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Why You Need a Business Development Culture

22nd October 2018 | Alex Moyle

You put the phone down from a call with a loyal client who has just said "we love you, but we have been approached by one of your competitors and they are willing to charge less. What can you do?"

You have a choice: do you charge less to retain your client, or do you have faith in your ability to find a replacement client who is willing to pay the amount you charge?

This would not be a hard choice if it wasn’t for the fact that this quarter you have lost business to clients who are in-sourcing their service and another who outsourced to a third-party company.

You look at your new client pipeline and it looks light.

You review what the sales team have been doing. They seem to be working hard, doing the same things as they have done in previous years. However, they are also telling you that smaller competitors are pitching lower cost solutions, and the fact that some companies are looking to insource their function is just some of the objection they receive. They are also finding that by the time clients are willing to speak, they are often already a significant way down the buying process.

This scenario is being replicated across thousands of businesses every day. Commoditization is transforming how companies buy services and products; technology is enabling companies to automate or insource previously high-value services such as digital marketing. Alternative service providers are unpacking traditional services, taking out aspects of a service that clients no longer value (e.g. recruiters interviewing candidates), charging less and consequently stealing market share.

The solution? Not to crack the whip on the sales team, but instead, to change your approach to winning, retaining and expanding clients.

The change is moving from a sales culture where responsibility for sales sits purely with the sales team, to a business development culture where responsibility for sales sits with everyone in the organization. 

When companies have a strong business development culture, everyone in the organization knows they have a role in the company's sales success. Customer services learn that they have a role in retaining clients, but also finding upsell opportunities. Individuals that spend time on clients’ sites are a key part of identifying upsell opportunities, learning what clients really think of your service and feeding that back to the product teams.  

The challenge in transitioning from a sales culture to a business development culture is how you successfully engage every employee to change how they see their role in the organization.  

The key challenges companies need to overcome to build a business development culture:

1. Dirty Sales

For many people, ‘sales’ is a dirty word, so when a non-sales person is asked to be part of the sales process it can evoke strong emotions. These emotions can range from disgust, to fear that they are going to have to become pushy and make people buy things. Now, good salespeople know that being pushy and forcing sales is a bad thing to do, but the reality is that sales have had bad PR for a long time, which will take time to overcome. 

2. Sales Silo

In many organizations, the sales team does not help other departments to want to collaborate with them. Their demeanour is often one of the "rainmaker”, who brings sustenance to the lowly populace. This does little to motivate the wider organization in helping them to succeed.

3. Collaboration

When everyone takes on the responsibility for sales, collaboration becomes ever more important, yet collaboration can be significantly impacted by inter-silo/team friction. The challenge is that although executives can mandate that everyone collaborate in sales, contributing to the sales process is a "discretionary" activity that falls outside their daily responsibilities.

Unfortunately, there is no quick and simple solution to this. Change depends on individuals in the organization wanting to change how they work day-to-day, which means leaders need to inspire those in their teams to want that change.

In my book, Business Development Culture, I cover many different approaches that leaders can take to overcome these challenges. However, if you were to do just one thing today, my suggestion would be to re-align your company goals with the benefits that you bring to your customers.   

One of the reasons many people see sales as a dirty word is that they see the process as forcing people to buy something they do not want to need. Re-aligning your company goals with the true benefit you bring your customers, is the first step to getting individuals to see that growing sales and helping customers is the same thing. I often say to non-sales people, "if you had the cure for a major disease, would you have a problem with calling people to tell them about your cure?" the answer, of course, is "no". 

Why is this? Belief. Belief can totally change the way you see something. Any salesperson knows that if you do not believe in what you are selling then the job becomes far harder emotionally than if you do.

Phil Knight, Founder of Nike, describes in his book Shoe Dog, a situation where he had despised selling encyclopaedias and dreaded selling mutual funds but was strangely passionate about selling shoes. He wrote, ‘So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realised that, it wasn't selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day the world would be a better place."

So, if you need some more sales to replace the ones that commoditization is taking from you, do not start with fixing your sales team, but by engaging your whole organization in wanting to become part of its business development culture. 


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