As a modern business developer, you need to find ways to ensure you and your firm stand out. Your approach to business development can be one of your top differentiators.
Clients place high value on the overall business development experience with you, and it’s a key factor in their decision to select your firm. One way to optimize the client’s buying experience – like the one we have delved into with our fictional case study of Klein, Rowe & Co. – is to master business development conversations.
In this article, I’ll share a framework for building conversations that can be used in any client or prospect scenario. I’ll also share strategies for creating thought-provoking questions that will elevate your credibility as a trusted advisor.
With business development efforts being largely digital/virtual throughout 2020 and into the first half of 2021, planning and leading your conversations will set you apart.
A framework to structure successful business development conversations
Productive business development conversations build trust and credibility. Your goal should be to position the value of the meeting with your decision makers, and then deliver on that value. This business development conversation framework can be used in person or virtually, in nearly any client or team scenario.
This is where success begins. Write out your goals, such as “By the end of this conversation we will accomplish X,” as well as outcomes. Create and share an agenda with the client. And also be sure to convey the conversation format, as well as individual roles.
2. Lead the open
As the business developer, you must take the leadership role. Don’t leave it to the client. While the type of lead you use can be audience or situationally dependent, you will want to be sure to practice your open and confirm desired outcomes and timing.
Ideally, the dialog will be a balanced exchange, with the outcomes driving the conversation. Know your role, redirect as needed, and always, always take notes.
4. Summarize and close
Your conversation closing provides the momentum for next steps. This is where you summarize any key items, create action items and ownership, and schedule the next conversation.
5. Follow up
Don’t lose the momentum you gained within the conversation. Follow up promptly by delivering on your commitments. It’s also appropriate to send an email or thank you note.
Creating questions that continue the momentum
Modern business developers must learn to become great question askers. The list below offers four categories of questions and provides some suggestions to help get you started.
1. Trend questions
Trend questions get to the heart of key changes your prospect or client are experiencing.
- What are you seeing in the industry?
- What do you see in the next year? The next 3 years?
- What has been most surprising in how this affects your business?
The key here is using an open-ended question to expand the conversation. Avoid a yes/no question that might cut the conversation short. Especially in your early conversation stages, hitting that combination of sharing your insights with open-ended questions can prompt better dialogue.
2. Assessment questions
By asking assessment questions, you’ll gather intelligence to compare and contrast points. They can help you understand the current environment.
- What would you say has worked well?
- Where is there room for improvement?
- How would you compare these results to previous results?
I’ve used these questions as a subtle way to understand what my competitors might be doing well and where there are some weak spots. These questions are also great for post-engagement reviews and quarterly business reviews.
3. Business priority questions
Business priority questions help you get a pulse on what’s top of mind. These questions compliment many of the trend questions previously mentioned.
- What needs to be accomplished in the next quarter? What about the next year?
- What impact will that have on resources?
- What priorities are shifting in the business?
A way to use business priority questions and stand out is to review annual reports, investor reports, or C-Level briefs available to you. You might say: “I’m seeing that the CEO has a priority to grow this product set by 20% this year. That piqued my curiosity. How is that impacting your team?”
In addition, the question about shifting priorities is one that can be asked every quarter. Priorities shift all the time. If you have strong relationships, you can uncover intelligence that is not available to your competitors.
To recap, use your business development conversations to create and maintain momentum. Using a framework to help you plan and lead these conversations, you’re setting the stage for business development success.
Join BILL’s Automating Success Masterclass
Don’t miss Amy’s next webinars on business development as part of the BILL Automating Success series, which brings industry thought leaders who have adapted and thrived to walk you through what it takes to redefine your business for today’s world. Subscribe today and gain access to all on-demand webinars.