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Business Dev. in COVID-19 Era Requires New Skills

Contributed Exclusively to AZBEX by Stephanie Hertzberg 

What if much of your job description centered around your ability to connect people and opportunities? And what if one day in mid-March you were told that you can’t do that in person anymore, only through video, calls, emails and messaging. In fact, you can’t really leave your home or come closer than six feet to another person.  

Gone are the business lunches, gettingtoknowyou coffees, networking events and strategic facetoface meetings. “If anyone’s world has changed it’s the business development profession, but at the same time we have always been the most flexible,” said Brooke (Vink) Taff, Business Development Manager for Wood Patel. 

Having to constantly think on their feet, work from anywhere and always be ready for that next meeting was already part of the deal for most industry professionalsSo, I checked in with some of them to see how they are adapting to these new constraints. 

First off, everyone is really busy. The lack of commute and travel between meetings has given everyone the ability to get more work done. They are experiencing less interruptions and can concentrate more instead of running from one meeting to the next.  

The Market  

Most companies that spoke to have seen only a small number of projects that were already moving forward get put on hold. Recently awarded projects in industries most affected by COVID-19 have seen some delays or have gone on indefinite hold. Timelines have started shifting due to a limited number of people on construction sites and other precautions.   

There is a spike in projects that are directly in support of tackling COVID-19, like the work for the US Army Corp of Engineers as well as with companies that have received money through the CARES Act, specifically in the National Defense supply chain. Keeping track of those industries is key for companies looking at future opportunities.  

Because municipalities are projecting dramatic reductions in revenue due to reduced sales tax generation, some capital construction projects are not moving forward. Despite not having immediate projects, Chad Schleicher, Business Development Associate for SmithGroup expressed that “municipal clients are open to talking about future planning.”  

Private development is in a holding pattern but there are some developers that are still going through with planning and entitlement work. The hospitality industry, one of the hardest hit sectors by the pandemic so farhas seen many projects in planning be put on hold indefinitely.  

Keeping in Touch  

Everyone has seen the screen shot from the ZOOM meeting on someone’s LinkedIn or posted one themselves. This format is the new normal and business development professionals are using it to their advantage. It is key to everyone I talked to that they connect with clients through calls or video on a regular basis. We heard repeatedly that clients are open to talking and it is easy to make those connections.  

A savvy business development professional knows every client is different. It is important to differentiate your method of communication and use opportunities as a platform to share good data, trends and solutions. Chuck Reynolds from Terracon is using webinars to demonstrate their proprietary Stage 1 Service to help clients keep projects moving forward. Reynolds explains the service, “unlocks historical data, GIS Maps and experienced local knowledge to continue planning and preliminary design when site access is limited.” 

Tools that Allow Connection from Afar 

Top business development professionals utilize technology to work more efficiently and continue moving businesses forward from video interviews and conferencing, to collaboration software like Microsoft Teams. “Forced protocol is making people use systems that they had not used before,” stateSchleicher. When people are required to collaborate remotely, what previously was a hindrance now is essential for success. 

Video interviews are becoming the new normal. The choreography of the interview, including backgrounds, who talks when and how to present material is paramountCompanywide task forces are developing best practices, sharing lessons learned and looking for the most creative approach to beat the competition.

Creative Business Development Practices  

What are the creative ways in which professionals are connecting with clients or partnersThe most common ways to connect with leads groups are virtual happy hours 

Allowing people to get to know one another on a deeper level, see their home, meet their kids or pets and take a look inside what life is like for them. Others are sending gift cards for a virtual lunch through food delivery companies or buying dinner for someone’s entire family through local businesses.  

One of the trade associations has allowed its members to take over their Instagram feed for a day to post stories from their company. Some firms are even doing virtual tours of projects or properties. Taff described the way a contractor, “pulled together resources to donate hand sanitizer and masks for their healthcare clients now that is meaningful.” 

While this is a new frontier for many, the key takeaway from all the business development professionals I interviewed is that now is a great time to unify the message of your team to clients. Make sure to connect more personally as everyone is dealing with a new normal. Be a resource to help them during this time. Many companies are doing extraordinary things to help with the situation, i.e. visiting local businesses, making masks or donating to the foodbank. Spread the worabout these things via social media. During this time, continue to add value to people and companies. It is vital for firms to keep their existing clients and reassure your clients that you are there to assist in all capacities. 

The business development world is acclimating to their current situationUltimately, the time that is gained not going from place to place allows people more time to process and prep, producing better work.  

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