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?


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.



Missing in Action

Well, I’d love to tell you some grandiose story about my travels but quite frankly it wasn’t that glamorous.  Yes I’ve been AWOL from the blog for a few months – about 6.  I’m back and hopefully for good now.  My maternity leave ends on February 24th and I’ll be back to work full time.  Our daughter Devyn Ryleigh was born on December 19th and I have to say the pregnancy was an extremely difficult one – which explains my absence.  I was so sick with this one that I was able to do just enough before passing out each day.  Our consultants have been taking excellent care of our clients while I’ve been gone and now that she sleeps consistently during the day I’m able to do some catch up before I return full time.  Such is life for the self employed, right?  There really is no maternity leave when you own a business.  Thankfully she arrived just before the holidays so for the first couple of weeks there was little to keep up with, but these last couple of weeks I’m answering emails and voice mails, getting on conference calls and hoping she stays asleep for the 3 hours I’m on the phone – and for the most part she’s done great.  I’m lucky, she’s almost 7 weeks old and for the past week she’s been sleeping 7-9 hours each night.  I can’t imagine what I’d do if she wasn’t such a good sleeper!

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.

Fit or Failure in Business Development

This topic wasn’t on the list for discussion in this blog but it’s come up 3 times in the past 2 days and every time it makes me laugh.  Why do you insist of cramming a square peg into a round hole?  I’m not suggesting your hiring an engineer to do business development but I am suggesting that the person you’ve hired has a clear indication of failure and you just haven’t seen it yet.

It’s about fit.  You have a firm that in order for someone to become a client needs to develop trust, show expertise, and create a relationship before someone commits yet you hire someone in business development that has always focused on transactions.  Transactions usually equate to cold calling and cold calling is NOT how you get clients, its how you scare people away.  You are referred in, are top of mind when the need arises, hold speaking engagements to showcase knowledge and value to generate recognition and interest; people don’t come to you because you called them out of the blue and knocked their socks off in an unsolicited call.  Transaction sales people go after a quick turn around, they bring it in and leave it alone – not the right fit if you are looking to build relationships for your clientele.  This is a longer sales cycle, it’s about developing trust and an understanding of right fit, value and need.

I’ve also seen a couple hires lately of business development people who can’t seem to keep jobs or have a personality that reminds me of old carpet.  Nice people but insanely boring.  Your business development staff shouldn’t put people to sleep, they should be able to generate some excitement – you don’t necessarily want the life of the party as they tend to be more self focused but you need someone with energy.  Let’s think about the basics of business development –

  • they need to feel comfortable in a room of strangers
  • be able to communicate easily and build trust
  • they need a high enough energy level to portray interest and excitement all throughout the day
  • they need to be able to execute
  • and for a services business they need to understand and be able to manage the process of developing a relationship with someone they just met

Industry specific – your business development person needs to know enough about your industry to be dangerous, and its tough to know how much they actually know versus what they’ve read or been told.  Your interviews should be asking about how your would strategically grow my business – what areas would you take me, who should be my partners, what would you do that we aren’t already doing.  If they can’t grasp your field and what makes your business thrive they aren’t the right fit.

As we start to see hiring in business development increase make sure you are choosing the right candidates.  Just because its a fun interview doesn’t mean its going to work.  I love to see hiring in the space, it means people are pulling their head out of the sand and getting back to business but don’t waste time and money on the wrong hire.  In BD it will cost you more than lost wages.

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.