Managing sales discovery

Recent posts covered understanding prospects—including the economic buyer, technical buyer and user buyer—and how to organize and position features and benefits for each buyer type.

While it’s helpful to strategize around buyer types, nothing beats knowing the actual decision makers. Knowledge lets you address actual strategic drivers and hot button issues, not just generic buyer types.

Gaining insight into prospects’ needs and wants is a key function of business development. That’s what this post is about.

What should business developers actually do?

If you sell via formal proposals, chances are you’re in a long-cycle, high-stakes business. The occasional brief sales call won’t win contracts. Even cultivating a warm relationship may not be enough, given the rigorous bid processes typically in place for large purchases.

Don’t settle for: “He loves me—our kids play soccer together.” Instead, expect your business developers to go deep inside prospect organizations, meet several people and get answers to specific questions.

Make a to-do list for business developers

Define what your developers need to do. Here’s our list:

  • Gain the prospect’s respect: Cultivate respect by learning enough to be able to ask intelligent questions and offer ideas that resonate. As primary contacts develop confidence in your business developer, they’ll want to bring other decision makers into the conversation.
  • Identify strategic drivers: Knowing your prospect’s specific challenges and opportunities (cost pressures, disruptive technologies, new competitors) is essential to building a client-focussed strategy. This needs to be part of business developer conversations.
  • Get to know evaluators: Developers should try to meet with those likely to evaluate their proposals for two reasons: 1. To learn their key motivators and issues; 2. To show them you want to address their specific needs. A business developer who is trusted (see point 1 above) should be able to obtain these intros.
  • Find out what’s coming: Learn about RFP timing for upcoming requirements and termination dates for existing contracts held by competitors. A company should never be caught off-guard by RFPs from prospects its developers have targeted.
  • Document everything: Ask developers to document conversations immediately after each call. Get them to capture key items in the prospect’s words, if possible, so you can play them back in your response.

Success takes science and hard work

Business development is both art and science. But success owes more to science than to art. Setting specific relationship and information-gathering goals—and then following up—will identify which developers are up to the job.

This post sets a high bar. You can decide where to set yours.

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