On October 28, leaders from various disciplines joined a virtual Artemis panel event and shared their insights on the impact of the pandemic on business development. Panelists discussed how new business pursuit conditions have changed, needed adjustments, success factors, and future prospects. The panel was hosted by Bob Wiesner, managing partner for the Americas at The Artemis Partnership.
Andrew Bergstrom, general manager at DXC Technology, stresses the importance of situational awareness. He recounts environmental shifts following the pandemic hitting—companies first dealt with locking down and focusing on employees and customers; then they started evaluating strategic priorities; and finally, they are adopting a new normal, where they’re entertaining new initiatives and proposals. Sales cycles are now longer, and situational awareness—understanding individual buyer perspectives and priorities of decision-makers—is paramount, he says.
Beth Wade, global chief marketing officer for global ad firm VMLY&R, points out that, in today’s world, businesses are looking for ways to expand the experience they have with consumers—their digital interface and how experience translates into commerce. “We’re seeing … existing clients and prospects say, ‘How can you help lead us across these capabilities?’” she notes.
Panelists believe that account incumbency generally is an advantage. That said, Todd Lundgren, executive director and regional practice leader for the UK and Europe at CalissonRTKL, offers a warning: “If (incumbents) rest on their laurels, someone will come and beat them out. If they invest the time in really securing that relationship through this time, and becoming an even more trusted partner, then it's going to be even harder to get them out of the way….”
In today’s pandemic world, when you’re not the incumbent, he adds, “You have to ask and ask and ask. The hardest part in this, without being able to go sit across the table from someone new, is to build rapport with them through this using Zoom or Teams.”
Making new connections can be particularly challenging. “If you're going to reach out cold, it's essential to do your homework,” says Gregg Burgess, vice president, space systems technology for Sierra Nevada Corporation. In addition to learning about someone’s background, “understand what they're doing in the context of their current job, and make sure that your reach out is actually relevant.”
“If you're trying to build a connection with someone where they really trust you, the greatest way is really good listening… finding some way (to)… get them to tell you their story,” says Jonathan Bowman-Perks, a global leadership adviser to CEOs and executive teams. “I've had someone go on for an hour, and afterwards said, ‘I thought you were going to pitch to me and sell heavy. But actually, because you're interested in me, I bought from you.’”
Also important, according to Bergstrom, is authenticity. “In the past, when Amazon rang the doorbell and the dog started barking, a lot of us would cringe. But we're working from home and our clients and our partners are working from home. That's just the new reality, so don't try to pretend you're not in that environment.”
Workplace shifts also have helped change sales interaction. “Previously, when (pitch teams) were working with procurement teams, things were much more regimented,” says Wade. “Now… people are more willing to allow one-to-one follow-up sessions to have more dialogue back and forth. The process has become a little bit more flexible….”
Bowman-Perks adds, “With some of the tech companies, CEOs and their pitch teams describe the current climate as ‘having less friction.’ They're not traveling around the world to lots of global pitches, meeting face to face; it's all virtual.” He stresses the importance of mining existing clients, “because they already know and they trust you. The big (phrase) is psychological safety.”
Wade’s firm has taken the opportunity to change customer experience. “We’re trying to… put some enjoyment into what we're doing…. So, we are thinking about how we introduce the team—the videos we send out ahead of time that let them get to know us as individuals a little bit more. That has been an amazing thing with our clients; it immediately starts rapport, because they’ve never seen someone in their homes.”
It’s not just homes, though. For an architect and engineering prospect in Italy, Lundgren’s pitch team used pictures of the firm’s city as their Zoom call backgrounds. “We made it like we wished we were in Ventimiglia,” he explains. “We were told, ultimately, that we won because we were the ‘most human’ group that they interviewed….”
Engagement modes also have changed. Pre-pandemic, says Burgess, “We all traveled incessantly. Most of our customers we're on airplanes every week … and very difficult to get ahold of them.” Not anymore “We've moved to scheduling a lot of phone calls and have found our government partners very open to that.
“Since we're not on airplanes and a lot of us aren't commuting to work every day, we have more hours in the day to actually communicate, so we've been maintaining those relationships,” he adds. “Everybody has a shared miserable experience with all of this, and that's lowered people's guards.”
Remote work also has changed sales team resourcing. “While we may have thought about the location where we sat previously,” Wade explains, “now we have broken down those walls. (If) we have a pitch, who's the right resource? How can we all get online? It's very easy to… have that collaboration.”
Collaboration comes into play post-sale, too. “Our whole business is about collaboration,” says Lundgren. “We're starting to use tools like (whiteboard platform) Miro in Microsoft, where we can start a conversation… and everyone can go back in on their own time and start to put in ideas and pop… you start to build this dialogue back and forth, and then get that engagement with a broader group.”
Recognizing the potential long-term changes brought on by the pandemic, Bowman-Perks pulls advice from his past military experience: “They talk about the OODA loop: you observe, you orientate, you decide, and then you act. And then you observe again,” he says.
“Things are happening so quickly,” he adds, “and having that advantage of thinking quickly on your feet and keeping long-term relationships where people trust you will pay off.”
To view the panel event, click here.
To read more business development insights from The Artemis Partnership, click here.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas