Surviving a downturn

When doom, gloom and despondency reigns, organisations always seem to fall back on the inevitable response to make cuts. No surprise here. Thus the growing number of stories we’re all hearing about staff cuts, budget cuts and training and development cuts.

And yet, at the same time there is currently an astounding growth in job advertising for ‘business development’ executives in all shapes and sizes. It’s a stereotypical and oh-so predictable response to the tough times that lie ahead.

During my last 20+ years as a coach and mentor, I’ve experienced three or four cycles of ups and downs. And in each of them, employers have done their bit to boost the recruitment industry in a vain and often meaningless search for these magical business development geniuses with the Midas touch, who will single-handedly transform a struggling business into a successful one.

But why do organisations fall back on the same pattern every time there’s a downturn? For the same reason that we play the lottery, I guess. If you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t possibly win.

But just like the lottery, the chances of landing a winning ticket are pretty slim, too. Not that this is going to stop millions buying tickets or employers thinking that as long as there’s a chance, it’s worth the gamble, however slim the chances of success.

Let’s face it, business development is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a clear and definable skill which has its roots firmly planted in one-to-one relationship building. Yet, so misunderstood is it and so misaligned has it become over the years, that the role has become synonymous with something which sits in a twilight zone between sales and marketing.

Often it requires an incumbent to make repeated and unsolicited calls to leads and potential customers – the ultimate door-knocker, if you will. Alternatively, businesses which err towards a marketing bent often swamp leads or potential customers with so much useless and confusing collateral, that they barely know what it is they are being asked to consider.

Both approaches towards business development are about as useless as baling water out of the Titanic with a saucepan.

So, is there a better way ?

Yes, there is, and it’s one which is guaranteed to give every business the best possible chance of surviving and beating a downturn.

Firstly, recognise that business development is a clearly defined skill, with purpose, clarity and definition. Secondly, view it as a long-term sustainable investment, which, over time, will deliver a steady and ever-improving return.

Recruit and develop people who are the most natural and gifted relationship-builders – from whatever background – and set them to work on forging long-term ‘trusted partner’ status with your key existing and target potential clients.

Give them the freedom to operate outside restrictive targets and work practices and reward them on their skill and ability in maintaining an ongoing dialogue with their clients.

It’s this dialogue which is key to sustainability and which, ultimately, propels them and the business into trusted partner status.

The most successful business developers don’t actually sell anything; they don’t need to, because their clients are only too happy to buy from them, as and when the opportunity arises. And what’s even better, is that they continue to buy, again and again and again.

Just as long as there’s trust, there will always be a return. It may not be immediate and it may not scoop the jackpot, but it will be consistent and reliable.

What value this level of consistency and reliability in the current economic climate? However, just like any solid and worthwhile investment, it requires time, patience and good judgement, which might well be a better bet than a weekly punt on the lottery.

©Charles Helliwell, Business Personality Audits, 2012

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About Charles Helliwell

I am a Business Performance Trouble-shooter. I'm a fixer of people and work with individuals and teams to improve their performance and productivity by optimising their individual preferences and potential. I have worked for 20 years as a coach, mentor, facilitator, mediator, speaker and trainer and has written for the Telegraph Business, CIPD, People Management, Jobsite and Management-Issues
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