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Five Ways to Kickstart Your Business Development Engine

"Five Ways to Kickstart Your Business Development Engine - ibuildcompanies.com by Jeanne Heydecker

Whatever your startup does, you should already have a diversified and hopefully recurring revenue plan in place. I used to work for the second largest search engine company in the world and now, they’ve been sold so many times, no one remembers their name anymore. I was always trying to discuss revenue and they kept responding with, “Just focus on the eyeballs and the money will come.” It didn’t.

You want your business development efforts to yield the best results, so they should always be there, running in the background, keeping up the interest in your services so you always have a pipeline of work and the chance to really grow your startup the way you want, taking the work you can do well, and focus on your long term vision.

Five Tips to Build Your Sales Funnel

#1: Have a Drink with Someone

Business development isn’t something you can do alone. The best tips, intelligence and advice – as well as the work – will always come from someone else. So if you’re always head down at your desk just grinding away, you’re not going to get anywhere. You need to get out from behind the screen and speak to people to remind them you exist.

So pick up your phone now and ask someone if they’d like to go for a coffee (or something stronger). It could be a client, a referrer or even a colleague. Don’t sell, just shoot the breeze with them and let them know about the kind of work you’re doing. But, more importantly, ask them about themselves. What are they doing, what issues are they facing, just learn more about them and their company. (Document this later. If you have CRM software, upload any info you get from meeting with them, no matter how inconsequential you may think it is at the time. You never know what will prove useful. I once had a meeting with a person whose boss just would not purchase our stuff. No matter the pitch, promotion, or type of outreach, she just didn’t seem to like our company and I could never find out the reason. The person I met with mentioned she was pregnant and I noted that down in my CRM software. Ninth months later, my sales person had a contract in hand from that company because we pitched them while she was out on maternity leave.)

After you’ve had your first informal chat, promptly organize others so that you’re having coffee with someone at least every couple of weeks. Even if you’re “not in sales”, every person managing a team or department in your company should be having these short meetings with people that could be buyers, employees, or suppliers. They’re all important to your startup ecosystem.

You’ll find it soon becomes second nature and that in no time at all you’ll have a consistent process in place.

#2: Maintain Consistent Client Feedback

In one company I worked at, we had quarterly telephone interviews with every single one of our clients and they rated us on a one to ten scale on ten different questions. Okay, fair enough. That gives you some understanding of where you stand and if you’re in danger of losing that client. I recommend three open-ended questions that will give you a much better of your understanding of your relationship with your client:

  • What is it about our company that keeps you as our client? This tells you what you are doing right and you can them ramp up those aspects of your service to ensure client satisfaction increases across the board. If they say something like price, that you’re cheaper than your competition, that’s a red flag. Dig more. Find out if that’s the only reason. There may be significant issues that they aren’t telling you about that you could improve without it affecting your Return on Investment (ROI).
  • If a colleague were looking for a company that does X, what would you tell them about us? This can give you clues about what you are doing right or what you are failing at doing for this client. I was once asked for recommendations for architects since I had recently built out two office spaces. I hated, I mean really hated, the first architect. He was disorganized, he showed up for our initial meeting two hours late; sometimes not showing up at all to progress meetings and sending his lower level staff that weren’t architects or designers. But he lowballed the bid and my CEO accepted it. We nearly lost our own business due to the delays and cost overruns. The second office space was built by my first pick who worked with us personally and stayed under budget and we opened two weeks early. I told my colleague everything. I unloaded all the cheating, the safety issues, the poor construction, everything. In fact, this bad architect would just show up with potential clients to show them our office. One time, I found out about it and I walked straight up to the group and said, “Excuse me, but I’m the CSO here. Are you planning on hiring this company?” When they replied yes, I showed them all the faults, while the architect tried to get them to leave, and THEN I took them over to where the other architect had done the work. I told them that the first architect had forced us to use his metal fabrication company to make the cubicles at 18,000 rupees a piece, while the second company outsourced the furnishings for less than 8,000 rupees each (we had over 600 cubicles). The architect never came back. Do you think my colleagued ever called that guy? Not in a million years. He went straight to the other one.
  • If we doubled our prices, what would we have to do to ensure you continued to do business with us? People will be pretty straightforward with this one. All the responses will feature aspects of your business that you not have realized could be hurting you or keeping you from upselling to that particular client. Perhaps its your payment terms, maybe it’s how quickly you deliver, it could be a paperwork vs. online automated system, it could be your customer service – the list is endless and a great way to find ideas from existing customers on how to improve and find ways to increase sales. It could create new business services or products to add as part of your offering.

