New Business Development – Mind the snakes!

Have you ever felt that winning a new client is a bit like a game of snakes and ladders?

You are enthusiastically making your way over each and every hurdle that is thrown in your path, pounding through those squares and are within sight of the finish square when, out of the blue, your client goes quiet on you.  This being the very same client who advised you that time to complete was of critical importance when you first met!

I had a timely reminder of this the other week when I was in line of sight of winning a very nice piece of new business, only to find myself sliding rapidly down a steep and unforeseen snake. As the wind flew past my ears, I was reminded me of a colleague’s wise words back in my early banking days, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”.

 

Here’s some ideas for stepping over the snakes;

1. Work with all stakeholders, not just the person writing the cheque or signing the facility letter. Fortunately, I had taken the time to develop strong relationships with my client’s client and was therefore able to quickly pick up with the right people and explain the value of the project from their perspective also. Properly briefed, they were happy to buy into the proposal and give the green light to my client (as well as providing some really valuable input that made the project all the stronger). My error was to assume my client would have briefed them as closely as I could which was clearly unlikely, given that I was the primary architect of the project.

A - they think your proposal is rubbish

B - they decided to look elsewhere without telling you, having put you to the trouble of preparing a pitch

C - you inadvertently upset them in your last call

2. Don’t let the inner voice play tricks on you when it all goes quiet. I am sure we all have experience of fabulous new business which took over a year to book. My best ever piece of new business in my banking days took three years to convert! The delays can come from anywhere; new budgetary or resource constraints, sickness, reticence from other stakeholders (see above), a new boss with different priorities etc, etc. If you were listening carefully to what the client said they wanted, it is almost never because;

It is almost always that they have had a change of priorities since you last spoke and simply don’t have the bandwidth to go through your proposal. Of course, it would be nice if they were polite enough to tell us but who amongst us can honestly say, they have never left a supplier hanging because the boss wanted something urgently?

How you maintain contact through this period is critical however. A string of irritating emails along the following lines won’t help;

slightly annoyed :“have you read my previous email?”

confused: “why aren’t you answering?”

threatening: “we are no longer able to meet your deadline”

worried: "are you still alive?"

Think hard about how you can nourish the relationship. So they’re not as ready to move forwards with your proposal as you had understood. Going back a few squares doesn’t equal a ride down a snake.

Firstly, if you are any good at business development, you will have a healthy pipeline of other opportunities you can turn your focus to. If you haven’t, build one. Nothing chases clients away quicker than a sniff of desperation.

Secondly, you can remain in contact in a supportive way with your was “hot to trot” now “gone quiet” prospective client by looking to add some true value outside of your new business proposal. Think hard about how you can help them by;

- finding the resource they urgently need from your network?

-taking the time to understand what’s going on. Have you ever experienced it? How did you overcome the issue? Do you know someone who could help?

Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people" remains ever relevant in today's online, mega-busy world and is well worth a re-read if its been a while.

If the client has gone totally quiet on you, give them some space and remind them of your existence at a later date with a non work-related article/book that you know will interest them from previous discussions and show them that you are still thinking of them.