly on your head and keep your new crush aside, realize anyone who guarantees a number will never hit that number.  Most will be lower, on the rare occasion a tad higher and still some won’t even come close.  There are no guarantees in sales or business development.  Don’t get sucked into the drama, it won’t work for you.  Develop a partnership with your BD professional whether in house or outsourced, be in communication on what’s important and focus on opportunity and outcomes together.

Is Your Business Development Failing?

Some people may be upset by what they are about to see.  Keep in mind the you that I’m talking about is your business so please don’t take this personally…unless you see yourself here, if you can honestly see what’s not working you are more equipped to fix it and create a structure by which your business development soars.

Top 10 Reasons your business development is failing

  1. You hired the wrong person
  2. You didn’t train them properly
  3. You didn’t lay out expectations
  4. No one is managing them
  5. You have a Ready, Fire, Aim approach to marketing
  6. You don’t have the tools to manage business development
  7. Your marketing stinks (technical term)
  8. You don’t know why people really buy you
  9. There is no follow up
  10. It’s all about you and not the prospect – square peg round hole, anything to close the sale
  11. Bonus – your expectations are impossible to meet
  12. Bonus #2 your compensation is flawed

Chances are if your business development isn’t as successful as you’d like it’s probably because of one of these reasons but did you notice the common denominator?

A person who shouldn’t be doing business development in the first place gets put in a job with no tools, no training, no understanding of expectations has nothing else to do but fail – but you feel guilty right, because you like them and you want it to work.  Of course you do.  The people who interview for this role love to talk to people but it doesn’t mean they are good at developing business.  You had an amazing interview, the conversation just flowed and you had fun learning about them and telling them about all the amazing things you’ve done with your company – again it was just a conversation.

Good conversation doesn’t equate to a good interview – it’s important absolutely but what’s most important in business development is developing and moving a pipeline forward and results and that is tough to determine in one interview.  If over time results have not improved and you have failed to address it, there still is time.  Not all is lost, it’s possible this person could improve if given the proper motivation, direction, tools, etc. but how do you know?

This isn’t something we advertise but we can certainly help, with a short assessment and better understanding of how you handle business development we can see the gaps and can give you easy and quick solutions to addressing those gaps in most cases.  In other cases, it’s simply the wrong person and you have a decision to make.  After 20+ years of business development we’ve pretty much seen everything and here are some of my all-time favorites:

  • Firing your top salesperson because your SVP of Sales feels threatened
  • Keeping your worst sales person because he’s puckered up (you get the image, right?)
  • Expecting your business development team to be able to sell a product that can’t lawfully be sold in the state
  • Trying to force a square peg into a round hole then being upset when the client fires you a few months later
  • Your BD person selling whatever they can then leaving it up to your customer service team to figure out how to deliver the services when they don’t currently offer some of the services
  • Purchasing an extremely expensive CRM that no one uses
  • Trying to be all things to all people
  • Failing to close a slam dunk deal because you never followed up

Now I’m going to assume you don’t do these things but if you did, it would be obvious that help is needed.  What we typically see is the company saying I am struggling to get business development right but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.  This happens in all size companies – sadly some of the situations above came from publicly traded, national companies who should know, right?  It’s just that business development is changing, it’s not about cold calling, it’s about being viewed as a resource, being the go-to for everything, creating that relationship – then you are viewed as a partner and not a vendor.

We’ve been asked to help with these types of scenarios many times and we welcome your call if you have concerns whether you have a business development team in place or looking to create one.  You don’t need to be local, as long as we can gain access to the documents, systems, people we need the analysis can be done.  For us this work is second nature so it typically isn’t too cumbersome.  Our typical fee ranges from $2000-5000 depending on the size of the business and how many BD/management staff we need to address.  Small changes can mean a drastic increase in revenue to an organization.   Email Karin at kschwartz@springboardbizdev.com if you have questions.

Is it time to ENTER the Government Market?

Commercial Firms looking to Enter the Government Market?

Are you kidding me?  Nope, surprisingly some have mentioned this as an option; even though there’s limited money, long sales cycles and a completely different process some commercially focused companies are looking to enter the government market.  After I pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard I find that some are just chasing the idea of the big contract while others see this slowdown in spending as an opportunity to be part of the next phase or the next boom with the recognition that its years away and won’t be like the boom of the last 10 years.  If you never enter you can’t win business so at some point if there’s a desire to close government deals you need to bite the bullet regardless of the current situation.  It might be better to enter the market when you don’t expect much – any win is a huge win.  This is the company that truly understands that entering this market is an investment.  You should expect a bare minimum of 2 years activity in this market before you close a deal – for some it’s shorter and others its longer but if you think you’ll close business in 6 months you’re either smoking something or you have THE MOST amazing  widget ever.

Here’s the deal, is it a great time to enter the government market if you have no experience?  Why not, look at the environment – even long term government players are struggling to close deals.  With re-competes, less business to be had, bid protests, reduced budgets, etc those that are there now have to do more with less and if they haven’t already they will soon be forced to deal with the new reality.  That reality is a little more challenging and can be highly lucrative IF and it’s a big IF you put in the effort.  The problem is that in the past it was fairly easy to get business, just respond to a RFP and go low – you’ll get millions of dollars worth of business – not the case anymore (except the low cost – that definitely helps).  So if there’s less coming down the pike, things are taking longer to come to fruition, there’s a litigious environment why would you want to enter this market?  It’s easy, get in now, create the relationships now and prep for when the situation improves and if you get a deal it’s just icing on the cake.  It’s better to lay the groundwork now when business isn’t flying off the shelf then to feel like you’re missing out by trying to jump in when it’s going gang busters.  Again recognize that all business development is an investment.

