The Four Horsemen of Business Development
I attended a conference this past week that was also a networking event. It was for industry vendors who are, or wished to be, a provider to the government agency hosting the conference. I decided to grab a last cup of coffee with the ten minutes left of the lunch break and decided to stand at a chest-high table and people watch for a bit. It was during this time that it hit me that there are specific categories of people who attend these things – Old School Clique, Speed Daters, Wallflowers and No-Nonsensers.
Old School Clique
This crowd is made up of those who have doing BD in this one little market for years and all know each other. Most that I do know are on their second or third company since I first met them since most jump to a new company every two to five years but always within the same grouping of companies in the market. At these networking events, they are the ones back slapping each other, laughing very loudly at each other’s jokes and having a good time. This is a fun for them and they thrive in this environment.
But, it is a clique. They stay with their familiar group of people; rarely venturing to welcome unfamiliar faces. When one of the newbies approaches their group or on who happens to be off by themselves, there is a polite acknowledgement, an exchange of business cards but they quickly break off the conversation to get back to the clique.
They stand together during the morning coffee, sit together during the presentations and then again at lunch and leave together at the end of the day. They do not desire to meet new people.
If this sounds a little bitter, it is. This group makes BD functions feel like high school all over again. I’ve been going to these events off and one for several years and most know my face but I am not one of the desirables. The only way, really, to make it into their clique is to either be retired senior government person or introduced to the group by one of their own. They are the ones who make these events stressful.
This group is on a mission. They want to meet as many people as possible during these events and collect as many business cards as possible. I used to be a speed dater. I figured this was the way to prove sending me to the event was worthwhile as well as leading to business development success and riches. That is wrong, however. It’s too scattered. Too indiscriminate. The connection is superficial and many times the company you are talking to doesn’t have enough in common to be of use working on anything together. A better approach is to seek out only those you want to team on a particular effort (if there is one). Otherwise, you just end the event with a stack of business cards, most of which will be useless in about a year.
Just like every high school dance, events have wallflowers adorning the edges of the room. These are the people who hang out at a table by themselves, eating, reading a paper or watching the TV on the wall (usually on a news channel) or just plain observing the goings-on. It is obvious that some are too scared to talk to people they do not know – or to people they know, for that matter – and are shrinking away from the activity. A bit overwhelmed. Wallflowers can be divided into two sub-categories – Shy-and-Awkward and Happy-To-Be-Alone. When I wasn’t being a Speed Dater, I was usually a Shy-and-Awkward Wallflower. I am painfully shy and an introvert by nature and do not do well at events or occasions where one is expected to mingle and chat. I decided to give myself a break this time and just let myself be a Wallflower. It was rather liberating to make the shift from a Shy-and-Awkward Wallflower to a Happy-To-Be-Alone Wallflower. I did have a couple very nice conversations with a few people who wondered by or were sitting nearby but they were just chats and not the typical Speed Date conversation that starts, “So, who are you with?” Admittedly, being a Wallflower does not make one the best Business Development person; especially at a networking event but sometimes you just have to give in and let your inner introvert win. At this particular symposium, the real value lay in the presentations by the government people on future acquisitions.
No-Nonsensers are serious and driven people. They are there for a reason and schmoozing is not it. They are there to get information and, if it fits into their plan, meet specific people who will help their business. They are not unpleasant as a rule, just very focused on the task at hand. They are not generally hanging out with the Clique having a good time. They are sitting by themselves – yet, not a Wallflower – going through symposium material, jotting notes or going over work they brought with them for down times like breaks. These conferences and networking events are necessary evils required to mine data to feed plans and strategies. Many I have encountered have been owners of their own small business and these events take them away from working on contract to bring in revenue. If they are going to take away two-days’ worth of charging, then they are going to make sure it is worth their while. It is not a stretch to see this type being very successful in five years’ time.
I work for a small business. As such, I have to assume many roles to include business development. I am realizing my strength lies with operations but recognize that I cannot avoid business development. It is the lifeblood of any business, particularly a small one. As I attend more and more of these events and meetings, I am recognizing a change in which Horseman I want to – or can – be. I started out wanting to be a member of the Clique and thought being a Speed Dater would be the way to get there. Meet as many people as possible and get known. That would make them welcome me with open arms as one of their own. It didn’t take too long to realize that was foolish. Even then, I still kept at the Speed Dater method hoping to make a connection that would get my company more work. Again, foolish.
Relationships are important but not mass quantities for mass quantities sake. It is the right relationships. It’s also not relying on others in the hope they will magically throw business your way. It’s going after it yourself and building that reputation of someone who can produce and produce quality work. So, to that end, I will continue to be a Wallflower hanging out on the edges, gathering information and planning the next effort to pursue and hopefully, meeting a few people along the way. I’m comfortable in that role for now.
If you see me, stop by. I’ll be happy to talk.