A business relationship starts with a need. Someone reaches out because they hear you can offer something they need. Whether that’s a digital engineering team or an SEO strategy, it’s all about the need. While this relationship is being nurtured and tended to by (usually) the two main points of contact for each company, sometimes certain circumstances lead to a lonely place called Purgatory. It’s the worst place to be in business, I’d rather have a “no thanks” and be on my merry way, than just have silence. But you, as a business development individual, are responsible for keeping that door open at all times. So, how do you manage to keep the door open, even if people aren’t walking through it?
You close it!! That is until it’s time to open it again!
I think of it as a revolving door, right? Revolving doors don’t let the wind in, they don’t let animals in. They basically keep everything out until someone’s ready to walk through it. And that’s kind of your job if you do business development. But let’s walk through some scenarios to see if there’s a way to stay out of purgatory and keep those revolving doors active at all times.
Scenario No. 1 – You meet with the web guy of a medium sized organization that specializes in gizmo-gadgets for musicians. The problem they’re having is that they want to market these gg’s but aren’t getting enough engagement from their website users. So, you sit down and ask a lot of relevant questions, go over business objectives and user personas. Then you take things internally. Up until this point you’ve had maybe a dozen emails with the web guy about possible next steps and meeting more people in his organization (the stakeholders), the web guy’s correspondence has been very engaging and he always gets back to you. You come up with (what you believe to be) some pretty great ideas for end-user engagement and are ready to present to the stakeholders. You present, and then…….nothing. Yup, nothing. What do you do?
You go back over your approach, your process, your ideas, and your engagement with the web guy. Several possibilities – the web guy quit (probably not), they went with another company (maybe), or they just didn’t like you or your ideas (most likely). But how do you get that definitive “no” and still keep the door open?
Side note: I’ve learned to just let it go. If someone doesn’t have the business sense or courtesy to tell you “no thanks”, then you probably don’t want them as a client anyway. But if it just eats you up inside and you don’t want to wonder, then get personal. Usually an email or a voicemail asking if you did anything wrong or said something that upset them gets a response. Nobody wants to feel like they alienate someone and most business savvy people will never burn a bridge. I’m not sure I like this approach all that much because it kinda makes me feel like the girl at the prom who doesn’t have a date and wonders why the football captain won’t dance with her. But, get personal, apologize and say – “hey, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and your company, if you ever need anything down the line. End of story, you’ve done your job.
Scenario No. 2 – You’re dealing with another guy at another company who’s in charge of putting together their content strategy and optimizing their website for maximum organic traffic. You have a number of emails and phone conversations with this guy who’s totally jazzed about working with your company. You write a proposal for an on-going optimization package that machine-readies their website, optimizes it for mobile, caching, and speed. And lay out a 12 month plan to up their SEO. You present your proposal to him and he gives you a verbal yes. Then you send out your own master service agreement or statement of work to be signed and nothing…..absolutely nothing. What happened, what went wrong?!? In all honesty, we may never know. So, what’s your next step? Just keep the door open. At this point you can probably still assume the sale, but it most likely fell through and I doubt it had anything to do with you.
I could go through a whole bunch of these scenarios but the end result will still be the same – you will still be in the dark on a lot of this stuff and it’s because things happen and deals fall through. But there literally is still an endless sea of businesses out there that will need your services at some point. So, how do we make sure to never get stuck in purgatory ever again. There is a formula, believe it or not.
The no-purgatory zone formula. It all starts with knowing how to ask for things and setting expectations. When you’re on an initial phone call with someone they are going to ask you questions like, “is your firm qualified to handle a project of this size” and “have you ever done anything like this before” and “do you do all of your own design work in-house”??? So, my rule of thumb is this – for every question a prospect asks, you get to ask one back. Questions like “do you have a process for vendor selection” and “will you notify the bidder regardless of the outcome” and “will we be able to present our proposal to you”??? – these are all valid questions, questions worth asking and seeing if this prospect is also a good fit for you and your agency, just like what they’re doing. Because let’s face it, there’s an even trade here, right? They are buying your agency’s time and that time does not come cheap. And all that time that you, the biz dev guy, spends coming up with the right solution and then writing it down on paper into a proposal, takes a serious amount of time. And that’s time that is not billed toward the client, that’s called pre-sales, and it’s up to you to make sure you do it as efficiently as you possibly can to not only save your company money, but to save yourself countless hours spent on a company who’s just getting as many bids as they can and then going with the cheapest solution. Oh, that reminds me, another great question to ask is – if we’re more expensive than the other bidders, but clearly have the better solution, would you still consider going with us? Or some variation of that.
Be brutal and be honest, it’ll save you time and money to ask as many questions about their process as they ask about yours.