If the government space is a desired target market you have a choice –

  • Commit to the market, do your research
  • Understand that each agency works differently and identify which is best to pursue
  • Hire those with technical knowledge and connections to bridge the gap
  • Identify where you fit and why you fit – inside each agency there are multiple silos
  • Identify contract vehicles to pursue
  • Understand your commitment – a minimum of 3 years
  • Attend industry events, join industry groups that support the mission you’ve chosen to support
  • Build a pipeline with short, mid and long term opportunities
  • Manage the pipeline consistently

Or –

  • Sit around and wait for the right time
  • Get frustrated when you have to act happy for your buddy that just closed on a big contract
  • Constantly second guess yourself
  • Prepare and identify when the right time will be and commit to action

There is no perfect time so make sure you do your homework and plan for the future.  Create a strategy to enter the market and a timetable then execute.  Most importantly create relationships and be patient.

Why Government Contractors are failing in attempts to enter the commercial market

Government Contractors pursuing the Commercial Market in a sloppy manner

Contemplating a move into the commercial market?  Make sure you do it right, learn from these mistakes.  Sadly we’re seeing them over and over with wildly successful government contractors looking to counter the inevitable drop in government projects due to sequestration by entering the commercial market targeting large financials, pharma, healthcare, etc.  The issue is they just aren’t approaching the market correctly and here’s why –

Government contractors attempting to move into the commercial market expecting to have companies drop multi-million dollar projects in their laps due to their past government performance and attempting to manage the pipeline, presentation and proposal the same as they did with agency clients.  It’s not uncommon for these contractors to expect to have a thriving commercial practice within a year to 18 months and yet they are failing and can’t understand why.  Sadly the reason is arrogance.

Attempting to put an entire industry into your way of doing business and expecting them as your prospect to allow you to run the process as you see fit versus what works best for them is arrogant.  Expecting that your past performance in an environment that functions practically polar opposite of the commercial functionality of procurement and purchasing is arrogant.  Believing that you know how they work and what works best for them without due diligence and without analysis is arrogant.  Not accepting the trial programs the commercial prospects offer you to assess your capabilities because their too small and beneath you is arrogant.

Here’s the deal – the government market and the commercial market are two very different animals and if you don’t respect the nuances of business in both markets you will fail.  For the vast majority of businesses, you aren’t anything special; I know that’s hard to hear and it’s not meant as an insult.  There are hundreds if not thousands of companies who do what you do, really well and some are already in your desired target market winning and managing successful engagements.  You are the newbie and yet you act like you know it all.  The answer is to be humble, to understand you need to build trust the same as you did in the agencies so many years ago.  Be grateful when offered a pilot or trial program regardless of how small as it’s a win with that company and a chance to build performance in the new market.  Treat the market as it needs to be treated – it’s different than agencies – understand the process, respect the process and learn what’s important to each new buyer.  It’s best to have separate teams as it’s tough to transfer from one market to the other.  Most importantly expect a minimum of 3 years to gain consistent traction.  Treat this as an investment.  This market is a far cry from the market you entered in the government space 10 years ago, it’s not a free for all and you need to show your value and your expertise.  Arrogance will kill you in this market, if you plan to enter be strategic, be willing to learn, expect to fail and understand it’s an investment in amazing future growth – bring in experts who know the industry, who can talk the language and most importantly can bridge the gap that you’ve created by ignoring this market for so long.

Entering the market unprepared is like the business developer who claims his company’s people are smarter than those employed by the competition and their service is better.  You’ve done nothing to differentiate yourself and in fact you’ve told your prospect that you really don’t respect them.  I know it wasn’t your intention in face I’m sure it’s the exact opposite of your intention.  If you’re a software developer know why your clients use you and here’s a hint, it’s not service or smart people.  There are thousands of software developers in this country so what makes you special – is it the extensive knowledge of the industry you represent and the types of challenges you’ve been asked to tackle when others failed?  Is it how you hold your people accountable so jobs are finished on time and within budget?  Is it how you collaborate with the client to ensure ultimate business efficiency, effectiveness and results – results being the key here.  Maybe it’s that your practice is to proactively keep the client up to speed on the status of the project so you can address concerns in real time so as not to create unnecessary billable hours after the fact.  Do you think a prospect might find that appealing?

The fastest way to ensure you are viewed as a commodity and get into a cheapest price wins kind of deal is to associate yourself as the same as everyone else.  If you don’t know the answer to what makes you special this is your first task and I highly suggest you ask your current clients why they love you and if their answer is your price point – you have definite problems.  Before you enter a new market you need to know what is success to my new prospect, what makes them look like a hero so you can be their hero?  This is your business development angle, not that you’ve managed large successful programs for the feds because in the commercial market things get done faster, their systems are more up to date, they don’t look for butts in seats for an unlimited amount of time – this costs them shareholder value.  A company, nonprofit, hospital, regardless of size can’t just print money – you need to know what makes them tick before you enter the market.

We’d love to hear what you’ve done to differentiate yourself in the market and how it helped you to increase market share.