Be prepared and be genuine for business development success
While “business development” is a common term in our industry, some may view it as jargon taken from an executive MBA program; it may seem overwhelming and incomprehensible to folks who don’t do it every day. But business development specialist Alicia Zimmerman doesn’t see it that way. Her take on business development? It’s a method of forging sincere, long-term relationships, with business success as the positive outcome.
With many years of experience in the AEC industry, Alicia learned early on that connecting with people is her strength. This led to more of a Business Development role. “It was a natural transition as I was the initial point of contact at many networking events,” she explains, “I began researching clients and projects, calling and emailing to coordinate meetings and events with prospective clients.”
Timing and research are everything when contacting a potential client. “Before calling, know when budgets are finalized and RFPs are published,” suggests Alicia, “Research CIP projects, keep track of construction schedules. Be prepared for your discussion.”
There is also an element of internal communications; intuitively knowing who will work well together and linking common interests to connect the right people. “Getting to know my colleagues on a personal level allows me to know who our employees will connect with when I meet with potential clients.”
Client Relations IS Business Development
Alicia recognizes that business development is an intensive process, one that isn’t over when the project is won. “Building relationships is important, but maintaining relationships is crucial,” says Alicia. A sizeable portion of her work is devoted to managing relationships to help her accomplish a company’s goals. This includes following up with clients and making sure staff members are responding promptly to the clients’ needs.
This sometimes results in a client perception survey in order to get feedback on the work that is being done. This opens lines of communication between all parties. When you talk to someone, whether during a client survey or debriefing, and you realize they are frustrated it’s important to take the time to smooth it over, to make them feel like their concerns are valid. “When things aren’t going well, I need clients to know that I care nearly as much as they do. I actively listen and do whatever I can to smooth things out if there are bumps in the road.”
Finally, Alicia gives her top tips for making business development successful. “Gain trust. Be a good listener. Address the issues immediately by not just asking questions and moving on to the next; take the time to listen and respond. Be genuine in your approach and communication.”