I just witnessed a valuable lesson and wanted to share. This experience reminded me of others with a very different outcome. And, I expect it is much more pervasive than we think. Too many times it’s a tragic story with an unhappy ending, but in this one, it has a great ending. It is the case of the wind-up salesperson, a classic business development tale.
The way it usually plays out is too predictable. An executive hires an experienced business development pro to break into a new market, sell a new service, penetrate a juicy account, whatever the scenario. Said executive, after a long and drawn out hiring process finally picks their superstar and expects great things to happen in short order. The boss brings that person in, spends the day briefing them, introduces the team, host a great dinner and drinks, all the camaraderie you would expect. By the end of the night, it is one happy team. Everyone is excited about the new superstar and expectations are sky high.
The superstar heads out, presentation in hand, to conquer the world. In no time at all the first prospect accepts a meeting and the BD person calls the exec to schedule a time. So sorry. Too busy. You handle it. The next opportunity comes in, and the excuses persist. Try Tom in development; he’s a great talker. Try Tina in engineering. She knows her stuff. Everyone is too busy. And, they all expect the superstar to handle it. After all, that’s why we hired him. The next prospect emerges. The exec promises to make this one, commits to the schedule and, wait for it, can’t make it. I think you see where this is going and it keeps going.
In no time at all the superstar is in a black hole and the spiral begins. He can’t close a deal if his life depended on it. He can’t sign a new client if it came with PO in hand. Why did I hire this person? I thought their experience and personality would be enough to get the job done. I thought all I had to do was wind ‘em up and set ‘em loose. Those sky-high expectations make the fall even harder. Everyone blames the superstar, never to be seen again.
Recently I saw redemption. That same superstar was back on top with a new company. Only this time was different. To be sure, it started out the same – the briefing, the team introductions, the dinner, and drinks. But it didn’t end there. The team was in regular contact. The executive made her availability a priority. The strategy people included him in their meetings. The creatives asked for his feedback. The account people held status updates and shared client insights. They armed him with everything they had. They included him in their discussions and revelations. They shared their mistakes, concerns, and failures. They didn’t just wind him up and set him loose. They made him a valuable member of the team, and that makes all the difference.
Armed with more than a handshake and PowerPoint, the superstar started closing business and more business. His knowledge grew with every meeting and with every prospect, and each subsequent engagement was better. He became more confident in what he was selling and the team behind it. He became more comfortable working with each member and learned how to complement their personalities to bring out the best in all of them. Meetings were fun. Presentations were powerful. Team unity was unmistakable. When you can achieve that kind of new business teamwork, anything is possible.
It’s true that not every sale needs this kind of approach. But if you are selling specialized or customized products and services with long sales cycles and intense competition you aren’t going to do well with a business development process that isn’t a team sport. If the ultimate goal is to win more clients, don't just wind them up and send them away. Invest the time and people to make them successful. Make sure they have the resources and support. Treat your superstar like a vital and valued part of the team, and your experience will have a happy ending.
I’ve got some ideas about how you can get the most from your business development team and supercharge your business development program, and I’m happy to share them with you. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. #LetsGrow!
Image courtesy: By D J Shin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons