Whether your trade is producing software, computing tax liabilities, or manufacturing tangible goods, the success of your organization is going to be tied to strong sales (business development/ “bizdev”) performance over the long haul. Yet, few organizations are able to create a bizdev model that is sustainable and that constantly fuels the capital needs of the enterprise. Bizdev, however, is something that far too many senior executives (or, business owners in the SMB world) think must be acquired through osmosis or tenure. While I don’t actually believe that they think that, their actions would indicate otherwise.
Virtually everyone in North America has had a frustrating experience with bad sales execution. Either one has been on the end of trying to convince someone to buy, or the other end where we hate to be the recipient of “sales.” There’s much wrong with the selling models that are so pervasive that negative experiences abound on both sides of the equation.
Mahan Khalsa, who led the Sales Performance Group at FranklinCovey for a number of years, is one of my favorite authors on the subject of business development. His background included developing instruction for one of the old Big Eight CPA firms, then turning his attention to training almost 100,000 salespeople and consultants from all over the place in many different verticals.
Khalsa says, “Most professional sellers have good intent. They know manipulation and deceit hurt rather than build long-term sales success. They know that building trust is essential to both creating and capturing value. So they eliminate a lot of what would otherwise be dysfunctional—no surprise there. Yet most also consistently engage in actions that are not value adding–for them or for their customers. Even when great intent is present, there is a lot of room for improvement in eliminating dysfunctional behaviors.”
Both Khalsa and Neil Rackham find the tendency to jump to solutions before having completed the questioning process to be the bane of many folks involved in bizdev. I have observed noted rainmakers stumble in prospect meetings over this very subject. It’s as though the brain clicks into autopilot and, rather than seeking to understand, hubris takes over and the rainmaker is intent on being understood. Often, the solution that is recommended is premature–it doesn’t bear the wisdom of listening and consultative due diligence.
“Looking a little more holistically we could say the missing link is the ability to successfully blend excellent inquiry with excellent advocacy – to do a superb job of matching our story to the client’s story. Good inquiry is essential and most often the more undeveloped portion of the balance – and it is still only part of the equation. I’ve seen people get good at inquiry and still not be able to convert on advocacy.” (Khalsa)
When Khalsa left FranklinCovey, part of his intent was to transform the way business developers approach their work. He felt there was room for continuous improvement over an entire career. To that end, he began to wed together the twin concepts of business development and change management, with a sprinkling of performance measurement. In order to see strong long-term results, he argues, there must be an environment supportive of continuous improvement and a repeatable process that can be practiced and refined.
Edward Deming once said, “It is not enough to do your best. You need to know what to do and then do your best.” So the quality of the practice and application is as important as the quantity of practice – and the quantity is essential. Khalsa subscribes to this concept as it relates to bizdev, stating “What I find liberating and motivating about the research is that everything, repeat everything, we need to do in order to get really good at sales is learnable – if we are willing to practice. It doesn’t have to do with our DNA, our native IQ, our personality type or social style, our years of experience. If we are willing to engage in a high number of repetitions of quality practice we can become as great as we want to be. That’s powerful.”
A key factor in effective bizdev is the ability to build a trusted relationship with the other party. Khalsa firmly believes that trust can be built intentionally and that it is tied strongly to value and information flow. In fact, he would argue that anyone who has two can obtain the third. Fundamentally, a rainmaker will have to become consistently better at doing what is promised and establishing a culture where the other party feels safe to share meaningful information.