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 .
If you are going to succeed in bizdev/corpdev/sales, you must process every word from the other party. Listen to what they are saying and see how it impacts what you are trying to sell them. Then ask follow up questions (whether or not they are on your checklist) that help you better understand what the other person is thinking, what they truly need, what their motivations are and how they could use your product or service or company.
If you have listened and processed what the other party has said, you should then put yourself in their shoes. If you were them, what would you be thinking of the opportunity being presented? What would you want to know? How would you like to be sold to? Again, there is not a checklist of questions but try to put yourself in the other person’s position and understand what they are thinking and what they need. Then, if you can provide that service/product/company, provide the information you would want provided to you.
PowerPoint presentations are a sales killer
If listening with empathy is the key to success, PowerPoints and other slide presentations are the key to failure. I have also seen that this is an increasingly large problem with business development.
The core of the problem is that PowerPoints are about you talking or directing the conversation, not listening to the other party. You are telling them why the opportunity is great without knowing what great means to the other party. The sales / development process needs to be a conversation; you need to understand their motivations and concerns and then discuss how your product or company solves those issues.
A PowerPoint is a guess at what the other party wants. It inhibits you from actually getting the information, because you are talking and presenting when the other person should be talking. It also is often a deal killer, because it is a guess. If you guessed wrong you are often creating the objections that will end up killing your deal.
Slide presentations are ultimately a crutch for people who do not—or cannot—listen and empathize. Rather than exert the mental effort to listen, process and empathize, you can create a deck in the privacy of your office and then just read from a script. You do not think about what the other person is saying, and are transferring the sales process to a static document. It is also a defense mechanism for many: If the deal does not go through, blame the presentation.
Even if you must do a slide presentation (or feel like you must), minimize its impact on your sales meeting or call. Start with a conversation before presenting a PowerPoint. Keep the presentation as short as possible, both in the number of slides and the density of the slides. The less on the presentation, the more you have to discuss. The key is to make the PowerPoint as insignificant as possible.
Sales is not about tricks
One thing that really bothers me is how sales people are always looking for tricks to close deals. These tricks may work once or even twice, but they do not create long-term success. You may occasionally be able to sell a used car to someone but you will not be able to sell your messaging app to Facebook by attending a sales seminar with 20,000 others (I would argue you will not even be that successful selling cars).
It is also not about taking advantage of the person on the other side of the table. Real business is about working with the same partners year after year, position after position. When you trick people into making deals, or take advantage of them, not only you will never do another deal with them, but you will also probably have to avoid them on the street and at trade shows. The most successful businessmen are the ones have partners, investors and suppliers they can go back to repeatedly.
Listening applies to all sales
As I have alluded to in this post, listening, processing and empathizing applies to any type of sales. Most of my sales experience would be classified as business development in a B2B environment. If you are selling to end users, however, in a B2C business, these same principles are the key to success. Listening to your customers is how you create a great product (by great, something they really want) and market it effectively. It is also how you sell or buy a company, by understanding what the investor or acquirer is looking for.
It is not difficult to be great
Again, it is very simple to sell effectively, listen to what the other party says, put yourself in their position and then see how your product fits with their needs (and if it does not, do not try to sell to them).
- Being successful in business development, corporate development or any type of sales is simple; you do not need to read 50 books or attend 5 seminars.
- The key is listening to the other party, understanding and processing what they say and putting yourself in their position.
- PowerPoint presentations are a huge blocker to sales success. Even if you have to do one, minimize it and make it a minor part of your discussion.