Achieving success as a professional services consultant requires cultivating relationships with clients and colleagues. For many accountants, lawyers, engineers, etc. the thought of doing BD can be one they dread. Many people have a BD fear. Especially when it comes to putting yourself out there and reaching out to potential clients or people you’ve never met before. The very thought of this prospect makes many very competent, and otherwise confident professionals, feel very uneasy.
The comforting news is you are not alone. It’s perfectly natural to have a BD fear. The even more comforting news is that it can be overcome through putting the right steps in place, and having the right support with you along the way. It does, however, require you to venture a little outside of your comfort zone as you start to put these new skills in place. The great news though, is once you have overcome these fears, and have mastered the art of developing new client and internal relationships, you are undoubtedly on a very upward career trajectory. I think you’ll even find it fun…Eventually!
Even the slightest alteration in your approach can be daunting, especially in complex or competitive markets. Fear of departing from the familiar can often hold you back, especially if you tend to see risks rather than opportunities in novel situations, hindering your capacity to foster new connections.
The need to develop new relationships
The world, and the world of business aren’t stationary. The relationships you have now may well provide you with a healthy revenue stream. However, people move on from their current roles, sometimes people retire, and sometimes you lose clients to other external factors – e.g., your client is acquired.
Economic conditions also fluctuate. In a downturn, the more clients, and the more relationships you have, the easier it is to maintain a more dominant market position. While revenue may dip, the dip won’t be as significant as it is for those around you. You’ll also have a clearer picture of when it will dip, as you’ll be having better and more regular conversations with your clients and contacts.
I’m often engaged by firms that are doing relatively well but have reached a plateau. Usually, they’ll have a strong client base and want to squeeze more revenue out of their existing clients. Unfortunately, the level of variety of services you provide sometimes means there is a limit to how much you can squeeze out of this limited pool of clients. To truly grow as a firm, the acquisition of new clients is needed. In fact, I would argue that a healthy firm should be onboarding new clients most years.
6 steps to help you overcome your BD fears
If you’re reading this, then you’ve made the most important step, which is recognising and acknowledging you harbour a BD fear. Below are six straightforward steps to bolster your self-assurance.
1. Collaborative efforts (don’t go solo)
Pairing up with a colleague has distinct advantages. Not only do you avoid feeling isolated, but you can also support one another by sharing the conversation and approaching new individuals jointly. In meetings, this collaboration is invaluable, as defined roles allow one person to speak while the other actively listens – an approach clients appreciate. Maverick was definitely onto something, it pays to have a wing person!
2. Practice questions to avoid relying solely on your expertise
This section alone will get many people feeling inhibited, or even scared. To truly get to know someone, you’ll need to talk about all things that are important to them, and understand their goals and ambitions. These may be outside your area of expertise, which means you may have little knowledge or experience in the areas they wish to share with you. That is one of the root causes of anxiety for many professional services practitioners, being exposed to having insufficient knowledge – an understandable BD fear.
3. Practice makes perfect
Some individuals are naturally outgoing, but that doesn’t mean those who aren’t, can’t build relationships. In fact, with practice, introverts make great relationship builders, because in most cases they are great listeners.
With practice, you can enhance your ability to understand others and pose questions that foster rapport and trust. The key is to rehearse meetings in a safe environment, bolstering your confidence for actual encounters.
4. Set realistic objectives
If initiating conversations with new people is challenging for you, avoid overwhelming yourself by setting modest goals. Start with booking in just one client development/relationship-building meeting per week. Learning a new skill is akin to the first stages of cycling—it may feel awkward at first, but with perseverance, it will become second nature.
5. Action over analysis
While seeking guidance, reading books, and undergoing training can be beneficial, don’t let these become barriers to applying new skills. Until you put them into practice, they remain theoretical. Expect occasional missteps, but remember that learning from experience, along with good coaching and mentoring, can be immensely beneficial.
6. Embrace failure
Failure is an integral part of learning and growth. Many successful individuals, like Simon Cowell and Michael Jordan, attribute their achievements to past failures. While facing failure may be challenging, it is by no means the end of the road. As Barack Obama puts it, way better than I ever could, “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
Conclusion: tackle your BD fear, don’t avoid it
In essence, the vast majority of people share these BD fears. It is quite likely most of your colleagues and those who you sit with also feel the same. However, fear of reaching out and opening up to people is something that results in us leading a less fulfilled life. In the business context, your work will be far more rewarding if you meet new people and build new relationships, share stories, and learn from them along the way.
To achieve this, you will need to confront your fears by implementing these six steps. Also, don’t be afraid to seek support from your colleagues, a mentor or even an external consultant. It pays to have help with overcoming your BD fears because it makes the journey a lot easier and far less lonely.