Day 3 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 2, Collaboration

Monday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles.

Trust is paradoxical; as is the best approach to recessionary times.

Yesterday we offered ideas based on Trust Principle 1, Client Focus. Today we highlight Principle 2, Collaboration.

If trust is important to business development generally, it is particularly important in a recession. Collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles because:

Collaboration with existing clients cuts business development costs—selling to existing clients is far less expensive than selling new business.

Collaboration with others—including even competitors—offers scale economies.

Collaboration allows reconfiguration—of markets, production, services.

Most importantly, collaboration is inherently about relationships—and not about competition. In a recession, that’s the message you want to send—now is the time to strengthen relationships. You’ll reap the benefits later.

How to do it? Here are 14 ideas to prime the pump. Please: add your own. Let’s collaborate on generating a great list.

1. If you’re a consultant of any type: write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

2. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people–including those you used to think of as competitors. 

3. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of “where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?”

4. Answer the question the customer asked you: not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor–collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

5. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss “what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?” Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

6. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

7. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

8. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying “working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these.” Actions speak louder than words.

9. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.  

10. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

11. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

12. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

13. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

14. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople.  Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

There’s our list. How about you? In the spirit of collaboration, please add an idea of your own. We want to hear from you.

Day 2 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 1, Client Focus

Yesterday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles. Trust, we suggest, is paradoxical. That’s exactly how we must meet recessionary times.


Today we offer 22 specific ideas based on Principle 1, Client Focus: Focus on the Customer for the Customer’s Sake, Not Just the Seller’s Sake. 

Recessions drive us to self-centered fear; but they are simply the down cycle in a long-term relationship. Client focus shows dramatically that you are in business relationships for the duration, not just for while they’re convenient.

Our hope is to prime the pump with specific ideas.  Please add your own ideas, appropriate for your own organizations, in the comments. Let’s make this a resource for all.

1. You’re a staff strategist or a line marketer. You have one mandate: Focus. Downplay new lead generation– recessions are time to dance with the one who brung you. Good strategists know saying yes to one means saying “no” to others. Resist the temptation to go RFP-hunting. Let your #1 customers know who loves them, and show it.

2. You’re a financial planner. You fear client phone calls in a recession—they mean withdrawals. Do the opposite—call them. Give them life advice, like “next year is not the time to retire after all.” In times of fear, those who reach out to hear the pain are those who gain later.

3. You’re an accounting firm. It’s tax season. Everyone thinks you’re busy. Surprise them with a 2-3 hour clinic for your clients’ kids who are now college graduates on how to do their own taxes.

4. You’re a CPA firm. Offer to “spotlight” your client’s human interest / charity / goodwill story on your firm’s blog or newsletter.

5. You’re a restaurant owner. You know who your good customers are. Surprise them next visit by picking up the tab. Quietly. After the meal.

6. You sell insurance but don’t track your clients’ payment status because you already got the commission. Start tracking them now. In a recession no one wants unintentionally lapsed LTD or long term care policies.

7. You’re majority owner of a private company. Take off your shareholder hat and put on your investment hat. This is when you grow share by growing trust. Draw down on the shareholder account to invest in the employee, customer and supplier relationship accounts.

8. You provide tech support to home businesses. That green stuff about lowering electrical costs is a lot more interesting to customers than it was 6 months ago; bone up on it.

9. You’re a doctor, and recessions mean more scrambling for less insurance money. When you have good test results for a nervous patient, don’t wait for the next visit. Call and celebrate with the patient for a few minutes.

10. You’re a one-person consulting shop. Recessions drive changes in customer needs. Can your firm change on a dime to meet new client needs? Of course you can, you’re a one-person firm. Figure out what those new needs are, then go talk to the client.

11. You’re in corporate sales and your funnel has slowed to a crawl. Do your research, then offer your prospect three ideas that can reduce costs in the next quarter without any extra work.

12. You’re anyone. In a recession, customers are more worried and self-focused than usual. Go take that course on listening and empathy you’ve been putting off; it’s twice as important now, and you’ve no longer got the excuse of being too busy.

13. You’re a practice area head in a professional services firm; project or client relationship managers report to you. When was the last time you visited the top 3-4 clients? Go visit, with your client manager. Your agenda? “Just wanted to hear what’s new with you. Besides our own services, what can we do for you?" And don’t even think about charging the time.

14. Your customers are in retail (or chemicals; or telecom–whatever). Ask yourself what’s changed, new, and critical to them because of the recession. Now ask what you can do to help. (“Increase sales” and “cut price” don’t count). Then redesign your offerings.

(Example: for us, professional services firms are big clients. They are cutting back discretionary travel and training. The “obvious” answer is webinars. But as one client says, “There’s only so much webinar you can take stuck in your cubicle from 9 to 5. We’re being webinar-ed to death.” Our solution? The Onsite Offsite(TM). The best of offsites, minus the costs, but without the compromises of conventional one-way datapipe solutions).

15. You’re a consulting firm. Don’t succumb to the“hey, we’ve all got to pitch in here, can’t you lower your rate for us” argument. Pitch in, yes. Make strategic investments, yes. Re-tool your offerings, yes. But don’t lower your rates. It just says you had “padding” before. And an insolvent consultant is no help to clients.

16. You’re a law firm; offer a series of brown-bag talks given by partners on recession-relevant topics. Invite your existing clients.

17. You’re a development director for a charitable organization. Your donors are your customers. Instead of asking them for money, turn the tables; ask how a particular donor is affected by the recession. How can you add value to his or her life? With whom can you put them in touch?

18. You’re a systems firm. Your tech leaders need speaking training. Invite three clients to join so they can learn too.

19. After a long day at the office a longtime client contact calls to tell you he’s been laid off. You have to leave, but offer to speak later that night, to help out in any way you can.

20. Some of your customers sell to other customers of yours. Make introductions; then make more.

21. You’re an accounting firm. Hold topical lunchtime 60-minute phone calls for five of your medium-sized clients’ treasurers on recession-relevant topis. You run the logistics and line up the topics. And don’t wait until after tax season, they’re hurting now.

22. Just to practice Principle 1, Client Focus, go drop dimes in someone’s parking meter, or pay the toll for the guy behind you. It’s cheap behavioral training for client focus. And it makes two people feel good.

There you go; 22 ideas based on Principle 1, Customer focus.

What did you learn from other businesses that might work for your own?

Tune in tomorrow, when we list specific business development ideas for Principle 2, Collaboration. And please–add your own ideas in the comments section below.