Business Development 101

Building lasting relationships.

A business development professional must have four qualities: a high standard for ethics, an amazing ability to forecast and carry out plans, impeccable manners, and plenty of empathy. Kindness to others along with appreciation for what people have done often develops long-lasting friendships and loyalty.

A person can be a tough negotiator and still be fair and say thank you. The two are not mutually exclusive. Probably no other part of business development is more important than building lasting relationships. Caring about others in a totally genuine way comes from true leaders. People who insist on giving more than they get constantly receive more than they ever anticipated.

There are several different ways to look at appreciation. For instance, most humans like to be recognized. When a person receives a congratulatory note or a sincere compliment, it can change their entire day. After any meeting, a note should go out repeating some thought that had been discussed, as well as a thank you for the other person’s time. Time is a gift that should always have value. Recognizing people’s willingness to share their time and not taking them for granted shows respect.

The value of handwritten thank you notes cannot be over emphasized. In today’s electronic-centered world, a handwritten thought on excellent stationary with a stamp that corresponds to the writer’s personality makes a statement.

E-mails can appear impersonal and uncaring and are often misunderstood; a direct call develops a stronger relationship and gets the same response as a hand written note. When calling a client, always ask if they have time to speak or if the call is interrupting anything before beginning the conversation. Write down the conversation afterward in a CRM that is open and available to the entire company.

In fact, any correspondence or meeting should go into the database. Memories fade, and it’s easy to forget where everyone’s child goes to college or what kind of dog they might own. In addition to revitalizing recall before going to an event or meeting with a client, having a central place to store information prevents awkward moments where two people from the same firm call a client at the same time about the same issue. Clients prefer to work with organizations that function well in a collegial manner and appear to make good use of their time. They also really like people who remember details about them. Practice asking people about their hobbies, as well as the projects they’re currently developing.

Appreciation can also take the form of client gifts, and in the deep recession of today—when so few companies have any spare marketing dollars—a personally delivered gift will get noticed. The old phrase that people like to do business with winners still holds true, and a well-presented gift says a company cares.

A modest and practical gift like a great book, a fabulous bottle of olive oil or a telescope will be remembered longer than chocolates during the holidays. Pick odd reasons to celebrate outside of regular holidays. This plan allows a gift to stand out, and there’s more time to devote to the effort. Make sure every single gift gets its own handwritten note, and try to go through the database to make the notes personal.

Using real stamps and the time to hand deliver a gift, not to mention the cost of the purchase and all of the work associated with the effort to package it, seems excessive when employees haven’t received bonuses. The reality is that the company that stays closely aligned with clients during hard times and that appears to be doing well will be recognized and remembered when the recession finally comes to an end. Business development must be conducted especially well during the worst of times in order to gain market share in the best of times.

Marilynn Deane Mendell is the president of WinSpin CIC Inc., a marketing and change management consulting business in the Washington, D.C. region. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University where she teaches Business Development for Residential and Commercial Real Estate.