In this article I’m going to tell you why business development people who think like ‘hunters’ won’t be as successful as those who cultivate the mindset of ‘farmers’. It should take you a few minutes to read but it might be worth it because it might change the way you see business development forever.
If you're not in the mood for a read, I’ve also recorded this as a podcast. Listen to it on the site or you can download it on iTunes
Our earliest ancestors survived by hunting and gathering.
This was an extremely energy and time consuming way of life. We lived like this for more than 90 percent of the time since we first appeared as a species.
Progress and civilisation only really came when we became sedentary and learned how to leverage our efforts with farming.
Instead of continuously running around for food, we learned how to grow it ourselves and understood that herding animals was far easier to hunting them down all the time.
Much of the B2B services sector still lives in the ‘hunter-gatherer’ era. Especially the one where I have been working for more than 20 years now: the investment industry.
Much of what we do all day long is meet with investors and try to convince them why we are the right people for them to trust with their money.
This involves a lot of running around and attending lots of time-consuming meetings. But, because you are on the move so much, you are not always sure that your meeting with the right people because there isn’t that much time for proper research.
Maybe it is your marketing departments job to do research, but you know how well marketing and sales usually get along, right? I’ve been on countless ‘road shows’ and most of the time you’re just getting meetings for the sake of justifying the effort and expense of a trip.
All the running around can also keep you from properly following up on prospects. And you know what happens when you don’t properly follow up right? Not very much.
And, when you finally get your message through to one person, you just hope that this person will carry it on to colleagues and other people involved in the decision-making process.
The reality is that it is much to expect from someone who just heard your story for the first time to find the courage to go and evangelise colleagues and customers.
This means that you have to keep going back, hopefully to meet with the right people, if they bother to show up to the meeting, that is.
So you tell yourself it’s a numbers game. The more people you meet the more likelihood there will be for doing more business.
You justify this thinking based on what worked in the past.
You may even see a sensible correlation between the number of meetings with clients and the amount of business you got from that but because its the only thing you ever knew or tried, there is nothing you can measure it against.
It becomes a single standard and an absolute truth. You may abide by the fact that only a small fraction of your prospects will eventually come through.
And because with the traditional approach, all interactions take the same amount of effort (meetings), it also means that you are wasting most of your valuable time on lost opportunities.
I’m not claiming that the traditional approach of clocking as many meetings as you can with with prospects is totally flawed but it only makes more sense when your marketplace is limited to a specific region or niche industry.
In contrast, it does become awfully challenging when you’re faced with a global marketplace with more participants and increased segmentation.
It would simply mean even more running around! What you need is a system that guides you towards the real opportunities. We’ll get to that later on.
The reason why there are still so many businesses that embrace the ‘road show’ approach probably has much to do with the fact that their client-facing staff is being evaluated on the number of meetings they book.
A lot of KPIs for business developers and sales people are still based on this dated concept. I’ve been there myself, I used to believe in it but truth be told there is a motivation to just seek out meetings for the sake of summing them up in a spreadsheet.
This used to make sense when we didn’t have all the access to information we enjoy today because the only way to get our story out was to get out and deliver it in person.
But things have changed now that we can search the internet, read blogs, watch videos and listen to podcasts. Today, information exists in abundance!
In my last real ‘job’ during my travelling salesman days at a fund manager, my business focused on a rather exotic niche: investing developing markets.
And because most people didn’t even know the capital cities of these countries, let alone ever considered them as investment destinations, most of my business development process was really about providing education.
In fact, I spent so much time teaching people about these unknown investment destinations that I often felt that I’d make more money if I charged for the tuition by the hour!
Back in 2010 I was traveling around the world non-stop, spending way too much time and resources meeting with people who rather than willing to write a check, were really more interested in getting a few free lessons about theses new markets.
I guess many of them were either intellectually curious or so bored with their jobs that a few stories about strange places made for a welcome distraction.
And even though many of these meetings were pleasant exchanges, the problem was that they didn’t lead to enough business to justify the effort.
It was also a continuous process of ‘stop and go’.
You’d have a great first meeting and then hope to get an opportunity to follow up soon, but then things get in the way, people get distracted and when you finally met again it was like starting all over.
I found myself in a situation where I needed to come up with a scalable and efficient solution that would allow me to keep in touch with all these prospects to educate and keep them updated about all these fairly unknown markets.
