When pitching a reporter, it can take 2 or 3 tries before you get through. Even then, a pre-existing relationship might help you get your email opened over someone else's. Sitting down with business consultant Cecelia Lu, it turns out we aren’t the only ones knocking on people’s doors (metaphorically of course).
You make a contact or two, send them a friendly message -- but there’s no reply. Five follow ups later, and it’s a maybe. After the 9th conversation, you’ve got a meeting. It might sound outrageous, but that’s a win for a business development pro.
There’s a lot in common between public relations and business development. We get into some brass tacks tactics of business development with Cecilia Lu, a
business consultant in Vancouver BC. From landing Electronic Arts as a client, to judging through the eyes of her colleagues, Cecelia tells us how to do business development -- like a boss.
What’s one of the biggest challenges companies face when it comes to business development?
In tech companies, and startups of all sizes, what you usually lack is resources and time. It’s no surprise that sometimes you have a list of 100 things to do. The first thing on your list when it comes to business development and sales, is that you have to make a persistent effort. You do it once, and it probably won’t stick. You don’t have to get it 100% right the first time, just as long as you’re not an asshole.
What you do need to do is start being proactive and getting in front of the people you’re going to be talking to -- the prospective customers. If you’re a startup and you’ve got some great case studies, take a closer look at what has made your service or product successful in the past. What key moments can you pull out? Those nuggets will help shape the sort of business you want to go after in the future.
Reflecting on past wins can give you the key to future success -- but take a look at your failures too. What approach did you try that didn’t pan out? Have different platforms served you better than others?
Similar to when you are pitching reporters and finding the best outlets for your story, it’s often about getting in front of the right people.
If you’re pitching a new healthtech startup to Entertainment Weekly, you’re not going to get very far. Think about what outlets have responded well to different pitches in the past. Which reporters are best for covering specific topics?
What’s the first step to take when improving or starting out your business development strategy?
The first step is to talk about prospecting - so basically, how do you find all these businesses? In today’s age it’s actually a lot easier. I remember a while ago I was actually relying on the Yellow Page because a lot of people didn’t have access to email! It depends on your industry, but if you’re talking about tech, a lot of clients can be found online or through LinkedIn. Know who to approach, and which departments can help influence a sale.
There are lists out there that you can purchase, to cut down on the time you spend searching through databases. Usually they're a little more expensive than I like and they're usually out of date -- because in tech, and in other industries, people move on.
If you're getting to the point where you're scraping data and it's becoming a trial, look specifically at where you're targeting. If your target market is everyone, then it’s gonna slow you down. So if your target market is quite broad, try to break it down by the type of company. Look at a different vertical. Say this week you tackle the oil and gas industry and see how they’re coping with COVID-19. Having a targeted market each week or month will help you learn a lot more about that industry to then help you realize whether or not you want to pursue that industry at that particular moment.
Once you’ve defined your target market, the next steps are to successfully engage with them, and turn those opportunities into clients. BD, sales, and PR have this in common: selecting your market is the first step, but understanding your targeted audience is just as important.
Knowing how that industry is changing and developing, and what news has recently come up in that arena, can help tailor your communications. When reaching out to a journalist, or speaking to a client, having an awareness of their niche is key for getting the right story, in the right place, with the most effective and appropriate messaging.
Could you give us an example of a success story?
Everyone wants to land that big fish, that enterprise-level client -- so I’d love to tell you a bit about how I landed Electronic Arts.
Electronic Arts was on my hit list, especially since we were right in their backyard. I didn’t have a prospecting list so I started googling all the different departments at EA and trying to figure out the lay of the land -- who were the senior VPs, what kind of management was there, that kind of thing. It’s standard for different departments in a large organisation not to talk to each other, so understanding who the decision-makers were and who I needed to influence took up a lot of that early stage prospecting.
I like to start at the top, usually engaging with c-suite or VP level employees. Once you have their attention and you’re able to make your pitch, it just makes the buy-in so much easier. Over the next few months I was pounding the pavement, cold-calling, cold-emailing, attending every single event that EA put on or sponsoring, and basically making all these connections at the organisation. Within a few months I had landed a meeting with a senior VP in communications, had 15 minutes to do my spiel, and I convinced them that I was a worthy vendor to look at. That led to further introductions to their facilities and outreach departments.
Unbeknownst to me, because of the work that I had been doing, the two managers of those departments had already heard about us and earmarked us as a potential company to explore for some upcoming marketing initiatives. I went in with a few creative leads, painted the picture of what they wanted, and handled it through all the way to negotiation, contract signing, and final project delivery.
But don’t put all your eggs in one basket; if you think that you’ve found the ideal client and you work yourself into a corner, what happens if the client doesn’t sign in time? That’s why I think prospecting and funding a list of people, even if it’s 20 people, that you want to talk to is so important.
You probably need to reach out 7-8 times before you get that person to respond and engage, so be persistent until you get a ‘no’. Even then I think that every ‘no’ that I get is a ‘maybe later’.
Similar to pitching an idea to a reporter, it can take multiple tries before you get a positive outcome. Having a pre-existing relationship or rapport with a reporter though, can get a few extra seconds of attention. Ex Editor-in-chief at the Daily Hive Farhan Mohamed, reminded us that it could be as simple as connecting with a reporter on social media and engaging -- a simple way of building recognition that pays off in the long run.
Having multiple touchpoints, such as email, phone, and attending events or other meetings, can create a more rounded perspective of you in a prospects mind, eventually leading to success. Find a foot in, and build up from there.
It seems like there’s diminishing returns with how much time you spent documenting a relationship on a CRM or otherwise, versus actually getting results...
I think it depends on how big your sales team is. If you’re the only one doing business development at your company, you have to just keep it straight in your head. A CRM is going to be of limited use because it’s going to take too much time for you to put stuff in there, for it to be useful.
I would recommend having it somewhere though, whether it’s a spreadsheet or even a paper list that sits on your desktop -- just because when you have those names in front of you every single day, you’re more likely to do something with them. Once you’ve gotten those things down, you’ll start to think about what your pitch is, and how you’re going to engage with them.
If it’s a sales team that has a manager, a sales development rep and an account executive, or any more than that, you then owe it to yourself to look at at least a simple CRM. The rule of thumb there is that, what if one of the sales people was hit by a bus tomorrow? Would anyone else be able to pick up and continue the conversation, or would you be scrambling?
At that early level you’re not looking at analytics too much. It’s good to just keep some kind of a record to understand how many people that you contact get back to you. It’s a great way to see how you improve.
There’s a lot of no’s and maybe’s from leads - how do you keep yourself motivated to keep at it, day after day?
I find that if I have a basic goal for myself, I’m not that motivated. Whereas if I set a goal and I have other people checking on me and relying on me, that’s when it starts to click. Although I have high expectations for myself, I have even higher expectations for how I look to other people. Have someone to keep you accountable.
Especially in tech, the objection sometimes isn’t the ‘no’ -- it’s that things are going too well. For example, if I’m in a pitch and I’m talking about all the great features and benefits and there’s not a single question or any confusion, I know that they’ve checked out. Listening to what your potential customer is telling you as opposed to selling it hard.
As the old adage goes -- listen to understand, not to respond. You might want to sound smart, but taking a moment to think after has spoken as opposed to during, may be most effective.
If you’re concerned about forgetting a point that’s popped into your mind during a conversation, take notes. As an agency with multiple clients, we find that having a weekly agenda for each client, and keeping ‘raw notes’ for every pitch and conversation we have, helps us stay informed and remember key details for future content.
Is there anything you want to add to help those starting out in business development?
One resource I think would help a lot of people out, especially if you’re just starting out, is a website called Sales Impact Academy. I’m not affiliated in any way, but they do have some good courses on demand. So if you’re thinking about how to start, they have three modules up there that can help you understand how to build a sales team -- there’s a go to market module, there’s a demand generation module, and there’s an outbound prospecting module. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a guide, but of course don’t take it as the golden rule -- especially in these times.
Many industries have been turned inside out by this pandemic, so any training, old pitches and approaches once used, may need to be adapted for this ‘new normal’.
Taking the time to reflect on past material and knowledge, and combine it with present day circumstances can be informative and give you the edge when approaching prospective clients and media. Ask yourself with every piece of content: why is this relevant today? How do you pitch reporters during a pandemic?
Quality prospects can be hard to find, and even harder to nail down. If you’re struggling to find key contacts to get yourself in the news, contact a tech PR agency that gets results.