Ask the Expert: BD During Times Of Crisis
The purpose of our article series Ask The Expert is to capture and share Tech, Data, Marketing and Creative sector expertise. Local. Authentic. Insightful. We are featuring experts, thought leaders and influencers. Showcasing sector wisdom learned through experience.
“Can you share your top tips for BD during economic downturn /time of crisis?”
Let’s be frank, COVID-19 has overnight impacted nearly every organisation and every business unit across the world.
Certainly, as a business owner, I’ve felt the immediate squeeze, with clients holding onto payment longer, existing campaigns being benched and new business we were certain of winning, we’re now being asked to ‘come back next month’, a phrase if you’ve ever worked at the coalface of business development, never fulfils you with confidence.
Although frustrating, it’s an understandable reaction as everyone looks to adapt to a situation with so many variables and unknowns.
For us, and for many other similar businesses, the immediate challenge crudely boils down to how do we keep revenue coming through the door? For cash-rich organisations with bountiful reserves, perhaps not so much, but for those ambitious smaller businesses – now is a critical period.
I’ve worked in Sales, Marketing and Business Development for over 12 years now, for organisations big and small, and at the best of times sales is a fine art, but we’re now faced with a set of potentially unscalable obstacles. So what’s the advice? Well, honestly, I have no idea, there is no one-size-fits-all. Every business is unique, and every market is reacting differently. This article aims to share some of the steps and provisions I’ve taken when it comes to business development, and hopefully help everyone ride this one out.
So what can you do now?
- Develop incident management and scenario plans, specific to this crisis. The first thing we did was to pick up the phone and speak to our clients. Of course, it’s an ever-evolving situation, but early on we tried to ascertain their potential reaction, complicated somewhat by some of our clients being large multinational organisations. But, we used that feedback and data to work alongside our finance and business development units to simulate scenarios, developing frequent financial and sales models to improve our reaction and resilience.
- Understand your customers’ longer-term considerations and shifts in core markets.
- As the situation deepens you need to give special consideration to how this is shifting your customers’ core markets. This will naturally impact what services or products you bring to your clients.
We’ve seen a dramatic shift in our clients now wanting to focus on the public sector. Several conditions have dictated that move, a decrease in spending from their established markets, plus from the buy-side an immediate demand for innovative technologies, loosened procurement rules and an increase in funding.
Although collectively as a business, and on a personal level we have extensive experience and contacts in this sector, it’s not our core. Alongside my sales team, we’ve had to quickly reimagine our proposition, in the hope of releasing revenue from clients who had previously benched us.
Of course, for a product-led business, this shift isn’t always possible, but as a service provider, we’re fortunate to be able to flip our model, helping us re-engage with sales conversations.
Ramp up your communication to clients, networks and new prospects
We’ve all had them, that email from the CEO of this company, or that company. Although that’s a vital comms strategy during this time, I’m explicitly referring to business development here.
Remember, you’re still open for business, you still want to be front of mind when it comes to purchasing decisions, be sensitive to the situation, don’t ignore it, but where possible continue to prospect via your channels.
Focus your time and messaging on adding value at this difficult time, support your clients, networks and business communities where possible, grow those relationships to create future advocacy, don’t let them forget about you. Silence kills deals.
Invoice factoring and negotiating special payment terms with existing clients at POS
If you’re fortunate to have an invoicing factoring partner, then hopefully your immediate cash flow is secure for any existing work you’ve delivered, however, if you don’t it’s worth speaking to a vendor or your accountant, it could potentially help your business unlock capital tied up in unpaid invoices.
Additionally, for business development professionals at the point of sale try to negotiate improved payment terms. That could be the full amount upfront, a larger deposit or reduced time to pay – all of which are going to help right now. However, I would reserve this for those clients or customers from larger organisations, and those you already have a great working relationship with. Trust is a massive factor in business development; don’t use up all your credits forcing the issue with a new business prospect, it could raise alarms.
Get dressed, stay disciplined and stick close to your daily working routine
OK, so this doesn’t just apply to business development professionals or just those in customer-facing roles. Getting dressed will not only improve your state of mind, but it will also psychologically prepare you to start work.
Whether you need to change into business attire depends on the type of person you are and the nature of the job you perform.
Sales can be an attritional game, it requires real resilience. So structure your day, start by changing out of clothes you’d otherwise associate with rest. For me, it’s about triggering my brain into work mode, giving me a sense of structure and a boost of confidence, all essential when it comes to selling. Nobody is going to take you seriously if you’re in the wrong mindset.
Famourilise yourself with the tech your clients and prospects are using
Overnight we’ve gone from meeting rooms and cafes to Zoom and Google Hangouts. In the last week, I’ve used SIX separate video conferencing platforms to pitch our business.
It’s important more than ever that you take the time to understand the solutions your clients and prospects are using. Pausing for 5 minutes to figure out how you share your screen isn’t going to inspire confidence. Plus, it will dramatically hinder your sales flow and the narrative of your pitch, so spend some time familiarising yourself with your new digital surroundings.
It’s also worth noting for those who sell to the public and regulated sectors as we do, you’re probably going to have to navigate around some fairly sensitive firewalls. So ensure your video conferencing solution is either mobile-friendly or simply ask for the clients preferable platform.
Finally, find online business development communities and network with your peers
Sales can be the loneliest of worlds at the best of times, so it’s important at this time to connect with your peers. Even if it’s just to get a handle on how they are handling the situation, or even to act as a sounding board to help ease some of the pressures you might be feeling right now.
Thanks so much for sharing, Ash!