I recently presented at a conference held by one of our clients. For this client, the market has shifted significantly and they no longer can rely on the steady stream of business from existing client they’ve enjoyed for many years. For this reason, the focus of their annual event was business development with an emphasis on winning new business (rather than renewals or additional business from an existing client).
Several of the presenters spoke about sales people being “hunters” and offered suggestions for improving with their “hunting” skills. Among such tips were to start learning about the potential client as early as possible and not waiting for the RFP to arrive to get started. The other was to do their homework and learn as much about the potential client as possible.
The speaker’s use of the terms hunter and hunting prompted me to consider the parallels between business development and deer hunting. I imagine this was also prompted by my residing on a very large piece of property that is home to many deer and the fact that this is deer hunting season.
The people who are given permission to hunt on the property fall into two groups. The first group is those hunters who have hunted the property for many years and who hunt each year for several days or weeks. This group is made up of people who live nearby and/or close friends. The second group consists of individuals who haven’t hunted here previously and typically only hunt for one or two days. These might be clients or someone I’ve recently met who are hunters and who, upon learning that I have access to good property for deer hunting and request permission to hunt for a day or two.
Those hunters who haven’t hunted here previously, and who only hunt for a day or two, rarely see, let alone manage to shoot a deer. They might stumble upon a deer and take a shot at it as it runs off. They have no idea where the deer are and have no understanding of their habits. They will inevitably come in after a day of hunting to inform me there probably aren’t many deer on the property anymore.
In contrast to these occasional hunters, those hunters who have hunted the land for several years know a great deal about their prey. Throughout the Spring and Summer, they are out on the property, watching the deer and learning the habits of the deer. They know where they sleep, where they eat and drink and they know which paths they follow. They even go so far as to put up motion-activated cameras which take pictures of the deer as they pass. These hunters have a plan when they go out to hunt. They often have selected the deer with wish to get and will pass up deer that come by to get the one they have decide to pursue. Inevitably, these hunters get the deer they are after. They inform the herd on the property is large and there is no shortage of game for hunting.
As with most of my analogies, I think the parallels to our business are fairly obvious. The majority of opportunities are won by those companies that engage with the client well before the release of an RFP. These companies have extensive knowledge of the client and understand their concerns and their objectives for both the business overall and the RFP specifically. They know the competitive landscape and have developed their strategy for capturing the opportunity. In many cases they may have even assisted the client in the development of the RFP. (This is not dissimilar to hunters that provide food for the deer in the later part of winter to ensure the deer remain healthy when natural food becomes scarce.)
Please feel free to offer this analogy the next time a sales person requests that you provide support for a last minute hunting trip on property where they’ve never hunted before. In all likelihood, they’ll end up telling you there weren’t any deer there.