Business development (any sales function, actually) is a lot like dating. Or hooking up. Or whatever the kids call it these days.
- You can stand outside the supermarket, asking every passer-by to kiss you — but it’s hard work and you’re going to get slapped a lot on the way to that first kiss. (Corallary: People would rather go out with someone they know than with a stranger.)
- Politeness and attentiveness count.
- You hold hands before you kiss, and you kiss before things get busy.
- Once things do get serious, there’s a correlation between how well you knew each other beforehand and the success of the subsequent relationship.
All of this is a way of reinforcing the following points:
All potential and existing customers can be plotted on a continuum based on their familiarity and comfort with your business. There are appropriate levels of communication (from their perspective and yours) at each point on the curve.
Courtship parallel: Appropriate levels of communication depending on how well you know someone.
It’s important to have a lot of contacts (i.e., potential customers) at the top of the funnel because the sales cycle is so variable. The overwhelming majority of customers buying your services do so only when they decide that they have pain you can address — and not before. The goal is name recognition combined with credibility — you want to be the name remembered first when they have a need.
Courtship parallel: Your reputation matters; it should be cultivated and, when appropriate, broadcast.
Have a clear idea of what you want each contact to do, and communicate that in fairly unambiguous terms so they can move to the next level of the relationship with you. Disseminate the same marketing materials or capabilities statements to both the newest contact on the list and the person who’s been a potential customer for many years? That’s chump behavior and it’s fundamentally inefficient; potential customers often regard this as disrespect for their time. Yet I see it happen all the time, even within my own industry — and we’re supposed to know better.
Courtship parallel: No one likes to feel like they’re just another pick-up.
How do you accomplish these things? Start by breaking potential customers down into groups — not necessarily by industry vertical or by what kind of services they need (although it’s good to know that as well!), but by where they are in the sales/relationship process with your company. Then you can define the type of information a lead is looking for at each stage of the process and what you need to do to move them to the next step.
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