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The 10 rules of good business development

Oct 19, 2018

By Michael Fleming

If you watch enough professionals become successful, you start to notice what they all have in common. After 12 years of training and coaching, I’ve been lucky enough to see what can make a successful business developer. No matter the kind of person you are – extrovert, introvert, natural leader, or well-studied professional – there are a few things that all these people do when it comes to fantastic business development.

  1. Be persistent and tenacious (but never pushy). Be resilient and gracious in the face of rejection. You cannot win them all. Business development is essentially a numbers game. Don’t take it personally. It’s rarely “no, never”; it’s usually “no, not now because…”. Learn from rejection. Get better next time.
  2. Be optimistic. In the face of a setback, the optimist’s self-dialogue keeps it temporary, specific and external.  For example: ‘We lost this one – there’s always the next one. The client didn’t necessarily hate me or my offering – there could be loads of other factors at play."
  3. Stop thinking of 'sales' as a dirty word. Does 'sales' conjure up images of crass, pushy, self-interested salespeople? When you sell your high-value services, you do not need to do any of the invasive techniques those ‘salespeople’ do. When done well, selling can and should feel good to you, and to your prospects and clients.
  4. Follow-up. Stop over-thinking and procrastinating. Just send the email. Pick up the phone. Ask for the coffee meeting. What’s the worst that can happen?  Stop worrying about stepping on others’ toes. Better to seek forgiveness than permission.
  5. Be in it for the long haul. Business development is not a one-off event. It requires an investment of time, patience, suppression of self-interest, development of relationships, and it needs the timing to be right – which it isn’t always – so you need to hang around long enough until it is.
  6. Ask for face time. This beats a phone call any day and blows emails away in terms of building rapport, developing and deepening relationships and discovering useful information that will help you succeed.
  7. Listen. I mean, really listen. As in, shut up and listen. Be curious. Ask questions. Suppress your desire to vomit your pitch on the table. Listen and learn from the potential clients who are talking to you. And then you’ll have half a chance of crafting a compelling pitch that hits the mark.
  8. Have a compelling pitch. Put yourself in their shoes. Why should they invest in your and your firm?  Will it help them to achieve their aims and objectives? (If you don’t know what those are, return to step seven.) And make your pitch compelling – stories and analogies used well can really make an emotional connection and ensure that your pitch is appropriately memorable.
  9. Get organised. Make time for business development and become more systematic. Block time in your diary. Set yourself targets for a certain level of business development activity. Weave business development tasks amongst your daily tasks. Make it habitual. Sort out your contacts and clients list. Keep those lists (as legally allowed) and look at them regularly.
  10. Be yourself. Because everybody else is taken, said Oscar Wilde. But you can also be a chameleon. You ought to be capable of adapting your style to better connect with the many different behavioural styles you’ll encounter along the way. But don’t adapt yourself so much that you lose your sense of self.

Michael Fleming is a Training Director and Head of KWC Legal.