In this post, I want to share what I consider the key to being successful in business development and corporate development. Sales has probably generated more books, conferences, motivational speakers, etc., than any other business topic. While some provide useful tidbits, many are a waste of time, and success is much simpler than they make it out to be.
First, I want to provide some background on why you should listen to me about sales, business development (bizdev) and corporate development (corpdev). I have been doing bizdev and corpdev for over 20 years (since 1993), have been self-taught and have had some success. I have been part of the executive team that sold three companies for a total value of over $650 million, including initiating and leading the negotiations on one of the deals. I have arranged over 200 licensing deals, including when I was at a principal in a very small publisher and was still able to consummate deals with companies like Paramount, National Geographic, Starz, A+E, CAA and many others. In fact, a few years ago in my cover letters I used to liken my bizdev acumen to Michael Jordan’s basketball talent (I was more arrogant in those days).
I am not writing to brag about what I have done (please don’t take it that way) but because the process is not as difficult as many “sales professionals” make it out to be. It all comes down to truly listening to the person on the other side of the negotiations and empathizing with that person. Both the listening and the emphasizing are crucial, and that is where many people fail.
Let’s start with listening. Almost everyone has heard and knows that an effective sales person has to listen, but funny thing is about 75 percent of those I run into actually do. Most people, including (and maybe largely) salespeople like to hear themselves talk. They may be talking about how great their product or service is, they may be talking about what they did on Saturday night, they may be talking about who they think will win the World Cup, but most sales people prefer to talk. Rather than thinking about how you sell, think about the sales people you have come across and I will bet you agree with my 75-percent-plus estimation.
The extension of this problem is asking a lot of canned questions but not listening to the answers. Even if you overcome your desire to talk, it is not sufficient to get the other party to spend the bulk of the meeting or call talking. Many bizdev professionals have a checklist of questions they will ask to a potential partner (or have acquired a checklist from one of the many aforementioned books or seminars). They may write down the response but they do not actually process the information, which is the key to really listening . Continue reading “How to sell”