Five keys to new business development

The term “business development (BizDev)” has taken on varied meanings over the years.  As it applies to sales, I see it as the process undertaken when introducing new products and/or when entering new markets.  Selling in a BizDev environment requires different skills, the right personalities and the right company support.

In today’s fast innovating, global BizDev climate, sales people encounter many challenges but most fall in two areas.  (1) Altered offerings – The customer wants the product or service altered for their specific situation or the overall market is demanding changes.  (2) Helping customers recognize need – The customer has the need but doesn’t know it yet.  Consumer examples of this are cloud storage and electric cars.

Five things have to be in place for a successful BizDev selling effort:

Product knowledge is a requirement for sales people; product expertise is not.  In my experience, sales people need to know enough to be able to show CREDABILITY when articulating expected results.  They also need enough knowledge to articulate the CAPABILITY necessary to deploy the offering.  Product experts can be very good in these roles if they can maintain open mindedness and creativity about the offering such that they can truly acknowledge and consider customer feedback.

Connection and alignment with product developers is necessary.  Sales people are more productive if they understand not only current products but also what product management is considering for the future.  To be clear, this doesn’t mean we should ever divulge confidential plans.  However, great sales people can more effectively draw the picture of beneficial results, without over promising, if they know what is coming.  The connection with product teams minimizes the occasion when sales people sell what cannot be done. 

Empower and expect sales people to be creative.  Great BizDev sales people combine their product knowledge, customer knowledge and company knowledge to create sellable offerings that aren’t on the price list, but without requiring product changes.  The sales team has to exercise competent creativity, but in very competitive industries where the competition is introducing new products and features every day, giving front line people parameters within which they are empowered to create solutions, is a means to enhance agility.

Risk taking personalities are needed with BizDev teams.  This doesn’t mean we want an entire sales force of risk takers.  However, especially if we’re getting into a new business area, we want business development people who are competent, thoughtful risk takers.  The competent, thoughtful risk taker can combine product knowledge, company capabilities and customer need to propose offerings that have a high probability of success.  (Note:  This doesn’t omit the need for operational disciplines but the level of rigidity needs to be lessened in a BizDev setting.) 

Build a culture of commitment.  If we want sales people to be agile, creative problem solvers, they need to know that the company is going to stand behind them.  It’s equally as critical for customers to have confidence in what the sales person represents.  This is where we need competent, thoughtful risk takers versus just risk takers.  We want to stretch the company’s capabilities in order to remain competitive but we don’t want over-commitment to be the norm.

Example:  At HP, we were bidding on a manufacturing solution at a Fortune 500 company.  Technologies around “fault tolerance” and “disaster recovery” were hot.  Our competitors were selling computers that knew when they were failing so they could invoke an automated switch-over to another computer.  Data replication and synchronization were also being heavily touted.

The likes of Tandem, Microsoft and Oracle had the agility to co-create new solutions for customers.  HP was behind.  Through close contact with our product managers we knew they were close to having solutions and we had learned through customer sources that these solutions would be requirements going forward.  With the combined internal and external knowledge, we committed the features on behalf of the company.

Some product managers weren’t happy that the sales team committed before they actually completed development, but in the HP culture, led by Lew Platt, it was required that we look at all options to fulfill customer commitments.  This was work the product teams did in concert with the sales teams.  Everyone knew that building the solution was inevitable to remain competitive so the product team accelerated their development.  We won that project with a product called SwitchOver-UX, which set us up for future wins that would have otherwise been lost.

In the end, we had all five areas covered:

  • We had enough product knowledge to build the proposal.
  • We were connected with the product team and knew what our parameters were.
  • We were empowered to come up with creative solutions.
  • We were comfortable taking the risk.
  • We had the backing of HP from Lew Platt on down.

The pace of business and innovation is much faster today and equipping sales people to be agile brings more success.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities, LLC


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