Developing new business – 6 best practices
by Richard Ruff
In today’s B2B market a sales person needs an array of skills to be a top performer – they need to know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.
But if you asked a whole lot of sales people from all over the world what is the one a competency they think they could most benefit from if they knew how to do it better?
A Survey of Sales Effectiveness: Global Research on what Drives Sales Success addressed that question. The skill set that sales people felt was most challenging was: Developing New Business. As an aside, it was interesting that Establishing Relationships and Uncovering Needs was the area where the sales people reported they were having the most success.
Since developing new business has, as one might expect, surfaced before as an area that deserves attention, let’s look at some of the best practices for getting that done which have emerged from our work with B2B clients.
As to the nature of the problems and the best practices it’s necessary to pinpoint whether you are talking about new business with new customers or new business with existing customers. For this discussion, let’s focus on the large B2B complex sale situations where one is developing new business with existing customers.
In the way of recognition, we would like give a tip of the hat to our colleague Mike Smith of Ohio State University who helped us develop these ideas.
Particularly when you are working with an existing customer you may be ahead of the customer in seeing an unfolding situation that would drive a new business opportunity. As a matter of fact this is one of the skill areas where top performers differentiate themselves from the pack.
In these situations, you can provide value by helping the customer see a future challenge. You may also be able to help them formulate the need and response thereby putting yourself in a strong competitive position. The most important skill in identifying future opportunities is the ability to see the relationship between observable events and knowing what actions and results they are likely to lead to and when.
For identifying these types of new opportunities, some specific perspectives and 6 best practices are:
- Look at the current situation through the lens of the existing work effort. From time to time when you are reviewing an implementation – think back about the situation as it was preceding your solution. What things did you observe? What situations were present? Who did what just preceding the opportunity? New opportunities are a response to something. What things were in motion before the opportunity occurred?
- Look at how your customers are fairing against goals, objectives and metrics. With knowledge about goals, objectives and metrics, and a sense of how the customer is performing, what would you do to reach these if you were in their place? What could your do that would enhance the customer’s success? How will they demonstrate success to their leadership and stakeholders?
If you can see where you can add value, they may as well. If they don’t, but you do, it puts you in the best position of all, namely you are helping a customer understand an unforeseen challenge.
- Assess organizational changes for clues. Whether a company is preparing to implement a planned strategy, merging groups or responding to a problem or opportunity, very often organizational structures are put in place before new work is made visible to the outside world. Teams of required skills are assembled, specific skills are reassigned or grouped, and units are disbanded or reduced.
Look at new and expanded organizations and what kinds of skills, and in what quantity, are being added. Here it important to leverage the insight of your staff with a historical perspective of the customer, they can provide meaning to what specific changes may mean and not mean.
- Observe what is happening in overall ongoing expense management. New efforts inside the customer organization cost money. Is the customer experiencing any changes in spending patterns you can observe? Are expenses being restricted, or expanded? Look for work that may foreshadow future work.
- Don’t forget to tell your story. Be able to subtly, but clearly reinforce just what it is you do that is of value to customers. They don’t spend much or any time pondering what you do. They worry about what they need and when they do, only the organizations that are top of mind, come to mind.
Too often, if you do not share the range of things you do well, a customer might say, “Oh, I wish I had known you can do X, because you did such a great job on Y and, had we known, we would have used you.” Always have an up-to-date value proposition about your core capabilities and a new story about how those capabilities have been used by others.
- Bring in fresh thinking. Think about leveraging literature, speeches, research, stories you’ve heard that relate to the customer agenda or you know are of particular interest to the individual. Even if they don’t produce a lead today it builds relationships and often creates leads in the future.
Developing new business is one of the areas where top performers clearly differentiate themselves – they know it is hard to do and they learn how to do it. It is also an area where creating best practice profiles based on what your top performers do makes extraordinary sense.
Dr. Richard Ruff and Janet Spirer launched Sales Horizons in 2011. The idea behind Sales Horizons is to leverage the lessons learned working with market leaders to create sales training programs that are effective and affordable for mid-size and small companies.