Accelerating Business Development in a Post-Pandemic Environment |
1. Introduction: How the world has changed
It’s possible that business and business practices may have changed more in the past five months than in the previous five years. From logistics to supply chain, finance, HR, communications, and sales and marketing, few areas have been untouched. Businesses have had to pivot and pivot, and then pivot again. What started as a contingency strategy, has become a rolling strategy to address the shifting business landscape of the pandemic and the protocol compliance.
What has not changed is that business development is the pipeline for growth and that growth — even in a downturn — is fundamental to survival. Businesses cannot sustain the inevitable effects of attrition without continuing to grow their customer base, their product/service offering and their brand awareness.
If growth is essential to survival, business development is essential to growth. I have been looking at how business development has changed over the past five months and specifically how the European/American landscape has shifted.
While times have drastically changed, the fundamentals still apply. Companies must provide differentiated value or become either a commodity or a non-player. It’s as simple as that, and this will continue to be the case unless there is a radical change in the political and economic systems of the modern, developed world.
Companies must also continue to articulate and communicate their value proposition in the form of a succinct and compelling message to the target audience. The pandemic has created a transcending force that organically connects needs with wants, therefore communication is key. Digitalization has closed the convergence of the point of supply and demand, and that will continue to narrow (think only of the seemingly random, but predictive, purchase prompts you to receive daily and accelerate that across supply and delivery platforms).
Differentiation, positioning and promotion continue to be fundamental to non-commoditization and growth but how businesses advance differentiation, positioning, and particularly, promotion has definitely changed in the past months. As such, businesses need to adjust the tone, language and context of their message — particularly if there is a significant delta in the state of the economy, the infection rate of the virus; the level/type of regulation and popular sentiment on either side of the Atlantic.
Business development executives and entrepreneurs may have to do more with less and their prospects and partners may be doing likewise. The unfortunate fact that many businesses in Europe and America have been forced to scale back since March provides a challenge but it may also provide an opportunity — especially if the company’s value proposition is to provide top-tier performance at mid-tier budgets enabling their customers and prospects to become leaner and more agile.
As a business development executive, it may be time to reevaluate tried and tested methodologies and look at new ways to prospect and advance deals without the previous budgets, travel and support teams. Businesses periodically need to examine their overall fitness to overcome shocks and that means building a leaner organization; instituting cultural agility; fostering the right talent and ensuring your business has robust funding to come through the pandemic stronger!
Whether you are in America assessing the European market or in Europe assessing the American market, you will have seen fractured regional, vertical markets based on how the virus has impacted one region over another; how the government in one region may have reacted better than another and also how environment, weather and seasonality affects the pandemic. Enterprise-grade businesses and entrepreneurs need to be aware of the dynamics within target markets and need to carefully reassess which regions present the best opportunities and which ones should be de-prioritized.
Something to also consider is the competitive landscape and how that may have recently changed. Not all competitors will survive the pandemic and opportunities may exist to acquire strength in strategic regions and/or verticals. Keeping an ear to the ground via news media, trade media and staying in constant conversation with regional partners can equip business development executives with actionable market intelligence. In what is a dynamic and at times tumultuous media environment it becomes more difficult to readily access the kind of market/sector/company information that keeps us informed, however, that does not change the need to do so, it just makes it harder.
Knowing your business’ contextually-adjusted value proposition, regional focus and capabilities, I recommend client companies carefully profile the companies they wish to work with; identify the job titles and names of relevant decision-makers and source — either by reference, database, LinkedIn or old-fashioned research — the target executives’ contact details.
Now you know the who, where, and why. The next step we typically take is mapping what’s attainable, probable, or possible and setting goals and timelines for the business development initiative. The timelines will vary based on how closely tied your product offering is to a businesses’ pandemic response. For instance, if your business sells video conferencing technologies the need is immediate and so is the opportunity but if your business is an OEM supplier selling a component for an innovative new product, the urgency will be less and the timeline longer. Having realistic goals and informed timelines will be essential to monitoring your success and sustaining positivity and energy in your business development initiative.
3. Outreach and Implementation
There is no reason whatsoever that any business or business development executive should not have a database. We are past the days of executives having a little black book of business contacts tucked away, we should be able to see our connections in a well-organized database where we can track who we have connected with recently and who we need to reach out to. Gone are the days of top-tier executives keeping their most important contacts to themselves, for businesses to succeed, networks must be shared and nurtured by the collective. I can say from personal experience, having led as the overseas executive of the development and rollout of our CRM over the past three years (which included significant input from other MNC’s including consultancy firms) that organizational-wide transparency on contacts unlocks hidden value. There is no question it has to be managed securely and effectively but it is a challenge worth undertaking even (or especially) in a culture where the private Rolodex SOP is embedded.