#3: Get Your Next Blog Out

If your startup is ever going to be considered as an expert in your field, you need to publish. It’s never been easier to publish in the entirety of history. And yet you’d be surprised how few companies blog regularly. Fewer still do it well.

To make this easier, ask your management for volunteers. Some will love writing and posting updates. Set aside a few hours yourself once a month and bang out a state of the company blog post. If you don’t know what to write about think of a question you keep getting asked or something interesting that’s happened in your field. Tell people why it matters and what they need to know about it and then get it published on your website.

Make a schedule for the managers and meet once a month to discuss topics for them to write about. Your HR department can create posts about openings or how to prepare for an interview. Your sales department can post about a promotion happening that month. Gamify it. The blog post with the most reads gets a free drink, coffee, dinner, whatever.

You may also want to invest in hiring a social media professional, even part time, to create social media corporate pages, and update those pages with links to the blog posts and other pages of your web site, answer posts to the pages and drive traffic back to your web site and your sales department.

#4: Update Your Decks

When was the last time you did a marketing audit to see what the sales department is using for business development? Does your logo need a freshening up? What about your pitch decks, web site and sales literature you leave behind with the client? What about the quotation, scope of work or proposal that goes out to a prospect? Are they in line with your branding guidelines? You have branding guidelines, don’t you? Don’t you?

Do a full review and see what needs to be redone. Anything that even remotely touches a client, prospect, or potential employee should align with your brand. I’ve said enough about the importance of quality brand management here.

#5: Recheck Your Financial Situation

Not entirely sure that audits are required, but in some industries and in certain countries they are required every year. Public companies have to announce their earnings regularly. You’re not there yet, but you need to keep an eye on your Profit and Loss (P&L) statement on a regular basis. I recently heard a story about a new employee who had just joined her organization and she couldn’t get a company laptop due to “cash flow issues”. Later, she found out why. Their biggest customer had not been invoiced in six months. She recouped $2MM just by making sure the invoices went out and were paid on time.

So pull up the spreadsheet of who you’ve billed and what you’ve billed for and see if there are any surprises. Is there something that’s been particularly profitable you weren’t previously aware of? Or perhaps there’s something that you’ve invested a lot of time in that hasn’t been profitable at all? Perhaps some sales people aren’t justifying their salaries, let alone any commission? I once had a promotion going in the office supply industry and we would give the sales person five cents for each roll of Scotch tape they sold. We paid 28 cents per roll. He was selling them for 20 cents each. And he expected his five cents per roll. Seriously. This is a true story. We lost a bundle on that guy and he had to go.

Business development always works best when it’s based on data. So whatever you find, use these numbers to inform the next steps you’ll take. Work out how you’re going to find more of that stuff that pays the bills and keeps the lights on, and how you can streamline and cut costs. There is nothing worse than losing sleep trying to figure out how you’re going to make payroll. It’s an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare.

Business development is a tough job. I’ve known companies where the best sales people make more than the CEO and rightly so. Their work pays everyone’s salaries. But you’ll find that once you’ve taken the first step and created an organization where everyone participates in business development in one way or another, the rest comes more easily and if you keep going and keep up the hustle, in no time at all, you’ll be prettiest girl at the dance and everyone will want to be working with you.

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