A client recently asked to put our Business Development programme on pause. Whilst the rationale was understandable – we had just helped them win a client and they needed to deliver on this – the expectation that you can pause business development and pick it up a few months later is quixotic.
The reasons for wanting to put Business Development ‘on hold’ are often down to resource constraints; either time of the senior team, or money. Cutting investment in Business Development can appear an easy option. However, Business Development waits for no-one and, in a matter of weeks, a programme can completely lose all momentum and opportunities can be missed.
Too busy with existing client work
As a Business Development agency, we are often the victims of our own success when a client wants to put our activity on hold so they can focus on delivering on recent wins. Whilst it’s important to not let your delivery slip, this is exactly the time you should be focusing on Business Development. You are at your best when you are confident and have plenty of exciting current work to talk about.
You also need to allow for the inevitable lead times of winning new work. Otherwise when your current projects come to an end, you are left wondering where your next work is going to come from and desperately re-prioritising Business Development and making up for lost time.
Business Development is an investment in future growth
Before starting a Business Development programme you need to be aware of the investment and commitment that is required. It takes months to build awareness, engagement and carefully nurture relationships with prospective clients.
Typically it can take 6 months for a programme to mature and your pipeline to really start taking shape – and it takes even longer before you start to see a return. The results can help take your business to the next level, but you need to make sure you are prepared for the long haul and can afford to sustain this.
So why not just pause, whilst I get things right?
Successful Business Development requires persistency and lots of follow up. It takes time to really get a grasp of a company, the decision makers involved and current agency arrangements. And often months to get to a position where you are being considered for future work.
No matter how good a job you have done getting on the radar with a prospect, if you don’t follow up when you said you would, you are likely to miss out on any future opportunities. We have heard far too many times of work going elsewhere because an agency wasn’t top of mind – and it’s very rare a prospect will ever contact you, even if they rate you highly.
Important to carefully manage your CRM
Business Development is judged based on your visible pipeline, RFP’s, briefs and appointments. Yet, a good Business Development programme will always have so much more going on beyond this. There will be hot prospects where an opportunity is imminent and warm keep in touch contacts where you have built trust and confidence, who will have you in mind for when the timing is right.
Each prospect will expect you to maintain effective and proactive contact to keep them informed and provide advice and insight, as well as responding to any requests they may have for further information. If you can’t get this right when you are prospecting for their business, what would you be like as a supplier?
How do I ensure long term success?
To ensure Business Development success, follow up activity needs to happen on a daily basis. Every day our Business Developers are calling, emailing and following up prospects, just as they agreed they would. This takes a lot of time and effort, but must be adhered to for you to maintain the relationships you have worked hard to establish and allow you to shape your role within any future opportunities.
If you have given Business Development a fair period of time and it’s not providing any tangible return, then it may be time to stop and review what you are doing. Before making a decision you should measure reach, engagement and warmth to understand what has been achieved through your activity and what prospects are likely to represent good opportunities in the future.
Business Development should be strategic, and long term it should help you get towards working with the clients you want to. It is difficult to get right and takes a time and investment before you will start seeing a steady flowing pipeline. If you are already seeing signs of success with wins or opportunities coming through, then find ways to build on it, as you just cannot ‘pause’ a programme and come back to it expecting to continue where you left off. And if you do get it right, it can be a game changer.