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Last Updated: September 20, 2022

Business Development: An Honest Conversation

It is a known fact that very few B2B companies have effective alignment between their marketing and sales departments.   The struggle is real.  In spite of the fact that when the two departments work seamlessly together a company’s productivity, morale and revenue all increase, the issues prevail for most businesses.

If the executive management of a company does not embrace the need to rectify issues, change will not happen.  There is a lot of work to having honest conversations about what is not working in business development.

Here is a quick list of real business development challenges in B2B that customers want rectified and proposed solutions:

Challenge 1: marketing messages are not targeted

Solution: Marketing is critical because it is the face of the company and the goals, tactics and strategies that define one must be seamless from an email message to a social media post to a sales call.  We are all bombarded with the digital messaging coming at us from many vehicles – it is critical to find a way to break through and stand out.  Bad branding happens when you get your marketing strategy efforts to the wrong people.  Understanding and managing the end target customer is the very first step to set your company apart.

As a sales and marketing TEAM, know who the right people are, keep clean records with that information and customize tactics to reach that target audience at the target times.

Clean records are not only the correct contact, spelling and job title.  Clean records reflect ‘knowing your customer’ and should include:

  • Internal Influencers  - understand their management structure and corporate relationships
  • External Influencers  - learn what content they follow, comment on, retweet, trust
  • Their impression of your brand – have to ask to know
  • Professional challenges – need to know what is their reality, sitting in their chair
  • What solutions they cannot find – uncover how to become the solution
  • Their communities – what conferences, trade shows, technical resources, social media, and other communities they are participating in

Marketing can help educate sales about what competitors are using/doing in addition to which conferences and marketing channels that they need customer feedback on.  Sales should be building and maintaining relationships with the customers and able to provide this information.  The marketing arm must be working with this information off of targeted editorial calendars and CRMs.  The corporate message needs to be speaking to the right person at the right time about the right topic.  It is not possible to create content that is valuable until you know what they value and need AND WHY.  All marketing copy must speak directly to that target. Engagement will produce positive ROI.

Challenge 2: sales people are unprepared for conversations and meetings.

Solution:  The solution is expect sales to be prepared and hold them accountable to that task.  Preparation is woven into every aspect of my life.  From a quick internal meeting to external meetings to parent-teacher conferences to grocery shopping, I am a person who prepares for what I am ‘attending’.  Seriously, if you have children and have ever gone to a parent-teacher conference, you know that you have ten minutes to cover every concern and question.  Organization and preparation are your only hope of getting the most needed information out of the effort to attend.  As for grocery shopping, I am a person who learned most life skills with the absence of cell phones and apps.  You made a list and if you couldn’t remember something, you had wasted a trip because you did not have the technology to just call someone and ask them to look in the cupboard and tell you what they see.  I teach my children to not let technology dull their needed life skills. What does that have to do with this sales challenge?  There is a need for companies to hold their sales departments to a higher standard.  Demand that those in that crucial role get prepared for everything they do 100%.  A sales call should be prepared with both external research and internal content and resources.

Sales preparation is often compared to sports and for good reason.  Success in any profession takes dedication and preparation. An athlete watching film, memorizing plays, exercising, abstaining from chemicals, eating properly and training every day.

Here is a great beginner check list for sales:

  • Be the best. Be the first person in the office and the last one out.   Work efficiently when there.
  • Know your potential customer. Read their website, the actual articles, social media posts and comments.  Do this every day.  Know their business and what you do not know yet.
  • Know your competition inside and out. Be able to speak to the similarities and differences in a respectful and intelligent manner.  This is not a one-time research project.  Keeping up with your competitors’ websites, articles and social media is a daily task.  Having done this work and being able to articulate it in a meaningful way helps ensure that your customer is not going to need to do be visiting and researching them.
  • Know your own content and resources. If you have content, know it and how it specially matches to your customer’s challenges and interests.  Your solutions become less of a resource if you just dump all of them on someone to decipher for themselves.  No one has time for that in this world.

If you want to be the best in sales, you have to build relationships off of email exchanges, LinkedIn messages and other digital options that impede the development and maintenance of relationships.  Be a person.  Build a relationship, not an email chain conversation.

