Business Development Skillset – Say What?!
When I was a little girl, my grandma always told me: “you will be a woman who stands on her own two feet and won’t depend on anybody else. That is why you will have a profession and you will build a successful career”. Since my grandma is one of the most important and impactful people in my life, I followed her advice: I went to law school and became a lawyer. I practiced law for three years and hated every second of it. I realized that on Suites (the TV series), being a lawyer looks really cool, but the reality is completely different: most of the time you are working with documents, not people, and are busy fighting and trying to be “right”. I found out I thrive in situations that were the complete opposite to my position: mitigating, helping people compromise, and leaving court with a smile. I shine when focusing more on communication, and less on debating.
In 2016, I joined a consulting firm that specialized in communication skills. I created a business development role from scratch, and this experience was the best ‘schooling’ I ever got; by inventing my role, I slowly built a whole toolkit for the business development manager. In the following series, I will share with you my experience and thoughts about the skillset that I developed (and still developing) for the business development role. The first tool you’re going to need, is something that we all think we do, but rarely do well or at all – listening.
Listen in order to understand, not just to respond
As Stephen R. Covey beautifully said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” As business development managers, the majority of our role focuses on understanding what is the “pain” of our potential customers and finding out how we can help them. The focus should be on what bothers the customer and not what we want to sell. When I worked with startups at Microsoft, my goal was to persuade them to join Microsoft for Startup programs. But before I pitched them the benefits of joining Microsoft, I was busy listening to them: what is their product? Who are their customers? What are their challenges?
Be Value Oriented – think about the bigger picture
Many times, we look at the potential customer just in the prism of the product we want to sell. In doing so, we miss the bigger picture. While sales managers focus on the “here and now” and are under huge stress to close a deal, as business development managers, we have the luxury of taking a minute to look at the bigger picture. For example, when I met a start-up, I could start by pitching how great Microsoft's program was and the value the startup will gain from it, but I always chose a different approach. I asked them what’s on their plate? What do they need the most right now? How could I help them in my position in Microsoft? When you come to these conversations with a bigger picture approach, you start providing value instead of trying to sell.
“Every great business is built on friendship” – JC Penny
Common ground is the secret sauce for great business relations. Naturally, we trust people who we are familiar with and share a wide common ground. As a business development manager, I usually search for a few areas of mutual interest with a potential customer. It can be hobbies, graduating from the same university, or even interesting trips around the world. For example, I check if the other side is interested in sports and specifically running. As an ultramarathon runner, running is a great common ground for a conversation. If not, I will check what they studied at university and discuss that. Search for topics that will bring you closer to the customer and avoid sensitive topics like religion, politics and origins. Since we are going through a crazy period right now, talking about what is going in your country around Covid-19 and how you keep your energy high through this period, may create an easy common ground for a discussion.
Looking forward, here are my two cents
Communication skills are something we build on the go. The more you practice, the sharper and more sensitive you will be. My favorite part about it, is that it’s pretty easy to execute: you can try it with whoever you meet: friends, family, colleagues – test yourself: how much do you really listen? Are you focusing on providing value? Do you widen your common ground to strengthen your relationship? In constantly engaging with these questions, you will be able to monitor your process.