BY Michael Fleming

DATE: 17 MAR 2017


Want to get better at business development? The first thing you need to do is fix your attitude.

In the course of my work with literally tens and tens of thousands of lawyers and consultants and professional advisers over more than a decade I’ve observed that the best business developers have cultivated an ATTITUDE to business development that is different (compared to some people, markedly different) from those who are not so good at BD.

Here are three of the big attitude differentiators of the best business developers:

1. They Enjoy “Selling”

It’s hard getting motivated to go to the gym if you really don’t like doing weights. But once you stumble on the Zumba class that you really enjoy, guess what happens. You go more. And with a spring in your step. So take a moment to reflect on how you feel about “selling” yourself and your services. The best business developers have worked out that they are selling stuff that their clients need and that the sales process won’t involve them doing anything “salesy” (in the stereotypical sense of being pushy, hard-nosed, self-interested, unpleasant people). 

Selling can and should be a good experience – both for you and for the people you’re selling to. If selling feels bad, perhaps you’re doing it wrong? Or you need to try a Zumba approach rather than just sticking to the free weights area.

So ask around, observe how other people go about BD, find a way that works for you and that you enjoy. Become aware of situations where you are being sold to. Think about what it is that you like and what it is that you dislike about the way you are being sold to. Resolve never to do the crass stuff that you dislike and instead to do more of the good stuff that you like.

Clue here – this will undoubtedly involve you resolving to: really listen; take time to work out what people want and how best to approach them; be positive and enthusiastic about your offering; flex your style to suit different people.

2. They Embrace Rejection

Selling is essentially a numbers game. I realise that if you’re reading this blog then you’re almost certainly not in a business that works on the basis of one-off pressurised tele-sales of cheap widgets; you’re in a business that works on the basis of relationships and trust. But guess what – you will still be rejected. Regularly. You simply can’t win them all.

The star business developers recognise that “no” is the second best answer to “yes”!  “No” rarely means “no – never”. Usually it means “no – not at the moment, because…[I don’t know you well enough yet, I’m not yet convinced you’ve got the necessary expertise; I’m happy with our current provider etc]. You can learn from this and work out how best to adjust your offering and/or your approach in order to win the work at a future date. 

And if it really is “no – never” the best business developers appreciate that this is actually a good thing – because then you know where you stand. Move on. Next please. Nobody died. You might even learn something beneficial that helps you increase your chances of winning the next one.

On learning from failure you should check out a great new book by Matthew Syed – "Black Box Thinking"

3. They Are Optimists

Good business developers think optimistically. When something goes wrong (like a prospect says “no” – which they will – see point number 2 above) they don’t catastrophise about that. 

They keep the set back: temporary; specific; external. So their inner dialogue (the little voices in their head) works like this:

  • temporary – OK not now, but I’ve got tomorrow and next week;
  • specific – so this prospect has said “no” but that doesn’t mean that the other targets I’m chasing will reject me;
  • external – it doesn’t mean I’m a bad [lawyer/consultant/accountant etc]. 

And when something goes right they capitalize on that because their internal voice says: permanent; pervasive; personal. 

  • Permanent – great – I am on a roll here;
  • pervasive - and this good result is going to happen with some of my other BD efforts too;
  • personal – fantastic – I am getting good at this BD stuff and it is my efforts that are being rewarded. 

If you want to explore this further then I’d highly recommend you buy “Learned Optimism” by Professor Martin Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement – a man who has spent decades studying optimism.

So go on...

Make that call, ask for that lunch, set up that meeting. 

Learn to love selling.  Embrace rejection. And think like an optimist.


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about the author

Michael Fleming is our Head of KWC Legal and is an expert on business development. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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