Preparation Tips:

  • Mental Preparation: prepare for everything. Expect positive results, but be prepared with multiple options of detailed responses and next steps for the possible objections.
  • Documentation Preparation: create a “List of all that could go wrong” gets you thinking through the call and relationship.
    • Develop a written list of every question, concern or objection that your customer might have.
    • Develop clear, methodical responses to each of these questions, concerns and objections.
    • Develop stories, case studies, statistics and demonstrations to substantiate the responses.
    • Have all of this information organized so you can reference seamlessly on the call.

Challenge 3:  salespeople have poor listening skills

Perception is reality so if the majority of customers believe that their sales people have poor listening skills…. for the purpose of improving, address this ‘reality’.

There are many reasons the average sales person does not listen effectively.  Here are three basic ones:

  1. They do not have the skills.

Listening is an active process.  It is not simply hearing or absorbing information from someone else.  Listening is the most important part of communication, more important than speaking and communicating well-rehearsed information.  If you fail to understand the message being communicated TO you, you fail in providing a meaningful response.  The majority of misunderstandings, arguments, and feelings of disrespect directly come from issues with listening skills.  Now, there are also issues with people who cannot process information effectively which is the step after listening effectively, but processing needs to be evaluated after the listening skill has been accomplished.

The first goal in any sales training should be the ability to take control of the listening process and strive for becoming an excellent communicator. Leaders of companies must focus on this vital skill and its importance in setting their company apart from others.  The majority of people do not have this skill without proper training.  Investment should be made consistently to evaluate and improve listening skills and develop key listening strategies in the sales process.  Overall goals include: improving corporate branding, maximizing productivity, and ensuring the strongest relationships internally and externally.

  1. They are preoccupied, not engaged.

Engagement is the key to any position but in sales, you cannot succeed without it.  Every sales person and their managers have to evaluate if their personality and skills are the right fit.   If the fit appears to be there, start evaluating the environment and expectations.

Environment:  Physical surroundings have an effect on ability to focus.  In addition to focusing the mind with the prepared research for the call, the physical work space needs to be clear and not distracting.  Computers should be minimized, alarms and outlook not visible (even corner screen pop ups), cell phones muted and turned over.  The actual work space should not be chaotic and unorganized.  Visually seeing order has a positive effect.

Expectations: This relates back to preparedness.  If sales has done their due diligence with the research, questions and responses to possible objections laid out, their minds are not running through all of those thoughts and how to mentally prepare during the call.  It is a discipline to turn off ancillary thoughts and focus on the objectives and listening effectively to the customer.  Like the old saying, ‘Go Big or Go Home’, sales are expected to get in early or at least on time, have had enough rest and nutrition for great energy, be over-prepared, honestly passionate and perform efficiently.

  1. They have a fear of rejection.

All humans have a fear of rejection.  There are endless articles and books written on the subject of “winning” and “overcoming fear”.  Very simply, to succeed in the role of salesperson, one must change the way they view rejection.

Gary Vaynerchuk has a quote I use often, “If you’re in any part of the world of business, rejection is just something you are going to run into. It’s inevitable. People will want to challenge you and question your ideas, and you should welcome that. It is absolutely necessary in helping you to figure out exactly how much you want something and why.”  Viewing rejection as an opportunity and exerting power over your emotions will change every outcome.

I had a manager in the earlier part of my career who gave me great advice about business development and sales.  He said, ‘Always check your ego at the door’.  And my interpretation is that in most sales situations, having an ego and needing to perform in a certain role can be detrimental.  It will affect your ability to listen and empathize.  It will affect your relationship building skills.  Egos are unnecessary if you are prepared, feel in control and have practiced your core skills adequately.

Every situation is a learning opportunity.  Embrace.

Executive management has the difficult job of holding salespeople accountable.  The fast way is to look at spreadsheets of numbers and judge sales from the 30,000 foot what-have-you-booked-for-me-lately view.  Some of the best salespeople that I have crossed paths with have not always had the highest sales report or compensation.  There are territory issues and long-term relationship opportunities to consider beyond the latest tally.  Again, it is a tough job to effectively evaluate sales staff.  The systems, physical environment, corporate expectations, training, compensation programs and management model all have to be considered.

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