It occurred to me that it would make much sense to store our insights online so it could be more easily shared with anyone, anywhere.
This is when I decided to set up a blog along with an opt-in mailing list. That made me one of the few investment managers to have a blog.
Believe it or not but even in 2011, having a blog on your website was a very exotic idea for most investment managers!
Even today, most financial businesses still haven’t understood how to tell their stories online. Most have a mailing list but it is only really used to stuff fact sheets and boring research papers into countless junk mail folders.
For some reason, the content we published started getting a fair amount of attention and it drove more traffic to our website.
Even the media regularly featured our insights in their content. This in turn brought even more people to our website which in turn got us more subscribers to our email list.
Getting more people on your email list is probably the most important thing you can do in business development.
In fact, the most important purpose of any website is to get people to opt in to your list so you can start having an open and ongoing communication channel with them.
However, once people give you their explicit permission to send them regular emails, you still need to earn their ongoing attention.
This is why it is so incredibly valuable to learn how to tell your story in a way that keeps people tuned in.
They say that email is not very good for selling (I disagree!), but it is certainly useful as a massively scalable relationship building mechanism!
Provide ongoing value and your audience will grow to like and trust you. And you know what people who like and trust you do, right?
They buy from you! Now imagine what is possible when you grow your email list to thousands of trusting subscribers…
The hard reality is that you live and die by the way you tell your stories.
That is why I am always trying to learn as much as I can about how to tell more compelling stories. It occurred to me that the absolute masters of attention are the people in the entertainment industry.
They know how to write scripts for TV shows or great documentaries that keep people spellbound. I was determined to learn their secrets.
I set out to search the formula for great story telling so I spend enormous amounts of time devouring anything I can get my eyes on about script writing and I’m continuously experimenting with all the insights I gather on the content I produce.
It turns out that there are exact formulas that can be put to work to shape any topic whatsoever into a compelling narrative!
So you can keep running after investors until your legs fall off and try to get in front of them with irregular intervals or you can serve them with compelling content that is educational, entertaining and helps them do a better job at investing.
If you believe that sending out a 50 page white paper or a dense pitch book full of graphs is providing value, you might as well send them your car’s user’s manual because chances are quite slim that they might actually bother to even leaf though it.
Sure, these institutional grade literature might make you look smart but what is that worth if you are not getting your message through?
I once met with a fund manager that was planning on publishing a wonderful brochure that contained a dozen compelling investment themes related to the sustainability of our world.
The brochure looked amazing but it would take more than a day to consume it.
These were long term themes that concern us all and they would make for a very compelling set of thematic episodes to keep their audience paying attention to them for months.
They just went ahead and published the 100+ page brochure and, in my opinion, squandered a huge opportunity.
Do the producers of Breaking Bad, House of cards or Cosmos release a 10 hour long feature film?
Off course not. Instead they structure it to get their audience hooked with anticipation. That is what I am talking about!
It is not because every now and then a prospect asks you for your pitch deck that everyone else is also jumping up and down to read it. In fact, asking for pitch decks is usually nothing more than another routine in building a formal due diligence audit trail.
As previously mentioned, structuring your story as an online series is to Business Development what Farming was to Hunter-Gatherers. Read that last sentence again and give it some serious thought.
The thing is that progress really accelerated when our ancestors became more sedentary, focused and more efficient and had more time for other things than mere survival.
This is when we started developing new tools to further leverage our farming, we started to understand the concept of yield and scale.
Our increased productivity created wealth which initiated trade which brought more knowledge, and so on.
You can keep going out into the wild for the occasional kill or you can breed livestock and grow crops to harvest. The choice is yours…
There’s another fascinating thing about running a well managed email list.
It allows you to monitor exactly who is paying attention to your content.
And because any decent email platform readily provides statistics on individual subscriber engagement, it doesn’t even require special technical abilities.
Its a bit like the shop keeper who gets to evaluate who is just browsing and who is down to buying. You’ve probably noticed that selling stuff on the street isn’t in very high regard when compared to offering your goods in fancy boutique.
Now apply that metaphor to the context of hunting prospects or farming opportunities.
If this makes any sense to you, I’d like to invite you to a free online crash course that I put together about how to create content and apply simple technology to tell stories that can help you attract more business and investors.
You can access the free course here