The Honey Trap (or “How to not not get picked”)

I do - and have done - lots of different things. I won’t list them all here, but the two that you’ll need to know about for the next two minutes are: 1) I was a Marketing Director who hired/fired lots of agencies, 2) I’m a beekeeper.

Being a beekeeper means you end up with honey. Having honey means folks want you to enter honey competitions. Being me, I thought I’d make friends with a honey judge to get the low-down on how best to succeed. I wasn’t expecting what he told me to be reminiscent of hiring an agency, but one key part of his approach was familiar territory…

So, you’re now a honey judge. In front of you are 20 jars of honey (40 actually – competitors need to provide two identical samples). As a judge are you going to taste all 40? No, of course you’re not; honey is lovely, but not that lovely (like attending a beer festival – after 10 pints your taste buds stop working, hate you, and want to go home for a nice cup of tea and a lie down).

What a honey judge does is find small (really small) excuses to not bother tasting your honey at all. Before doing anything, he is looking to eliminate non-contenders without even touching a jar. Do your two samples not have exactly the same amount of honey? YOU’RE OUT! When you open the jar is there any honey on the inside of the lid? YOU’RE OUT! Do the two samples appear even slightly different when viewed through the honey grading glasses (I’m not making this stuff up by the way)? YOU’RE OUT!

I could go on, but you get my point: when choosing from lots of apparently similar options, the first act is to make life easier by quickly getting rid of options you know don’t stand a chance to begin with. SO DON’T BE THAT OPTION!

I’ve had days where many agencies were invited in to pitch for our business one after the other. Those with inflexible methodologies… those with ‘quirky’ MDs who impose their will on everything… those who chose to do their presentations on hand-chalked easels… those who CAN’T USE APOSTROPHES… you’re all just making it too easy for me to cut my options down to a more manageable size.

Show your talent, show your work, show your ability to listen… make it really tough for me to choose between you and the next agency. As long as you can avoid the ‘easy filter’ you stand a chance. Now all you have to be is really really good.

How did Business Development get such a horrible reputation?

Whether it's the band of Business Development Agencies (of which we're one), the endless Business Development freelancers or the super-keen in-house new business person, the choices an agency's MD has when choosing the right business development route are fraught with danger (in terms of more than just the money it costs - when it doesn't work out, it costs time and nudges an agency's plans back further and further).  There are many reasons a new business effort can fail, but there's one that is easy to solve and makes a big difference. It's a big part of the reasons than business development has the reputation it currently "enjoys". 

What is it?

Targets. Well, inappropriate targets. Too many Sales Managers, company bosses and Business Developers believe that the numbers game is how results are achieved. There are rooms full of talented, intelligent people being bellowed at, instant-messaged or emailed the same sentiment: MAKE MORE CALLS! I worked for a large membership organisation where 150 calls a day were demanded. That’s at the lower end of things. One of the Sponge NB (my Business Development Agency) team worked in a role where 300 calls a day was the task that greeted them  as they approached their desk. Hardly the sort of thing that’s going to result in motivated, enthusiastic workers. Numerical targets are of course the simplest way to measure a salesperson’s success. If they’re generating direct sales, selling memberships (or any other transaction) there and then on the phone, then counting the numbers at the end will of course tell you whether they sold a lot or a little. The problem is that they are unlikely to have achieved anything because of an arbitrary "higher is better" target. Intelligent, motivated business development people strive for more whether a target is there or not. They don't look to meet targets, they look for outcomes and then find the route to that outcome. 

The owner of a new business uses enthusiasm, relevant questioning, malleability of proposition, confidence, speed of speech, tone of voice and willingness to close. That's on every call, email or contact with a prospect. It barely matters how many times a day that happens, but what's certain is that "as many times as possible" isn't necessarily the right approach. Entrepreneurs finding their first few clients do things like "clear their head". They make time to research and understand each prospect. They build relationships with prospects until they don't really like calling them prospects (I've never thought of the little band of people I stay in touch with and show a genuine interest in as "prospects"). The progression from lead, through to client can often go via "friend" in some cases. Retrospectively that'll look just like "sales", but the term seems to sully the relationship that's there. Nonetheless, "sales" is what happened.

There's a problem - that can't happen 150-300 times a day. And so "prospects" don't hear the sort of approach that comes from someone actually giving a monkeys about them or their company. That awful approach will be the 10th one of the day. What chance do you think you've got?

But Business Development Agencies, freelancers and in-house Business Developers want to show the Agency boss that they're busy, so they smash out 150+ calls, filling reports with things like "Left a voicemail, calling back on Tuesday", as if that's any sort of outcome.

Targets need to be longer term and focused on outcomes. There's no point worrying about call stats beyond a fairly conservative number. We once resigned a client who called our Account Manager three times to find out how many calls they'd made since the last time they'd called her. It sounds extreme, but it can be seen in a great many agency owners. Targets are there to guide and then measure, not to destroy enthusiasm and morale, or to decide in isolation whether something/someone is working out. If the very targets you've put in place lead to irritated prospects and business developers, then what chance do your calls and emails have? 

Many people talk about "winning without pitching". It's essential to have an outbound sales effort, but it doesn't have to look like "pitching" often does. Sales shouldn't be adversarial - it should be conversational. Your outbound endeavours are tougher to convert than referrals, incoming leads or "little black book" wins, so make each approach count. If everyone's approach was well researched, properly qualified and as interested in what a prospect wants as it often is in blowing its own metaphorical trumpet, sales wouldn't have the horrible reputation it has.