Business development is all about seeing the future of the market, understanding customer needs, and developing relationships that carry your business into the future. But how does that happen when the future is murky and developing relationships is hampered by social distancing? We’ve asked several of Tulsa’s best business development experts how their businesses are adapting to current changes, the challenges encountered, and lessons learned to date.
Meet Our Contributors.
Ross Group is a Tulsa-based development, engineering, and construction firm whose mission is to create the infrastructure for communities. Since 1979, Ross Group has been providing industry-leading solutions on development, engineering, and facility and EPC construction projects for private and public clients nationwide. Zachary Perkins and Jason Seneker are Business Development Managers for Ross Group and can be contacted at Zachary.firstname.lastname@example.org or Jason.email@example.com .
CEC Corporation is Oklahoma’s largest, locally owned engineering firm with over 200 employees providing design and consulting services to private clients and public entities. CEC’s vision is to eliminate aging infrastructure and drive community growth with the industry’s leading experts in transportation design and planning, mechanical, electrical, structural and civil engineering, power delivery, survey and mapping, construction engineering inspection, materials testing, airport planning and design and bridge design and inspections. Cassie Reese Tipton is the Oklahoma Market Leader for CEC and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BTR Solutions is a Tulsa-based management consulting company focused on the strategies, tools and methods needed to increase win rates and accelerate return on the business development investment. Andrea Gibson is the founder and CEO of BTR Solutions and can be contacted at email@example.com
How has your company seen business development activities change since COVID-19?
Ross Group: BD during COVID has closed some traditional means of communicating with current clients, as well as formalizing introductions with new ones. Handshakes, meals, and social interaction is out for now. This is not necessarily a bad thing as those forms of generating work are effective but they also allow us to go about a potentially worn out daily routine without taking time to stop and see if there is a better way to develop business.
CEC: Providing essential services to local municipalities and statewide transportation entities such as City of Tulsa, Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, CEC is fully operational, but quickly evolving to adapt to new remote officing protocols, CDC guidelines and technology challenges. The pace has been fast but rewarding. Within 48 hours, CEC enhanced firewalls and increased VPN access from seven users to accommodate access for over 200 employees while maintaining appropriate social distancing procedures.
What recommendations would you have regarding business development in a remote environment?
BTR Solutions: Working remotely is a great space to master the art of follow-up. Face-to-face client interaction, although vitally important in building client relationships, is but one means of communication in the business development process. If you can recall your best sale; the one where you were successfully strategic, did all the right things, learned and applied the right information, effectively appealed to the decision makers, leveraged relationships and built trust with your client – how much of that business development activity relied on face-to-face interactions? You could probably say less than 40 percent. That is because the gritty, behind the scenes work of effective follow up is the key to successfully communicating capability, reliability and benefit beyond the spoken word. This is easily achieved in a remote work setting.
CEC: Working inside a high-tech industry, CEC was well-positioned to pivot. With lessons learned, CEC is focusing much of our business development and cultivation efforts on connecting clients and industry partners to new resources and up-to-date information that will impact our business sectors. CEC’s priority is keeping our employees and communities safe and feeling secure as together we emerge on the other side of COVID stronger than before.
Ross Group: With the current state of unchartered territory, maybe it’s time to consider what is more important; the numbers game of the sales funnel (proper approach during ‘normal’ times) or seeing what is needed and retooling to meet that need and bring it to the client’s attention. We are a solution based company and part of providing the solution is conducting root cause analysis to determine and understand the initiating event. Many of our clients have already commenced their analysis of how to address pandemics in the work environment going forward, we are working with those clients to support their efforts whether it be providing development, engineering, and/or construction services for the Energy, Public, Healthcare, or Industrial markets.
Are there lessons learned you would you share with other companies for the current situation?
CEC: CEC’s commitment to “Get stuff built right – relationships, communities and families” includes CEC’s long-standing foundation Civil Servants. In direct response to current events, the foundation has expanded it’s reach to be among the first to respond to local COVID relief efforts, contributing to The Tulsa Community Foundation and The Tulsa Area United Way’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. Internally, CEC has activated and is actively promoting an employee benevolence fund to privately support employee hardships and to lessen the financial burden of unexpected COVID-related challenges.
Ross Group: Continuing education internally and externally is a good way of allocating time during this period. We have converted our monthly lunch and learns to online webinars, which has proven to be more popular and accessible to our community and clients. As popularity for these items rise, we are considering increasing the frequency. Most clients are working from remote offices and are open and available using these methods. Ironically, the economic slow down has enabled connecting with clients easier – as all of us starve for human interaction.
BTR Solutions: Remember that it takes roughly 6-8 interactions with a client before you can get an opportunity to propose or close a sale. In a remote environment these interactions can include discussing a product’s benefits over the phone; asking clarifying questions by text; sending client testimonials or marketing material by email; posting informational content or podcasts through Linked In or other social media tools; conducting online training sessions or video conferencing, etc.
No matter the forum, the key is understanding what immediate- and long-term steps are required to take your conversations to the next level such that your client sees you as a trusted solution to their need. Never assume; however, you know your client’s preferences. Put them first and ask about their primary issues, what information is most important to them and what type of communication works best. Lastly, assess the effectiveness of your communication. Ask your client about the interaction. Did the information clarify there understanding or do data gaps remain? You may be surprised at how willingly they provide you with the feedback needed to accelerate your success and increase your win rates even when you can’t meet face to face.