Business Development Best Practices for B2B Teams
What do you think drives business development? Is it the quality of the product or service? Its price? Its tech? The credentials of your engineers, designers, and developers? The outcomes that the product promises to generate?
Maybe you think these all matter. And maybe you think that your business development program – and the activities of your BD teams – should be built mostly or even entirely around these elements.
Well, if you do, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing the real best practices of business development. You’re limiting the amount of new business you can bring in. And you might be limiting long-term growth with your current B2B customers.
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My colleagues at The Artemis Partnership and I have been practicing and studying business development for over 25 years. Much of our work is based not on how sellers sell, but on how buyers buy. And we’ve consistently seen misalignments that reduce revenue and can damage relationships.
You might expect that best practices in business development are category specific. There’s one set of best approaches for tech marketers, a different set for accountants, a different set for management consultants, lawyers, ad agencies, and so on. But that’s not how we see it.
That’s because every B2B buyer is a human being. And human beings essentially use the same set of criteria when making decisions, no matter the profession or the product. So best practices in any vertical are designed to uncover those criteria and help the buyer connect them to what the B2B team is selling.
The list of best practices is long, but not infinite. To get you thinking about your B2B teams and how closely aligned your practices are with those that have proven to be most effective, here’s a short list that should get you started.
- Devote more INTENSITY to each pursuit. B2B buyers can tell – quite easily in fact – when a business development team is on auto-pilot, using standardized templates and content, and limiting their discovery to “the five questions guaranteed to close the sale.” There’s no question such a BD team regards the buyer as the target of a transaction. Teams that take the opposite approach stand out. The intensity of their pursuit is evident to the prospect from the beginning, and puts them at the top of the B2B buyer’s list. Let’s look at the practices that contribute to this perception of intensity.
- Focus on the client, not the product. It’s “us” or “you” in B2B business development. The right choice is always “you.” That is, build your entire B2B approach around what clients need, not around the features or attributes of your product or solution. Not that they aren’t wonderful. It’s just that they’re not as differentiating or compelling in the minds of buyers when they’re looking across multiple possible providers. B2B prospects react far more positively to the in-depth understanding you exhibit about what they consider to be their own unique challenges and opportunities.
- Your wisdom is your real differentiator. So if your product isn’t as differentiating or persuasive as you think it ought to be, what replaces it in your business development activities? It should be your wisdom, which comes from the insights you have that a B2B buyer can use to be successful. Generating and communicating insights is difficult for many business development teams. Yet they have disproportionately weight in shifting the opinions in B2B new business pursuits.
- Relationships matter more than ever. We think that factors associated with strong relationships with buyers drive at least 50% of any buyer’s decision on who to select in a competitive bid. Covid has made it harder to see people in person. But we’ve seen no evidence that relationships matter less than they did before. It’s just that business development teams that succeed in establishing close relationships with buyers have an even bigger advantage. You simply have to try different ways to establish it.
- Time is your most important resource. You can’t generate intensity, and the factors that are interpreted as intensity, if you don’t devote more time to your pursuits. Business development teams can’t just add hours to the day. So, the best practice here is summarized in one of my core, fundamental principles: “Pursue less to win more.” Successful business development teams are more selective in their pursuits. More willing to say no. That leaves them with more time, resources, and energy to devote to prospects that they judge are worth pursuing.
Incorporating best practices will often mean de-emphasizing less effective practices. Pivoting from being product-centric (or self-centric) to being prospect centric is a big swing for many. Crafting marketing communications built around thought leadership and insights might require significant investment, or at least a change in mindset. Building stronger relationships might require behaviors and strategies that product- or tech-focused business development teams aren’t good at using. But these switches are essential to give the team the opportunity to engage in best practices, and give those best practices a chance to turn into business development wins.