Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston
Often, in our hurry for shortcuts and easy ways to success we ignore the basic routes – the ones that will get us there but that also need us to cover some distance first.
That happens all the time, to me anyway, when it comes to business development – which is not the same as sales.
Instead, it’s what you do to make your business better, which includes getting better clients.
Maybe even more of them.
As I was reminded recently it all starts with research – but what does that mean and how can you do it more effectively?
The model in the picture above is a five-step process that I find works for me – but that I also often need to remind myself to follow.
1. Start by designing a filter
The main choice we have to make these days is not what to include but what to leave out.
It’s easy to want to be seen as someone that can do everything but that simply means you also need to know about everyone.
And, as that’s impossible it makes sense to filter the universe out there and focus on only those prospects that have a need for your services.
That filter may be a simple one that first restricts by sectors then by companies and then by people.
You might choose, for example, to focus on the oil and gas sector, the companies with a turnover of over a billion and the Technical Manager for pipes.
2. Gather information
This step is often missed out or carried out in a way that isn’t systematic or repeatable.
The irony is that with so much information around us we do a quick search for a company, read a few pages and then try and get in touch with someone.
But, if you take the time to read about the company, what it’s doing, what its finances look like and what’s being published in the news then you get a much richer picture of what’s going on.
You can’t do that in your head – you need tools.
For example, this where things like Evernote or OneNote come in or, if you like open source, something that information security professionals use like Basket Note Pads or Dradis.
3. Look for common ground
Now, with your material you can read – and look for people and what you have in common.
The point of this is not to be stalkerish but to be curious – to take the time to understand what is out there so that when you reach out you don’t waste someone else’s time.
All too often you get connections on social media that are designed to test if you react at all – and then to follow up with a series of messages.
Which probably works for people – and they make their numbers but more people must get annoyed at the approach than those that welcome it.
If you want to build a business relationship with someone new it makes sense to keep it ethical – because otherwise you’re starting it in the wrong way.
If you take the time to understand where someone is from what is publicly available and craft a message that is based around common goals and values you’ll probably do better – in terms of quality contacts anyway.
4. Seek to understand and educate
Children don’t go happily to someone new, they find someone to hide behind, peeping out warily.
That sense of being wary never leaves most of us. We’re not interested in what you’re offering – we’re just looking at that first step and seeing if we’re brave enough to take it.
So that means you’re a way away from making a sale – instead your approach should be designed to understand and educate the person you want to work with over time.
And that probably means slowing down – not pitching and selling right away.
That can be hard if it’s what you feel like you should do but it might be easier when you think of it as having to go up a number of steps before you reach the point where you can do a deal.
5. Study the results
Studying organisations and people is a matter of looking and learning.
Yes you may want to be data driven and formal but in many service businesses what matters is the one to one exchange you have with others.
But whether its data or whether its a reflection on how your last pass through the process loop went, the point is to look and learn.
Did your filter work effectively?
Did you get enough information – was there something you missed that might have helped with a conversation later on?
Are people responding to you – are you showing that there is enough common value for them to take that first step?
And then are they taking the next one, and the next one after that.
Do the basics well – even though it’s hard
The fact is that many of us would much rather be busy doing work than working on systems or improving our own approaches.
As the saying goes, however, you don’t rise to the level of your expectations – you fall to the level of your training.
It’s easy to skip any one of these steps and try and go straight to a hard close.
But by taking your time you’ll build a better business – one that works for you and helps you eventually meet your expectations.
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