The key observation, and which I mentioned in my January blog, was that successful BD requires the investment of quite a lot of time, and in two different ways:
- in my view, you need to attend several events each week; and
- having found events that suit you, you need to keep going, probably for years (I referred in my January blog to 'persistence'). I'm talking here about repeat events organised by Chambers of Commerce, the likes of Business Network Scotland (www.businessnetworkscotland.co.uk) of which I'm a fan, the CBI and professional services intermediaries such as accountants and patent agents.
The aim is to become a recognised face 'out and about' in your business community and having a credible story to tell, whilst avoiding the 'automaton elevator pitch'.
I can recall about 20 years ago, before my Morton Fraser days, taking a colleague from another department of my then law firm, to a BD event. It was a typical format - a speaker gave a 20 minute presentation and then the delegates all mingled, drink in one hand, plate of canapés in the other (and were therefore unable to eat the canapés without putting down the drink). At the end of the evening I asked my colleague whether he'd enjoyed the event. He said that he had, but that he didn’t think he would bother with BD in future because no-one at the event had given him any work. I suspect the expression on my face spoke a thousand words. He'd clearly never heard of the basic 'know, like, trust' progression required before someone will buy from you, and I can't remember ever seeing that progression happen before my eyes in the time it takes to hoover up half a dozen haggis bon-bons.
To try and demonstrate how long it can take from first meeting someone to them referring work, here are two examples:
- In the summer of 2003, five of us tried to launch a new chapter of Business Network International (BNI). We met every Wednesday at crack of dawn in the rugby clubhouse at Goldenacre with a large tray of bacon rolls and a big urn of fresh coffee. We did that for about 3 months, admiring the morning sun on the rugby pitch, accompanied by an additional five or six guests that we had mustered between us. The only problem was that because we were only just breaking double figures of attendees each week (and consequently eating too many bacon rolls), the guests weren't all that keen to attend and after a couple of weeks they would be 'too busy' to come, so we had to find more guests. By the end of the summer we must have had about fifty different guests at the events, but sadly never all at the same time. As a result, we decided that it was time to call it a day and we never did get the new BNI chapter off the ground. However, those of us who had battled with multiple bacon rolls, and bounced off the ceiling with caffeine over-consumption, developed a certain kinship and years later I still get referrals from some of 'The Bacon-Roll Five'; and
- About 3 years ago I attended an evening drinks reception at the Scottish Parliament. The event comprised the classic speaker/wine/canapé format. When I booked the event it seemed like a good idea, but by the time we got to the evening of the event, the early winter weather was miserable and all I really wanted to do was go home and stay warm. Fortunately (as it turns out) I'm phobic about being a 'non-attendee' whose name-badge is left sitting on the reception desk at BD events, so I duly went. The event itself was fine, but while I was there I met a chap I'd never met before and who was as enthusiastic as I was about being there. That in itself can speed up the 'know, like, trust' process, incidentally. We chatted, worked out that we knew a few people in common and I invited him to attend another BD group that I thought may be of interest to him. He duly came, enjoyed the events, but after two or three months said that it wasn't really his cup of tea and we agreed to keep in touch. Fast forward two years and a major client of my new 'Parliament friend' was looking for new solicitors and my friend gave his major client my name. His major client contacted me, I was put through an interview and now my new friend's major client is also my major client. All of that can be traced back to a wet evening at Holyrood. Because I invited my new friend to join the other BD group (and even though he decided not to join in the long term) he felt the need to reciprocate, and he did.
So the moral of the story is that if at first you don't succeed (ie if you don't pick up new work at your first BD event), try, try, try again. I can't guarantee that you will win new clients if you throw yourself into BD, but I can certainly guarantee that you won't win any new clients if you don't do any BD at all. Another moral of the story is that sometimes the events that seem to be the least promising hunting grounds can actually turn out to be the most rewarding.
If you'd like a word about business development please call me on 0131 247 1260 or email me at email@example.com