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Growing Your B2B Business – What’s First, Business Development or Sales?

Your year has begun with renewed focus on the roadmap, growth and sales goals. Many enterprise and B2B service providers ask themselves where the growth should come from to drive business growth.  Management asks, “is sales or business development” that will drive growth? The answer is “it depends.” First let’s be clear on an important and obvious fact: Business growth is a process – a series of creating, executing and adapting a strategy with appropriate tactics to achieve goals.

So What Comes First – Sales or Bus Dev? When the CEO, board and management team plan the path ahead they almost always focus on “get more sales.” That’s easy to say and with transactional sales of a commoditized product it’s pretty straight forward. Smile, dial and close.  However the process is more complex with selling than just “call and close” especially for startups with brand new offerings. Obviously the CEO and board want growing revenue as soon as possible however the fastest way there may not be the “dial and sell” path.  The Glengarry Glen Ross selling model doesn’t work for complex sales. This is consultative relationship selling which is quite different from transactional selling – (here’s a good overview contrast of the differences).

5 Steps for Business Development Success: However to first get to the point of being able to sell a service, especially something new being offered by a startup, you need to have the foundation of a relationship to begin the process. The beginning of the process is business development that I outline in several basic steps:

  1. Identify who are your potential ideal partners and clients. Make a list of NO MORE than 20 and rank them.
  2. Know WHY you can help them, their company or clients.
  3. Clearly articulate a VISION that emotionally connects with them – “I know your clients are overwhelmed with big data. Our vision is based on helping you deliver context and simplicity elevating you from all your competitors.”
  4. Confirm this is of interest and will be a win for your colleague and company. Outline a scenario for them.
  5. Allow for patience – the hardest part – in order to understand their urgency and thereby their importance to YOUR forecast goals.

A metaphor for this process is that of building foundations before you can start putting up the buildings. I’ve experienced this in my work with social intelligence startup Cubeyou. We’re in a very crowded and competitive market segment. Social data, analytics, insights, signalling, attribution, ROI metrics are all terms kicked around for most companies working with Facebook graph, Twitter and Google streams. From 10,000 feet it all sounds the same. In fact in doing some research when I started my role running Business Development and Sales at Cubeyou, I found the top 50 list of social insight tools overwhelming. In fact there are new ones every week so how can a client differentiate when they get a cold inbound request when they think you sound like at least 50 other services?  The answer is they can’t. So in a sales process without a foundation you’re shouting into a noisy crowded arena. The tipping point happens when client leads know they need you and start calling because they made their decision. So if you’re HootSuite or Datasift, you have a monopoly position and that works. For the rest of the world, you’re builidng a house without a foundation.

So back to business development. Planning and executing a proper business development strategy will help you build the foundations upon which you can build repeat and forecastable sales, or as I call them “skyscrapers”, in keeping with the urban development metaphor.

Advice to the CEO and Board: So now that we’re clear on the overall company goals, let’s create a graphical map of the situation, the goals and outcomes. (I’m a big fan of the lean visual planning process of the Grove in SF). The bus dev team should focus on building foundations upon which sales can mine the new skyscrapers. Sales should work closely with marketing leveraging a strong content marketing program to drive inbound sales leads which they should score and then move to a faster transactional close or shift back into the bus dev sphere in order to build a new foundation and skyscraper.

In conclusion no two situations are the same however for B2B sales in general, more attention and resources should be spent on the bus dev side of the equation as proper nurturing here will yield considerable new opportunities for the sales team. I’d love to hear more about what you think!

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