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Beyond The Rolodex: Why “Strong Networks” Don’t Guarantee BD Success

Are you considering hiring a former government official or retired military person to improve your organic growth?

Their inside knowledge and agency relationships can open doors. After all, GovCon success is all about relationships, isn’t it? But do they have the skills to develop new relationships and gather the competitive intel needed to win?

Maybe not!

For instance, one of our clients hired Chris, a recently retired Army colonel, as their VP of BD. His network impressed the CEO, and they envisioned him hitting the ground running and quickly growing their Army business with limited training required.

However, within three months, Chris was struggling to meet expectations, and the CEO was reaching out to sign Chris up for our BD Masterclass! Why didn’t Chris, with his strong network, deliver the expected pipeline growth and contract wins?

He had a good network, but he lacked the skills needed to convert his network into winning relationships. Do you know the difference between the two?

We have seen too many promising new hires fail because of the following three common yet easily avoidable mistakes:

Mistake #1: Expecting them to ‘hit the ground running’

The saying “hit the ground running” stems from deploying troops from a moving vehicle where they are instantly ready for action. But, before those troops deploy, they undergo extensive training to ensure they can complete the mission rather than landing flat on their face.

Unfortunately, when hiring a “veteran,” most managers overestimate their network strength, relationship quality, and readiness to engage customers. Success in a BD role requires a different skill set and mindset than veterans typically possess. The good news is that these skills can quickly be learned and implemented.

Hitting the ground running doesn’t usually account for overcoming their fears of being perceived as “that sales guy” by their old colleagues. Overcoming this fear and other negative BD role perceptions shaped by movies or past encounters with salespeople takes more than just a “you got this” pep talk!

When Leaders assume newbies can “hit the ground running” without proper training, they inadvertently set them up for failure – and rationalize their floundering as “finding their feet “on the other side.

Companies can empower veterans to thrive in their new BD role by investing in training that provides them with a structure and repeatable process they can lean on for confidence and consistency for role success.

Mistake #2: The limited shelf-life of networks

Government agencies experience frequent personnel changes, so even if your new hire has a solid network, after 2-3 years, many of those contacts will transfer to other roles or positions where your capabilities aren’t needed. What then?

Current relationships are good as a starting point. Still, their finesse to garner additional introductions to other stakeholders and their ability to develop new relationships over the long term is critical. Good BD professionals never exhaust their network. They have mastered identifying and developing winning relationships with decision-makers within their markets or agencies – regardless of turnover (or change in roles).

Focusing on hiring individuals with good people skills rather than just the size of their network will lead to a more sustainable long-term BD organization.

Mistake #3: Assuming they already have the skills needed for BD success

 Over the years, I’ve heard this from many BD Leaders – my new hires don’t need BD or engagement skills training because they are experienced and will only call on people they already know.

Companies must understand that even well-connected EXPERT hires need training to ensure they operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Most people being asked to perform BD tasks are never trained to use BD/customer engagement or advanced communication skills.

Hiring people solely for their relationships is not enough. There’s a crucial difference between personal relationships and winning relationships.

Knowing someone’s children’s names might help get you in the door, but this means little if you don’t know the right questions to ask to uncover game-changing intelligence or identify areas where shaping might better position your solutions long before an RFP drops. Worse is not understanding or sharing critical intelligence with your team (realizing it at the loser’s debrief).

Effective BD goes beyond simply calling on past acquaintances. The magic is the ability to ask the right questions to the right stakeholders at the right time! Collect competitive INTEL and find real discriminators. It’s this intel that makes your BD and Capture Processes work.

But without training, you are expecting your new hire to pick up many of these critical skills through osmosis or trial and error. Neither is a great development strategy unless you have loads of opportunities to burn.

Consider using a program like HI-Q Groups BD Essentials program to provide the baseline skills needed for success. This program teaches 20 best practice skills to create a repeatable method on HOW to engage customers, STRENGTHEN relationships, and reduce “call” anxiety by having a repeatable, best practice structure to lean on.

Addressing the Skill Gap:

As the Govcon market gets more competitive, the cost and risk of poor recruiting becomes exponentially more expensive. So, let’s stop setting our “Veteran” new hires up for failure by expecting immediate results and instead set them up for success by onboarding correctly and addressing identified skill gaps.

Do you have second thoughts about your Veteran new hire? Have them take the free Hi-Q Assessment, which evaluates the consistent use of 20 customer engagement best practices. If they score less than 80%, you should invest in additional engagement training like BD Essentials or BD Masterclass, which we developed specifically for the GovCon market.


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