It was nearly 40 years ago, but I can still remember it clearly. I’d just started my first “real” job, and had been at it about three months. Every day, someone had given me billable project work to do. Pretty soon, I started to believe that a “Job Fairy” came around every night and put work on my desk. But this week was different. It was Friday and I was filling out my time sheet. But I didn’t have one hour of billable work.
The Job Fairy had died!
It was like a light bulb going on. I remember the realization: if I didn’t have any billable work to do, “these guys” were going to fire me! I also realized that it was going to be up to me to find work to do. No one was going to take care of me. If I really wanted to be successful, I could learn to find work for others, too.
This realization is a landmark moment in a young professional’s career.
Of course, for most professionals (including me), the big question was how to do it. Few engineers, scientists, geologists and other technical professionals graduated from college with the level of thinking and skills necessary to develop new business.
However, I was lucky. I had great mentors to teach me. They helped me realize that to be successful in my job, I was going to have to do more than just technical work. I was also going to have to develop new business.
I remember one mentor saying, “We do three things in this business: sell, manage and do. People who learn to do any two of the three well, will do just fine.”
Other than mentorship from some senior individuals, I had little training. I learned by doing, but it was a long, slow process as my career progressed. Eventually, I became what is termed “unconsciously competent” in the Business Development area.
In this business, the usual evolution of a professional’s career is to start off working for a Project Manager. Early on, people in the company may help young folks find work, but in tough times, this gets harder. I discovered the best thing to do to develop “job security” is to learn to “market” yourself internally. To ensure a steady flow of billable work, I needed to do a great job with the projects assigned. Then I needed to “network” heavily within the company to make sure those senior individuals who manage new work knew my skills and would seek me out when they had work to do.
I learned that as time passes, successful professionals will probably begin to manage their own projects and programs. For many, this will be their first real exposure to clients. Their goal must be to do an outstanding job by making sure that customers get what they want … on time and within budget. When they succeed in doing this, they will “grow” additional work “farming” with their customers and begin to develop as a Business Development farmer.
Customers will seek them out and trust them because they are professionals. They can consistently be counted upon to look after their customers’ needs and get the job done.
Eventually, as their careers progress, they may be called on to help their firm’s growth by developing new business, to become a hunter. This is where it gets very difficult for most people.
Developing new business requires “cold calls” … visiting people they don’t know who believe they are trying to “sell” them something. In fact, the harder they try to “sell” the more difficult it gets.
The skills required to be successful in this new endeavor aren’t taught in college. Trust me … it doesn’t matter how “smart” you may be, learning to be a hunter through trial and error is a long, tough road.
Mechanical Limitations vs. Conceptual Limitations: What to Do, How to Do It and Why It Works
Investing in Professional Business Development training can accelerate the learning process. As an example, in almost any sport a few hours working with a good instructor, coach or guide is worth weeks of trial and error.
Many traditional “sales training” programs focus on presenting mechanical skills … the “what to do” of prospecting, qualifying, learning who the real “influencers” and “decision makers” are, shaping deals and of course winning the business.
But Business Development is not just about understanding and executing the mechanical skills … the “what do you say after you say hello”. For most folks, the biggest hurdle is conceptual … it’s how to do it, why it works and why they won’t do it … the six inches between their ears. It’s not just what to do. They may be taught what to do, but they won’t do it. They can’t get past their conceptual problems in understanding and embracing how Business Development is actually done.
For many, the biggest conceptual hurdle is that they associate “traditional sales” with what should be called “Professional Business Development”. We all know the terms that everyone associates with selling and uses to describe salespeople: “slick”, “sleazy”, “pushy”, etc. For too many “traditional” salespeople, it’s an accurate description. Unfortunately, it’s how they’ve been taught to think and act in this role.
Is it any wonder that technical professionals don’t want to be thought of as salespeople? But, developing business is different than selling.
In Professional Business Development, individuals discover their purpose is to provide customers what they need in solutions to fix problems, whether or not they purchase the solution from them. They learn they’re really helping clients … and there’s nothing “slick”, “sleazy” or “pushy” about that. Business Development is a role they can do with honor and it’s nothing like the dark side.
Another conceptual problem is fear of rejection. In the best of times, Business Development Professionals will meet rejection most of the time. They must develop the level of thinking to understand that it’s not about them. It could be timing, budgets, or a slew of other considerations. It just is. If they take it personally, they will fail.
Once these conceptual limitations are dealt with and out of the way, individuals are ready to learn the mechanical skills that will help them qualify leads and develop prospects efficiently and effectively.
Mastering Business Development
In more than 30 years training many professionals, we find most individuals want to jump to the “what to do” part first. But simply teaching “what to do” isn’t effective. It’s far more important to first understand the thinking behind Business Development, and why the skills that are taught actually work.
Ultimately, thinking drives behavior. In the end, it’s vital that individuals who want to master the Business Development role understand not only what to do, but also the thinking behind it, and why it works.
*Article based on expert opinion by Senior MBDi Consultant, Bob Glassen.
Founded in 1979, MBDi is a global Business Development services firm headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, providing expertise in Business Development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. MBDi’s mission is to transform our clients’ organizations and people into proven Business Development leaders by addressing the conditions and behaviors that assure positive culture change creating clear paths to professional success.