Direct or indirect: Matching relationships and business development

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The sweet spots in sales and business development are the easy sales; the ones where you pose the question in a natural, informal way, and receive a quick “yes” and win the major contract.

In the public and institutional sector, the closest parallel could be the client who works with you on drafting the RFP so, when it goes public, there is no surprise about its content and what you need to do to win. And you do.

The other extreme is the cold, hard winter of distance and avoidance. You can try banging on the door all you want, and you’ll end up with nothing more than a visit from the security department.

In my life, I see these two contrasts most clearly in my relationship with Google (Alphabet) Inc. Thankfully, in this context, I’m on the inside, at last as a volunteer forum moderator (Top Contributor). But I see the outsiders, people desperately hoping, begging, pleading, crying and occasionally threatening suicide because they can’t get an AdSense account, or their account has been disabled for policy or invalid click violations.

Of course, most of us in most situations are in neither of these extreme places, especially if we aren’t doing business with a potential client and haven’t been trying to win that client’s business. We’re like strangers passing in the dark.

The question, however, for someone seeking to expand his or her organization’s business development opportunities, is how do you cross from the “stranger” status to the bright side of the equation — the natural, easy and comfortable rapport and inside track to business.

Clearly, this transition can only occur if some exceptional things happen:

  • You really have built a connection or relationship with the potential client, either through neutral common-interest activities such as association or community participation, or through references from businesses and individuals which are also closely aligned with the client (possibly current employees or customers);
  • You have an exceptional story to share, that reflects either a signficant common interest with the client, or makes you so famous that your client simply wants to know you better; or
  • You happen to have some exceptional luck; by accident ending up in the same place/mind-set as the potential client, allowing you to strike up an immediate relationship.

There’s not much you can do in the business development sense to manage the third option — luck is just that — but you can certainly tackle the first two measures if you want to expand your business and relationships.

Note that neither of them are quick fixes unless you already are naturally in place. If you just come knocking on the door, you’ll probably end up with an autobot receptionist machine and a blank wall of silence. Or you’ll be one of a gazillion businesses responding to RFPs or bidding opportunities without the faintest chance of success.

Think carefully before you leap and realize that there has to be something more than “you” in the story if you want to develop new business opportunities.

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