By Bill Scheessele, MBDi
Much of the doing in business development is focused around skills. Although skills are necessary and sometimes critical, they are only one part of a bigger picture. Many skills are helpful in business development, including writing, speaking, managing, networking and numerous others. For these skills to be effective, however, they must be used as part of a process.
A process by its simplest definition is a set of predetermined steps taken to reach a predicted outcome. To be successful in business development you must not only have skills but you must also have a process. If you don’t have a process, you become part of someone else’s process, typically the prospect’s, wherein your skills will have little effectiveness. Having a predefined business development process allows you to effectively use your skills in the most efficient manner.
As a professional begins developing his business development process, specific to his industry and clients, he quickly realizes that questioning is the first and most critical skill. Understanding Socratic learning, Socratic questioning and the Socratic Method is invaluable in developing the questioning and qualifying skills that are integral in any business development process. Using Socratic questioning and the Socratic Method, you enter into a conversation or discussion with a client, where each party assists the other in finding answers to relevant questions. Specifically, in a business development conversation, these questions involve issues the prospect may be having and whether or not you have solutions to resolve these issues.
Socrates taught that to truly know and seek insight, you must work towards understanding. Thus, it was not enough to simply gather or learn facts – intellectual data. Despite his many claims of ignorance, Socrates often understood better than those with whom he spoke. If asking questions leads you to a better understanding of what a prospect needs, then asking “why” can lead you to a better understanding of the prospect’s world and an understanding from his perspective of what is driving that need. By mastering the skill of Socratic questioning, you allow the prospect to articulate the “why” of his particular situation, thereby helping him better understand what is driving his need to pursue a solution. This method of dialogue facilitates the prospect’s quest for assistance, whereby you are actually assisting him in discovering and acknowledging his issues. This kind of dialogue enables a prospect to consider the value of what your solution provides and gives him his own reason for supporting his position.
The nurturing skill compliments the Socratic Method of questioning. Nurturing is simply acknowledging what a prospect has said and conveying to him that you understand his perspective. Questioning without nurturing is interrogating. The ability to skillfully ask questions, eliciting the prospect’s concerns or problems from his perspective in a nurturing manner, and acknowledging the credibility of what he said, facilitates information gathering that is critical to an effective business development process.
The most critical skill in business development is not the ability to speak, write, network, or necessarily present your position or point of view. The most critical skill in business development is intelligence gathering. Data is not intelligence. Facts and information can be easily gained from numerous sources. The ability to gather business intelligence, technical intelligence, financial intelligence and, most importantly, people intelligence from the prospect’s perspective and discover what is motivating him to seek a solution to his problem is the most critical skill behind the “doing” in business development.