Knowing who you are seeking to connect with and keeping details on outreach, conversations, questions as well as scoring the opportunity is fundamental to business development on both sides of the Atlantic.
The database could be simple freeware or spreadsheet-based or could be a sophisticated CRM. Having such a resource at hand enables the informed executive to act with agility and decisiveness to shift gears as opportunity presents or the pandemic dictates — once she/he has implemented in the earlier steps I have listed. The CRM or database should be open on the executive’s phone and tablet. A current, populated database is how things get done.
Become aware of third-party databases and other resources in the regions and verticals in which you are seeking to grow your business. Dodge Data & Analytics, for instance, is an excellent global resource for the construction industry and PubMed is similarly powerful in the Biomedical industry.
Account-Based Marketing is a natural extension of database marketing and whereas it is currently affordable at the enterprise-level it’s quickly becoming more accessible to mid-sized and smaller businesses. Account-based marketing allows businesses to focus on specific accounts and projects and feed the decision-makers on those projects pertinent content at precisely the time they are making the decision. It adds precision, attribution and accountability and ties marketing and business development closely together so marketers can (finally) see how their actions are impacting the top-line.
With market intelligence in place and prospects organized, business development executives need to make the contact. Now, with conferences, trade shows and business travel severely curtailed, the opportunities to network and move the business development needle are similarly limited. That’s not to say that prospecting is impossible — if your offering has timely value your message will have resonance and efforts will gain traction.
Agencies like Enterprise Ireland, professional networks like the Europe America Chamber of Commerce and even LinkedIn contacts can help with referrals — if you know someone who knows the prospect, reach out for a referral and you’re much more likely to elicit positive feedback. The cold hard truth, however, is that cold calls work and, again, if you’ve done your homework the prospect will want to hear from you. We have also undertaken a significant rollout of the LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Its native integration with many CRM’s really boosts its overall power where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
To support business development outreach, it will help to build your own brand by strengthening your LinkedIn profile, authoring original content, being quoted in media and entering awards. This way, if your prospect researches, they understand that you have equity in the market you’re serving and could provide insight and value.
4. Forging value-based relationships
In order to get value from LinkedIn and similar outreach, you must be strategic and build relationships with those who can provide you and/or your business with value. It is better to have 500 strong connections than 2000 strangers. The value of your network may not always be immediate, but you should be building a network that is strong and will come to benefit you either through personal growth or direct business development in the future. Do not rely solely on LinkedIn InMail and instead use the ‘add note’ section when sending an invitation to connect, the characters are limited and allows you to practice your perfect elevator pitch. But once again, if you are serious about harnessing the power of the (and not just your) LinkedIn network then Sales Navigator is worth exploring.
We’ve all come to learn that few initiatives yield immediate returns. Lead-time is the nature of B2B and patience is something we’ve learned to channel but not indulge — and that’s where innate talent and executive experience come into play. Business development executives can use all the database and ABM platforms for intelligence gathering to establish the right relationships but then need to forge value-based relationships to advance the transactional relationship.
Skillfully managing the evolution of a lead into a qualified lead (or “contact” in CRM parlance) and ultimately conversion and partnership was challenging before the pandemic. Now, business development is even more challenged without the possibility of meeting your prospect to learn of the pain points your organization can serve. Relatively speaking though it is still the same level playing field as with rare exception we are operating to the same MO.
5. Conclusion: The pace of change
If there is one thing we have learned from the pandemic, it’s that the pace of change has shifted to warp-speed and that business development on either side of the Atlantic requires a new level of agility, creativity and force. In June we were joined (virtually of course) by Robert Wolcott, Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His research from the previous three months at the academic and commercial level had concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced action whereby we have crossed the “Digital Rubicon”, that this period has accelerated change and done so beyond the point of return (the moral of the Rubicon crossing).
We also know that businesses need growth to survive and that growth markets for American businesses exist in Europe just as growth markets for European businesses exist in the United States.
If we have properly executed the various stages of business development so that firms on either side of the Atlantic have established a reservoir of newly qualified leads from March to August, then I expect businesses will be well-positioned to harvest the leads and re-grow their businesses during the fall and winter months. My expectation is that we may well see a U-shaped recovery in business performance by the Spring of 2021.
To do so requires deliberate execution of the steps I have outlined but also requires having strong business development executives in place for when the green shoots begin to appear on either side of the Atlantic.
- Sean Davis, Regional Director North America, ENTERPRISE IRELAND
Compliments of Enterprise Ireland – a member of the EACCNY.