Business Development part 1: breaking down the buying process


I had been peripherally involved in business development activity until 2001 or so. In my industry most mid to senior level people only get involved on a specific meeting basis. Then in 2001, I took over specific business development responsibilities and it remained a significant responsibility for a number of years afterwards.

Overall I was very surprised by a number of things when I assumed the responsibility (and, frankly, ongoing as I talked with more experienced business development people and consultants).

1. Most companies in the consumer and B2B arena know so much about gaining new customers and yet they don’t apply one iota of that knowledge to their business development program

2. Most companies advise their clients on prudent growth strategies (and even apply some good logic on occasion) and yet they don’t apply one iota of that knowledge to their business development program

Yup. No shit. Something wacky happens as soon as the words “business development” or “new business” are uttered. It’s like everyone forgets traditional customer acquisition knowledge and some common sense business building knowledge.

People within an organization should be able to seamlessly step into a business development program maybe on a specific assignment and contribute. How? The easiest way is to have the same process and same vocabulary so they can apply the same things they are doing (and how they are thinking) to the ad hoc project they are being pushed into (typically in a crisis pressure cooker where “seamless” is treasured).

What I just stated? Rarely happens. Oops. Let’s be honest. Never happens.

Ok. All that said … here is how it can be done … and where to begin … Breaking down the “Buying process”.


Here is some new business consultant heresy … all clients or call them ‘Prospective Clients’ go through the same process (I will talk about lists or building a client base in part 2). Go ahead and use whatever terms you use in your own industry (or your own organization’s thought process) on how you treat your clients’ customer buying process when thinking about it. These are the words I typically use:


They either know you, know something about you or know nothing about you. Accept this fact. Deal with it. Group your list into those who think similarly. Some will gravitate together. And even if you don’t know, guess. When in doubt assume they know nothing. I worked for one of the largest ad agencies in the world. Maybe 50 percent of general population knew who they were (it helps to remind yourself that your little corner of the world is exactly that …your little corner). Of those who recognized the name maybe over 75 percent actually knew one of our clients. That is with one the world’s largest agencies. Humbling but a good reminder. Thinking about this kind of stuff helps you think out what you actually want to say to people.


You can either try to stimulate “a problem to solve” or simply make sure they know you can solve that kind of problem (when and if they ever have that type of problem).

It is here where I have seen the best laid plans go astray with business development people. Under pressure from their own organization (‘why won’t they meet with us?’, ‘we should be working with them’, ‘we need business!’) a business development person tries to create dissatisfaction in the client’s current situation (Notice I don’t call it overselling … it helps to be specific on what is actually happening so you can clearly address the situation) which if they succeed puts increased expectations (sometimes unreasonable) on the table for the organization to deliver (or anyone who gets thrown into the consideration set). This translates into an increased likelihood that whatever “it” is cannot be consistently delivered in the experience phase (assuming you actually get there). So forced “stimulus” creates some big issues later on. Does that mean you can’t generate stimulus thoughts? Nope. Sure can. They just have to be thoughtful and relevant.

Beyond that, of course, the best situation is that the prospect doesn’t feel like it was forced but rather it reached the conclusion on its own.

Oh. Here’s another thing. If they are happy in an existing relationship, that means they are … well … happy. Trying to make them unhappy is difficult and it shows more about your own character (or lack thereof) then it does any competence. Show respect for great relationships. You would like others to show you the same respect.

And if they don’t have a problem they typically aren’t motivated to be “stimulated”.

Simply put … No problem. No listen.

Uh oh. The senior leadership team in your organization:

“Why won’t they work with us?”

Well. <response> “They don’t really seem to have a problem we can solve right now.”

<the leader with his head up his ass> “Bruce, do something, don’t they know we have the new antimatter intergalactic social networking gizmo?!?!”

<me> “Nope. Probably not. And they probably don’t care because they don’t have a problem.”

<the same ass leader> “Well, we don’t care, call them. Set up a meeting. I want us to invest a lot of wasted energy and time we don’t have so we can tell them about our gizmo they don’t know they need.” <that last part I filled in as my own thought bubble>

Ok. Yeah. On random occasions that tactic can work in your favor. Have you ever noticed the “oh let me tell you about the time” war story of success that is told over and over again? – that’s cause they don’t want to tell about the 25 other times they forced their way in and the prospect said “nice gizmo but I am happy with what we are doing and working with right now”.

Oh. Lastly. On the messaging. You don’t need to solve just one problem. Your organization can actually be good at solving a variety of issues. Remember that.


This is obvious. You are either in a consideration set or you are not. And if you are not, and should be, you can try to fight your way into the consideration set (which is tough because there are a boatload of qualified alternatives out there for people in general … oops … sorry … hate to tell you … odds are you are not unique) or you can have a program set up in place that doesn’t make it a last minute “please listen to what I have to say” but rather a phone call that says “hey, I have been sending you crap for over a year so I am reminding you that I can do this.” Oh. Which call would you prefer to make?


This is making sure your website is updated and relevant. This is making sure that whatever you claim you … well … actually back it up (as opposed to, “hey, we understand social media, but, oh, we don’t have an active blog set up yet.”). This is making sure that your organization’s employees can say the organization is good at the same thing the business development person has said the organization is good at. This is just making sure you show up prepared to back up what you said you could do. Listen and respond. Listen very closely. That’s all I have to say here.


This is mostly pitching & presentation stuff. This is an entire post on its own. Maybe the closest I have written about this so far is my Interviewing 1.5 & 2.0 stuff. It is very much like interviewing – a combination of competency and chemistry.


I wrote something about this called “the art of the deal.” But. After you have finished the business development “dance” sometimes people forget that the “buy” moment can dictate a lot of whether the relationship gets off on a good first step or a hesitant step or even worse … you trip. Oddly, or interestingly, this is often the first time your CFO gets involved face to face. CFO’s, in general, are not good business development people (that’s kind of why they aren’t business development people) but they often end up in a lose/lose situation in the process. Why? Because in that the first, and sometimes only, time they see prospective clients it is over the “money negotiation.” Feel free and plug in “accounting” instead of CFO if that is more relevant to your situation. Think about that.


Experience is just that. The experience the prospect has as a client. Oh. And months 1 through 6 will set the tone for whatever the relationship ends up being(see my thoughts on this in a previous post). If they get treated like “hey, we really just wanted the sale” (and are ignored now), well, that’s the kind of relationship you’re gonna get (not so hot if I have to spell that one out). But. If the experience matches up with everything you have been saying consistently throughout the entire process you are rockin’.

I know that all sounded simple … and a lot like common sense. Well. It is. The problem is that most new business people and processes try to make it some voodoo that not everyone can do. Anyone can do it. Admittedly some people will be better than others … but anyone can follow this process. Oh. And you would be quite surprised to see how often common sense, no bullshit, actually wins new business. Think about that.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce