As there are less than 20 meaningful business days left in the year, it's time to think about what we might do differently next year. Below are some business development resolutions for you to consider, each an issue that you might attempt master or at least make progress on in 2011. The first three are for everyone and are easily obtainable with practice. The last two are a bit more challenging. Try them and let me know how you do.
This is perhaps the most powerful tool in business, and it is easily mastered with just a little bit of practice. Countless needless concessions are made in the conversational vacuum simply because one party cannot bear the discomfort of a pause.
Making room for silence can be trying at first, but it soon becomes easy and then perversely enjoyable. Ultimately, the mastery of silence is empowering.
“In 2011, I will not rush to fill the void in conversation with ridiculous concessions like ‘…but we could do it for less,' or ‘Let me write that up in a proposal.' I will learn to be comfortable with silence and let the client fill the void with his own concessions.”
The love of money may be the root of all evil, but denial of its importance is the root of folly and impoverishment. In the middle is the healthy acknowledgment that money is both a necessity in life and the ultimate scorecard of success in business.
Earning money is the test you must pass to stay in business and prove to yourself that the world values your enterprise. Earning money begins with talking about it, and it is this challenge of talking about money early and often in the buying cycle that causes us many problems downstream. It leads us to pursue the wrong opportunities and to over-allocate resources against marginal ones. So much time and disappointment are avoided when we have money conversations early.
Like mastering silence, talking money is easily mastered with a little bit of practice, and once mastered, it too is empowering.
“In 2011, I will lean into conversations about money. For every new opportunity I uncover I will attempt to raise the issue of budget first, before the client does.”
So much of the approach I advocate depends on being able to say no, and so many principals and business development personnel of creative firms struggle with this little word. It is hard-wired into the make-up of both a creative person and a salesperson to want everything. Many of us fear turning away opportunity. How many principals operate their firms with the stress of excess capacity only so they never have to say no, and then become slaves to that capacity?
If you're not saying no then you're not shaping your practice. To say no is to control your future. The alternative is to run your business as a victim to circumstance, accepting everything that comes at you and happens to you.
Here's something to bear in mind as you move into the new year determined to master the little word: every no you deliver, you reserve the right to take back. Sometimes no is the end, and sometimes it is just the beginning – a reset switch to get back to a more pragmatic conversation. Regardless, when you say no you must mean it. You must walk away from poor fits, from ridiculous selection processes that you’re unable to affect, and from clients that cannot afford you, no matter how much you want the work.
“I resolve to say, ‘We'll take this (unprofitable) one for the portfolio' no more than one time in all of 2011.”
If you can learn to master these first three in combination (silence, money and no), as I think everyone can, then you cannot help but increase your closing ratios and profit margins in 2011. For those willing, below are two more challenges to master in the new year.
We lean too heavily on the written word. We overuse it in the written proposal, where in trying to compensate for the direct business-like conversation we did not have, we attempt to persuade the client to hire us. We overuse it when delivering our diagnostic findings and strategic recommendations by writing reports as though the value of our thinking was determined by the word-count of our rationale.
Too often, the length of our proposal is determined by the conversations we should have, but do not. Too often, the length of our report is determined by the confidence we should have in our recommendations, but do not.
Many of us can profitably get to the point where we know what we need to say. But then we fritter that profit away keystroke by keystroke when we sit down to write. We write and we write. We design and we format. We re-write. All the while the dollars fall like sand through the hourglass and we’re haunted by the idea that perhaps a conversation would suffice.
If we can have the conversations (Would you like to hire us?) then we can write simple contracts for signature. If we can summon the confidence to deliver findings and recommendations without lengthy written reports (Here's what we found. Here's what you need to do.) then we increase the likelihood the client will act on our recommendations rather than retreat to read a report. When we learn to speak where we would have written then we become both more effective and more profitable.
“In 2011, when I sit down to write a proposal I will ask myself, am I writing this because I cannot bring myself to say it? When I prepare my findings and recommendations I will ask myself, am I being paid for my thinking or for my report writing?”
Our Addiction to Presenting
We love presenting so much that we're willing to do it for free in the pitch.
I often hear from people looking to improve their presentation skills, when what they really need are better conversation skills – the skills to break down the conditions where a presentation is necessary. It's ironic that transparency and collaboration are the buzzwords of the day, yet the presentation can only exist in absence of them.
Presentations work when knowledge (insights and ideas) is held back or delivered against a backdrop of uncertainty. Often, we intentionally create these conditions so we can meet our own need to present. When we are transparent and collaborative, the big reveal is no longer necessary; the presentation less pivotal. Until we master our own need to present we will struggle with free pitching, never fully admitting that we perpetuate it in part because of our addiction to the adrenaline rush of the presentation.
Not all presentations are unnecessary, and there is some magic in a brilliant presentation, but that magic is almost always a little bit hollow and self-serving. The presentation is usually about the presenter and not the audience. This is a hard truth and we can run from it initially, but it will follow us until we accept it. To be free of the pitch we need to first be free of our addiction to the presentation.
“In 2011, at the very least, when I find myself presenting I will ask why, and I will be honest with myself about whose needs are being met when I attempt to bridge a massive knowledge gap through a presentation.”
Best of luck in the New Year.