If you are into business development, whether you are a BD manager or a CEO, you are likely to bump into prospects who would test your patience and kind-of bully you. Not only because they come from a position of power, but also because they might want to vent out their part of frustration dealing with other bullies in their life. Many entrepreneurs in the service industry end up sending an email which reads arrogant and rude and is sure to destroy the relationship forever. This is especially true for first generation entrepreneurs and short tempered business owners who lose out on patience a little early. The article does not advocate compromising self-respect or bending before a client. Confidence and fearlessness is a must as an entrepreneur. But sometimes the lines get blurred and you end-up sounding rude and arrogant to the prospect.
Let us take an example. The prospect had a nice & warm meeting with you, discussed nuances of how s/he will work with you and asked to send a proposal. You work hard, do back-end research, read-up on relevant sector and send the proposal expecting a revert in a few days. Your CRM shows that the email has been opened thrice but leave aside a revert, you do not even get an acknowledgment. You find it odd.
Questions like, was my proposal badly structured, did I miss out on some detail, or was he just fishing for fresh ideas, did he meet other agencies in similar way and did he already finalise an agency before meeting me etc would start popping up in your mind. If you are not a seasoned salesman (Business Development Executive, if that sounds better), such experiences might break your confidence. Your follow-up emails do not entice any answer and you end up sending a rough email to the prospect.
Another one. Prospect holds multiple meetings and confirms the contract verbally. You are thrilled and inform your team. You do not get any written confirmation for next 2–3 weeks and upon follow-up realise they have hired some other vendor/ agency. You pour all your anger on an email to the prospect. He never replies back and the relationship ends before even starting.
Based on learnings from my own mistakes, through interactions with clients and some bit of reading-up over last 5 years, below are some practical tips that have helped me, and might help others too. Depending on sector/ industry you work-in, they can be moulded accordingly. Please take it with a pinch of salt as I am not an expert on the subject and many of those reading this would probably have better tips to offer.
First of all, selling requires patience. Whatever you are taught in MBA curriculum or you read in bestsellers on ‘how to sell’, tons of humility and patience are needed to sell. Irrespective of what level and how big a company you run, the frustration of waiting-out a certain period in almost every other deal has to be borne by the service provider. We can argue whether it is ethical or unethical, but that is how real world is wired.
A systematic follow-up is a proven way to deal with the delay. While putting a number to follow-ups is quite subjective, I have experienced that it takes minimum of 3 follow-ups to get into a serious consideration set of a prospect. My outer limit though, is 4. After that I leave it to the prospect to get back. If you are in a business where the number of leads is high, try and automate the process. There are multiple CRMs available which can be combined with marketing automation tools and can take care of the regular follow-ups. There are even AI assistants (artificial intelligence) which you can use in your cc on email and they follow-up on your behalf. And the costs are not prohibitive.
Be sensitive towards the possible reasons of delay from client side. Almost every large company would have an elaborate process before finalising a vendor. Inter-departmental rivalries, and sometimes push for “their preferred vendors” further delays the process of finalisation. While for you it may be the most important deal, for the client it may be work-as-usual.
There would always be few of them out there to short-change and “steal” fresh ideas without actually having intention to give business. To manage it, you can develop your own processes. So for example, at Proact BrandComm, we took a hard decision of never participating in a multi-agency pitch right from day-1. We believed that our clients are our brand ambassadors and the testimonials are enough to get us a serious audience. We lost number of leads, had to face ire of some acquaintances who approached us to pitch for their account along with other agencies, and for a long time we were not sure if this was right thing to do. But slowly we got used to it and it helped us focus on qualified leads.
Another process we developed was to take detailed brief from the prospect before sharing proposal. Any company that avoided giving brief or would hide behind NDA (non-disclosure agreement) claiming that brief would only be shared post pitch, would be a red-herring for us. However, whenever a company insisted, we did send a detailed proposal and sometimes we ended up getting the business. So you may have to deal with it based on your instinct and depending on the industry you are in. There cannot be generalisations. At no time be rude or adamant to the prospect. Even if you know that you will not get the business. It does not really harm to have a good conversation over a coffee.
Once my boss told me avoid “shooting from hip”. I was rated good in my work and was not too open to criticism back then. This led to responses that, unknowingly, reeked of arrogance. Thankfully, my boss pointed this out and I did course correction much before becoming entrepreneur.
As a business owner, rude replies can kill your business. There would be frustrating times. There would be sleepless nights waiting for a positive reply. Get used to it and try and develop a bit of a thick skin. It took me fairly long time to get used to it which caused lot of heartburn. If you do not want to pick-up a business, or do not like the communication process of a prospect, say a polite ‘no’. The suggestion here is not at all to compromise your self-respect. The limited point is of managing your ego in front of the client to be able to sell better and ultimately get the business.
Always remember that while the prospective client may not give you business right now, if you are good, s/he will come back to you later.
Please do share your experiences and suggestions.