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A question increasingly being asked at the moment is whether it’s even appropriate to be doing any business development (BD) right now?  And, if it is appropriate, what sort of activities might be best at the moment?  This blog shares some thoughts as to what you could be thinking about for your business during the current period of disruption.

We live in uncertain times, as many have observed.  Virtually no aspect of our lives remains unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic and vast swathes of the economy are in limbo, for (at the moment) an indeterminate period.  Even those businesses which are able to continue with some semblance of normality, huge adjustments are required as their workforce largely works from home.   Faced with the new realities of our lives most people, I imagine, feel it’s too soon to be actively ‘out there’ - virtually - selling their services.  It seems a little uncomfortable or opportunistic.

I agree with that sentiment. But, even if it doesn’t feel right to be selling at the moment, does that also mean that you shouldn’t be doing any client or prospect-facing activity? 

At a very basic level, most people have a need to create bonds and relationships with others (Maslow, in his “Hierarchy of Needs’ talks about ‘Belonging[1]).  Business Development (BD) is, fundamentally, about creating and building those relationships over a sustained period of time; it’s about maintaining those relationships until there is a need for your help. To put it another way, BD is simply one way to address our need to socialise and create bonds with others. Even though our world has been turned upside down, I would suggest that this basic need to create relationships with others remains a powerful driver for many.  

I would also argue that BD (particularly in the context of professional services) tends to be most effective where someone builds the strongest relationships with clients and prospects.  That hasn’t changed, whatever else is going on, and good relationships will endure whatever the outcomes of the crisis.  The challenge is how to build or maintain relationships with your wider network without selling to them?  There are a number of things that come to mind.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with simply having a conversation with someone!  Be curious about how the pandemic is affecting them; there may be something you can help them with (though to be clear, that is not the prime purpose of the conversation).  Set up a routine to stay in contact with your most important clients, or offer regular check ins.

Secondly, if you have a particular area of expertise that is helpful to people at the moment (however niche), write a blog or paper about it to share more widely.  It is much easier to send this to someone, perhaps drawing attention to a particular point of interest to them.

Thirdly, offer to host a meeting with groups of people to share concerns, offer tips and advice and foster a sense of community.  Comfort is usually drawn by knowing that others are facing the same issues as you.  These groups could be clients, contacts or colleagues.

Fourthly, offer a webinar or series of webinars which deal some of the key questions being asked of you.  This allows you to address the most pressing concerns people are facing, whilst making the connections at the same time.

Finally, reach out to people you haven’t contacted for a while, even if it’s a year or two since you last spoke with someone. You have nothing to lose, and you may find they appreciate you making contact.

Here are some other things to think about when reaching out to your connections:

Do:

  • Remain sensitive to their business and personal situations;
  • Be flexible in how you contact people (e.g. over the phone, by WhatsApp, Skype or zoom);
  • Focus on making the connections with people and building that relationship with them.
  • Be curious and seek to understand what’s going for them and their business, what are their biggest concerns?

Don’t:

  • Try to sell you services.  If, during the conversation a need arises with which you can help, do so, but don’t worry if it doesn’t. Remember, the purpose of the call is to reconnect.

If you follow some of these simple ideas and ensure you continue to connect with your clients and prospects, it will stand you in good stead however long it takes for normality to return.  And, relationships built during times of shared common hardships or experiences are usually stronger and longer lasting than those made when times are good.


[1] Maslow, A.H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation". Psychological Review50 (4): 370–96