NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the third of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on utilizing your research to connect with potential customers.
You’ve identified the companies, agencies and program offices that are most likely to use your product or service. You have read their most recent press releases and blog entries. You also know the names of the leadership team, program managers and contracting officers for those programs. You’ve connected with them on social media networks. You also know those companies most likely to fit with your core competencies.
If you don’t know this information, you probably have not done enough research and it is best to find out this information. It will provide the basis for starting your relationship with a company, program office, or a prime contractor.
There’s an event next week. Perhaps it’s an Industry Day, a program office is giving a seminar, there’s a networking event sponsored by a trade association or economic development agency, or perhaps you’ve identified a key contact and you want to set up a meeting. Maybe you are attending a trade show or industry event.
Do some research. Who is sponsoring? What programs or panel discussions are being offered? Can you contribute? Call the organization and ask how you can help with the event. Your research on the organization can tell you what programs they like to offer, what its membership does. Think about putting on a program for them in the future. This will better connect you to the organization and they will see you as a resource. Becoming a resource to them gives the organization the confidence to introduce you to an opportunity.
Focus on your goals for this event. Do you want leads, an introduction to someone, or just to build your brand? You’re not going to close a sale, so relax. You can take the time to nurture a relationship. Set performance metrics, i.e., I expect to have x substantial conversations that lead to an opportunity, I expect to collect x business cards, etc. Setting metrics allows you to objectively evaluate your performance and the usefulness of the event. Evaluating each event provides the information needed to make the most of your time, to focus on those events and organizations that provide the most value for you.
The SWOT analysis you did earlier has given you the information and strategic focus needed to craft a statement about your organization, what it does best and why the listener should care. People will want to know what you or your organization does and you need to have a clear vision that ties into your goals for this event.
When you meet that first person, pay attention to them. Look them in the eye, shake hands firmly and show an interest in their business card and what their position is in the organization. Figure out what concerns the person you’re speaking with; have a genuine interest in what they are doing. Ask about recent press releases, new initiatives they may be engaged in, talk about what they hope to get out of this event.
Make the focus on them. Don’t forget the human element of relationships. It is very important to understand what is possible and what the person that you are speaking with is capable of doing; if not, you’re wasting your time. The more you focus on the other person, the faster you will have the information to make a determination about this person.
The other person will ask about your business. Because you spent the time focusing on the other person in this conversation, you now have the information needed to craft your response around how your company’s product or service can be a benefit to the company. Talk about next steps. Leave the conversation with an action item. Write it on the back of their business card when you get a chance. Tell them that you will respond to them the next day.
If you get so lucky as to uncover a potential need and opportunity, try to learn who will influence the solution and the decision-making process. People connect to their colleagues on LinkedIn and some of them will be influential in the requirements development and selection process. Visit each of those buying influence’s LinkedIn profiles and pay close attention to whether they are linked to any of your competitors. If so, then that’s a red flag.
Sometimes there really is no connection to the person; you cannot provide what they need. Ask for a referral, do they know anyone who has a need for your product or service? If so, ask for a specific email introduction to their contact referencing the point of interest as an action item for this conversation. Write the contact’s name and point of interest on the back of the business card.
The event is over and you have a handful of business cards. Hopefully you wrote the action items on the back of the cards. Review the event. How did you perform against your goals? Be objective about the event. Perhaps you didn’t get many cards because you didn’t do the research versus the event not being a good fit for you. Maybe you didn’t get enough cards because you took too much time with a person. That’s good if it leads to a concrete opportunity, or a substantial conversation that moves the relationship forward. Keeping performance metrics allows to objectively evaluate the event, your preparation and your pitch.
Add the cards, points of interest and action items into your contact database and assign tasks for follow up. Always follow up when you say you will. It goes to your credibility, reliability and reputation for being able to deliver. These are some of the most important aspects in a good relationship and to gain the confidence of people who might be able to help you in the future.
At this point you have a few people who are connected to the opportunities that you’ve highlighted in your SWOT analysis. It’s time to cultivate these relationships, bring value to your contacts, assuring that they see you and your company as a valuable resource in their network.
Perhaps you don’t have a business development staff to make these contacts or your company is not located in Washington, DC if you sell to the federal government. Maybe you want to penetrate a different industry sector, line of business or another agency to win larger chunks of business.
Consider forming an advisory board comprised of very high-profile individuals who will open doors and act as advocates for your company. A properly constructed advisory board, whose sole purpose is to drive revenue, can turbo-charge your business development and harvest the value in your company.
Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community. He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses.