Tag Archives: Business Development

What great questions have you got?

My son, like many children, had his birthday around the cutoff date for entry into Primary school. So my wife and I had a choice “do we send him a little earlier, or a little late.  My position on the matter was “Give me one good reason we should hold him back”. And we couldn’t come up with one.

I then read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers which discussed, amongst other things, the correlation between careers as a professional sportsman and birthdates. When I changed the question to “Why would I deliberately make him the smallest, youngest boy in the class?” the answer was obvious.

I realised the truth in the old adage – its not the answer that matters but the question.

Recently I cam across a quote by Henry Ford, which I will come to later, which reminded me how important the question is. So I thought I’d share with you some of the great questions I have come across in start-up and innovative  environments.

1. What would an extraordinary life look like to you?
I find that this question really focuses people on what’s important to them. Nobody chooses a mundane life, it just kind of happens whilst you are busy. For my wife and I its a continuing conversation as its the question that shapes both long term and short term goals.  I also find that it helps founders dream large and set the course for their business.

2. What exactly are you getting out of this?
I love this question.  My friend Fiona Boyd of Collectzing asks this question all the time as not only does it give her insight into other people’s motivations – it also uncovers a whole heap of attributes around the situation that you haven’t considered.   For instance I never would have picked that a slightly complex programme for an international business development visit I have just worked out with a client, was actually all about them making time to catch up with a sibling  that they haven’t seen for years.  It was actually the most important part of the trip for them.

3. Has money actually been spent to solve this problem?
What most aspiring entrepreneurs don’t seem to get is that just because you have a great idea, its not a great business idea unless it has potential customers. The quickest way to figure out whether people will buy your solution is to ask whether they are currently paying money to try and solve this problem in another way. And its not just aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t get it either.  A vast number of Research Agencies (funded by you and me) have IP portfolio’s of solutions nobody actually wants to pay money for. I pretty much see solutions falling into one of 3 categories, of which only the last category makes me happy.

  • Solutions without problems :(
  • Solutions solving a problem :(
  • Solutions solving problems that people will pay real money to fix :)

4. How well does this solve your problem?

This is the Henry Ford question and the basis of being balancing customer focus with innovation based advantage.  If Henry Ford has asked his customers what they wanted – the answer was going to be “faster horses”.  His competitors could also get exactly the same answers and they would all fight it out in the arena of diminishing margins.  But by coming up with innovative solutions, then asking “how well does this solve your problem”, he got to satisfy his customers plus reap the profits of innovation based competitive advantage , or, “he got rich selling factory produced cars, when no one else was doing it”.

So spending time thinking about and refining the questions you need to ask , is time well invested.   The questions determine the answers and choose the direction you take without even being aware of it.

What great questions have you got?

Networking and Names

When I gave up the darts after 15 or so years as a smoker, it was really hard for me. I tried a whole lot of systems but they all failed. Then it occurred to me that the only thing the systems had in common were that they were systems, and hence I had something to lay blame on when I failed. I then decided to go cold turkey so I could only blame myself if I failed. Surprise, surprise it worked – as I couldn’t bare to think of myself as too weak willed to give up smoking. This “me making the change” rather than using a system is now a recurring theme in my life.

So last weekend I had two different people asked me “how come you know so many people and how do you remember all the names?”   The answer, which sounded a little disingenuous was that I had become genuinely interested in people and actively try to meet new people.  What I discovered was that if you are genuinely interested in people, their story, their ambitions and their personal circumstances, its incredibly easy to remember their name as you’ve got to know them, not categorised them in you head.

As I mentioned last blog, I don’t care wheter someone is a CEO or a cleaner.  When I meet someone new, I focus on them.  Where they came from, where they are going, and who is with them on the journey.  Conversation is never difficult as everyone loves to talk about themselves and are generally subject matter experts.    I don’t have a flowchart running in my head, asking the question “Are they an opportunity? – Yes / No”.  There is only a small chance that they are an opportunity, but what’s almost certain is that they will have opportunities for me within their own network and if I have mindshare with them, I communicate my needs clearly and they have goodwill towards me – they will bring those opportunities to my attention.

I also discovered four other things about meeting and remembering the names and circumstances of a large number of people:

  1. Like most things in life it becomes easier and easier with practice until eventually you have unconscious competence.
  2. Its just as easy to remember 1,500 people as it is 15, if you actually know the person.
  3. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you can help out members of your netowrk and generate good will by introducing people.
  4. Its much better way to live your life, to connect with people rather than going hunting

I know that sounds a bit trite but it makes me enjoy my career and selling rather than just playing a role.  Really what could be more interesting that spending your life getting to know, understand and help other people.

Expanding your Network

Last blog I talked about the best Business Development people I know being great networkers, so I thought I’d talk a bit more this week about expanding your network.

Despite Social Networking being all the rage :  LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook.  I am not very keen on connecting to people I haven’t met.  There is a concept called being a an Open Networker.  This is about making connections via social networks to as many people as you can (tens or hundreds of thousands) – LinkedIn’s version of this is called being a LION.   I see the whole thing as being pointless in that the number of records in a database somewhere that refer to me has little if no impact on me and calling them “friends” is just plain silly if you don’t know or care about these people.   I am however a big user of these social networks though as they allow me to be efficient communicating with the people I already know plus exposing me to new and interesting people to meet.

But when expanding my network, there is a number of things I like to do.  I tend to think they are obvious, but I have been assured that they are not as people to get stuck into ruts. Stuff that I like includes:

  • Going to functions in my industry where I can gain knowledge (networking only is soulless).   I note that if this is your thing, then get yourself on the committee running the show as you are guaranteed to meet more people, interesting people and  its a great credibility thing to do.  Just remember though you are more likely to network with the same competitors, over and over again.
  • Going to functions where potential clients will go – I vastly prefer to do this than hang out with competitors.
  • Going to functions that pique my interest – Its easy to develop a relationship with people when you are both passionate about the same thing.
  • Arranging functions to discuss issues that I find of interest – Nothing better than a good discussion dinner with people you barely know and lots of wine to flesh out some issues.  I have spoken about this in previous blogs.
  • Getting involved in volunteer work – You’d be surprised who you run into.  For me I do a lot of work volunteering at my children’s school and have been surprised about the number of truely interesting people I have met, digging mcuk out of drains with me.
  • Speaking to strangers – I jsut can’t let an opportunity in an elevator go by.  If nothing lese it helps you get over the jitters of speaking to a stranger.

My rule of thumb when meeting new people is that 95% of them are probably feeling conflicted – afraid of speaking to strangers, but desperately wanting to meet new people.  Groups of people chatting are generally jsut groups of the same whom are massively relieved they don’t have to start a new conversation with a stranger.  Therefore when I say “hi” to someone new – they are probably really happy I did just that.

So by now you probably thinking “you need to be a bit discerning though – you don’t want to meet just anyone”.   Unfortunately, I disagree and would like to give you some recent(ish) examples.

  • I have been dismissed by a politician as she though becuase of the circumstances of our meeting,  her party had my vote and my donation. Turns out that they only had my donation.
  • I have chatted to housewives who turned out to have been previously a Director of public companies with workforces of over 10,000 – who decided to take a couple of years off to spend quality tim with her small children, but was really still well connected.
  • I have chatted to cleaners who have given me free tickets to sporting events where their cousin was playing.

The thing is that it turns out that everyone in your network has value, either directly or through their own networks.  but more on this next week.

Networking Numbers

I was thinking the other day about two guys I knew that were really good at generating new business.  Earlier in the day I had dismissed both of them with the comment – “they are only selling into their existing networks”.  but at my afternoon coffee, I wondered whether I had thrown the “baby out with the bathwater”.

Mulling over the situation, I realised three things.
1.    They found selling easy because generally their clients were buying off a mate.
2.    They had very large networks that they maintained through regularly communications and catch ups (they never ate breakfast or lunch alone).   These catch ups and communications never appeared mechanical or insincere.
3.    They actively sought opportunities to grow their network.

I also started to think of the mathematics of what was happening.

For those who have read my work before, you would now that I regularly assert that only about 5% of your network has opportunity for you, and the average person has a network of around 150 people.  This means that the average network has around 7.5 opportunities.  Which explains to me why the vast majority of IT services firms I meet go down the gurgular after about two years  – as they don’t market themselves, instead asserting that “people just know how good we are, so we get lots of work.”  In truth, over the course of 2-3 years these firms soak up the opportunities within their network, plus a couple of referrals, never noticing they were accessing a finite resource.

If however these firms expanded their networks – 10 fold is the target that Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson  likes, so that their network was 1,500 rather than 150 – they would have 75 opportunities in their network instead.

Or, if these people “activated” their networks so that they had mind share with everyone in their network – as well as goodwill and a clear message about what opportunities looked like to them –  then their opportunities could explode exponentially.  If every member of your 150 person network was also looking for opportunities for you and they each had around 150 people  – you could have access to upto 1,125 opportunities.

So next week – How to expand your network.

the other networking

This morning I got a message from my niece on Facebook, two messages from colleagues on Linkedin , 1 SMS messages and a couple of dozen emails.  Which got me thinking about networking.  I use social networking tools LinkedIn and Facebook regularly (not heavily) but probably not the way most people think.  I tend to feel that social networking via computer isn’t the be all and end all, in fact quite the reverse.

There is an expression in the Army,
A smart soldier …
doesn’t stand when he can sit,
doesn’t sit when he can lie down,
doesn’t lie down when he can sleep.
(This makes lots of sense when you are finishing up a 22 hour day).

My approach to networking is similar.  In fact I might say:

“Brendan …
Doesn’t broadcast when he can send a personalised message
Doesn’t send a personalised message when he can call
Doesn’t call when he can catch up for coffee”

A major objective of business networking is to generate opportunities.  And opportunities are much more likely to come from a personal relationship.  Because if they’re not thinking of you, they’re not thinking of you.  Therefore I would much rather meet face to face with people over coffee than try to connect online.  Emoticons aren’t the same as body language :)

Gen Y may love tools like MySpace, Facebook and SMS but it appears that most still only have a relationship with an inner circle of friends (those they meet offline), despite the fact that they may be connected to thousands.   I feel that if they think Social networking is the only way to network, that’s great for me.  I have much less competition when I want to meet somebody new :)

So why do I use LinkedIn and Facebook?  A couple of reasons.
1.    Linkedin is a good networking metric – If my connections or friends hasn’t increased in the last fortnight it means I am not putting any effort into networking and I should pull my finger out.  This is also the reason why I don’t say yes to every friend request or engage in harvest networking (eg Toplinked) collecting 1,000’s of connections that I don’t know.

2.    It keeps  me up to date  – Its so much easier to connect with people over coffee when you know what they have been up to.

3.    On rare occasions I use social networking tools to make announcements.

4.    I don’t have all the answers so I like to be involved with trends to see where they go.  I have yet to use my LinkedIn connections to solve a problem, and am looking forward to see how that will turn out.

So I’d have to say that Social Networking tools are great, but shouldn’t be confused with actual networking.  Its hard to enjoy coffee over the internet.