man sitting at table, using large red and white magnet to pick up miniature human pieces

Where’s My Next New Customer Coming From? Shifting Business Development to Digital

Trade shows, events, networking meetings and prospective client calls are the lifeblood of B2B business development and lead generation. While many businesses have established good digital lead generation, social media and lead nurture programs, those only reach people who engage and search for vendors online. If a prospective client finds you online, in most B2B sales, getting a new client comes down to equal parts relationship-building and delivering a product or service of value.

Due to the current crisis in the world, many companies’ business development efforts are posed with the challenge of figuring out what to do now in a time when in-person business development and selling isn’t possible. Some businesses may be inclined to wait until in-person options are available. If you’re reading this, that’s probably not you. At Thinc Strategy, we recommend a thoughtful, but steady pivot to alternative business development approaches. Not only will this support your business during disruption, it will also cultivate new business development skills and capabilities for the long term.

We interviewed multiple business development professionals to get their thoughts on how to pivot your team’s business development efforts and here are their top tips:

Re-imagine your traditional business development activities and how they might transition to online activities.Drill down into how you succeed in those activities. Ask yourself what makes you successful at using events for business development. Is it your presentation, connecting with individual prospects, or using the event as an opportunity to introduce your connections and set meetings? Focus on each of those and be creative about how you replicate it now. If your success comes from your presentations, explore virtual presentations or video thought-leadership content. If you use events to see people and set meetings, you may have to be more intentional about those meetings and reach out for virtual coffees.

Be a convener.  Move to and initiate virtual gatherings.We’re all starved for interaction and outside perspectives on how others are conducting business. Now is a great time to host a virtual gathering – meet via video chat over a cup of coffee or even a cocktail. Pull together a group of your clients to share thoughts on a particular topic and invite a prospect or two as well. Now is the time for businesses to come together to solve challenges and usually business development people are great at convening.

Engage, don’t cancel. It’s tempting to cancel those prospect meetings you have on your calendar and perhaps you may have to postpone some. Before cancelling, offer a videoconference or a call.It’s especially important now to find alternative ways to engage.

Support your strategic allies and referral partners. Now more than ever it’s important to help those strategic partners and friends that you have a trusting business partnership with. Make introductions, cross-promote content and explore ways you can partner. Now more than ever, when people are looking for a new service or product, they will turn to their trusted friends to ask for a reference. With that being said, remember when you make introductions, you are trading on the trust you’ve built, so stay focused on delivering introductions that bring value.

Use sponsorship dollars wisely. You might think you won’t need a budget for sponsorships or events, but you will. Every organization that previously relied on in-person events will quickly shift to virtual events. You will need to quickly triage which events and organizations are most important to you and aggressively negotiate to get what you need now out of these sponsorships. This means going beyond the event to get content promotion, introductions and possibly even editorial.

Clarify your value now. When someone asks, “how can I help your business now,” you need to have a clear answer. Know what kind of client and what type of product/service is the best fit for the market in the next six months.

Reconnect. Pull out that list of people that you have been too busy to follow up with. Do a sorting exercise and prioritize who you will reach out to. Ask yourself if there is something of value you can offer them (an introduction or a perspective) or if you have something in common with them. Don’t reach out if you don’t have common interests now or if you don’t have something of obvious value to offer.

Be patient and persistent. Given the general uncertainty of the times, It’s going to take longer to cultivate relationships and purchase considerations and decisions will likely be slower.

One great word of advice about transitioning to digital is to plan and test. Before you conduct a call or video chat with one of your colleagues and a prospect, practice with the colleague and someone role playing the client. You’ll need to explore how to avoid interruptions while finding ways to engage in a new medium. When you shift from in-person presentations to video, you’ll want to re-create your presentation, likely shortening it, simplifying slide content and learning how best to convey energy and emotion through your facial expressions. If you convene a group happy hour keep it small. Remember at events, people cluster in small groups of 2-4, so an online group chat might need to be limited to 6-8, to allow for everyone to talk.

Practice on all of the videoconferencing platforms. Set up a professional backdrop at home, even if it is simply a bookcase with good lighting. Here’s a link to a recent article with a few pro tips.

What are your ideas? Any early success examples? Perhaps you disagree with one of our ideas or have a way to improve it. We welcome any suggestions. And remember to send a virtual hug to business developers now.They’re likely going through networking withdrawal, but don’t worry, they are some of the most creative people in business and will find a way!