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Growing Your Business: 11 Principles of Business Development

Gardening and owning my own business are two passions of mine.  As the weather warms up and I get my hands back into the dirt, I realized how much growing a business is like gardening.
The process of developing business includes both marketing (establishing your brand, creating awareness opportunities, offering products & services that appeal to your target market, etc.) as well as sales (prospecting, building relationships, closing business, etc.).

I humbly submit to you my 11 principles of business development, with a green-thumb twist:

#1 - Time & Effort: Like growing your own vegetables, developing business takes time and effort.  To underestimate this is a recipe for failure.  I often get calls from hotels, CVBs and other suppliers looking to “buy leads.”  I explain that while we can help them clean-up a database or prospect a new list, we don’t magically materialize leads.

Business development is a process which, through ongoing communication with our clients, we can make smoother and more productive.  But expecting a silver-bullet solution from an outside source is unrealistic.

#2 - Plan for the entire process: Just like you would not want to plant a garden without a plan, it is unwise to jump into a business development endeavour without planning for the business development process.
Several years ago we worked with an Ottawa-based custom-steel manufacturer.  Because they designed extra-deep sinks and stainless counters, they wanted us to target pet grooming centres.  We usually stick with the meetings industry but this was a special project for the father of an MPI friend…!

We generated an appreciable number of leads for this client, but when I followed up after our campaign, I was told they did not have the sales capacity to continue working the leads!  We were so focused on getting the campaign started that we had not discussed what would happen once they had the leads and how they would close deals.

The lesson: look at your entire process.  Whether you handle a campaign in-house or you outsource, be clear about where you’re going to sow the seeds (your message), how you’re going to care for your growing garden (lead nurturing), and who will be in charge of the harvest (the close).

#3 - Pick the right seeds for your soil: Consider the communication about your products or services as your “seeds”.  If you want your message to bear fruit, then you must ensure it has the appropriate tone, content and delivery mechanism.

Most hotels and CVBs are doing e-marketing nowadays.  But is email the right way to get your message across?  With spam filters your message may not get to your intended recipient.  And because planners are getting so much email, if you expect a response, as in the case of an invitation to a client appreciation event, consider reverting to mail or even making a call to follow-up.

#4 - Make your soil a priority: If your company’s offerings are the seeds, then the soil is your market.  Make sure your database offers fertile ground for healthy business relationships.  Are you targeting the right prospects?  Have you segmented by geography, industry, demand period or other client attribute?  Do you have the right list or do you need to boost your database (fertilize!) by adding new records?

#5 - Biodiversity: Variety in the garden is a very good thing.  Similarly, ensure you appeal to a variety of markets with different types of messages… This way, if one of your crops fail, you have other sources of business.

During the recent economic downturn, we observed shifts in target marketing.  One high-end hotel chain started actively soliciting family reunions and events such as dance contests, bridge tournaments, etc.  That was not their traditional market, but when other business waned, they shift focus quickly.  They dropped their rates but they did so with groups that appreciated getting a deal and who wouldn’t expect the same pricing for years to come.

#6 - Cultivate: When business relationships begin to take root, they’re still very fragile.  You need to strengthen and nurture them.  According to sales training expert Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions Inc., for every 30-day period that elapses after an initial contact, a prospective buyer’s recall is reduced by 10%.  As Francis puts it, “Ten months of no contact with your customers means your list is worth nothing…and you might as well start cold call again.” (For more information please see “Engage Selling Sales Training Tips – Getting Inside the Vortex” at

What mechanisms do you have in place which will keep prospects informed and engaged until they are ready to buy?  Do you send out a regular e-newsletter?  Do you direct mail information to announce new programs or renovations?  Have your considered sending out cards for “different” holidays?  Around Chinese New Year I received a lovely card announcement from Mandarin Oriental.  This card had been sent out to clients, as well as partners and suppliers.  Nearly three months later, that card is still pinned on my bulletin board.  Think of how you can be top of mind with your brand, on the planner’s desk.

#7 - Consistency: With time, an untended garden will perish.  Sprouts (leads!) get choked by weeds (competitors!).  Mature plants may die for lack of watering and fertilizing...  The same goes for business relationships!

During the recent recession, those salespeople who consistently prospected continued to fill their funnel.  The rest sat back dazed and confused, and looked for silver-bullet solutions to find them business.
Live and learn: business development is not just a seasonal thing.  It should be done consistently throughout the year.

#8 - Fertilize: Just as you need to boost plant growth, sometimes you need to bolster your business development efforts with outside sources.  Look for creative ways to boost your exposure.  Partner with other non-competitive firms (e.g. hotels with AV companies, CVBs and speakers’ bureaux, etc.).  Pool your lists together and do co-op mail or email programs.  Host client events together.  If you’re an independent hotel in one city, is there another independent in another city that you could work with?

Even competitors can work together!  Recently we saw two Florida CVBs, one on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast of the state, work together to target clients in the U.S. Midwest.  They set aside their differences, and realized that many groups could in fact alternate between the two coasts.  The result was more client appointments and potential business for both bureaux.

#9 - Pest & Weed Control: Pests and weeds can be a minor nuisance or a major problem.  Your garden invaders may be the new hotel that just opened its doors across the street or the public’s perception that all resorts host boondoggle meetings (think AIG effect).  But pests and weeds are a fact of life.  Your preparedness to deal with the situation is what may dictate the severity of the problem.

A great example of dealing with perception problems is those resorts who dropped the word resortfrom their name (see Wall Street Journal article).

Any other examples of pests and weeds you’ve had to deal with recently?  Share them with us by commenting!

#10 - You can’t control the weather: And you can’t control the economy either.  But you can prepare for that too! When the weather man forecasts frost after I’ve planted my tomatoes, I cover them.  This last recession was likely predicable though it caught many of us by its seemingly sudden arrival.  We know the economy is cyclical, so what can be done to mitigate damage in the future?

For one thing, make sure you keep your team primed with sales training and coaching.  I can’t tell you how many really bad cold calls I’ve received in the last 18 months.  No wonder planners tune out salespeople!  Training and coaching is an essential part of sales, regardless of seniority.  If your veterans insist they don’t need training, that’s a sure sign they are jaded in their job.

#11 - Be ready for the harvest: This too would sound straight-forward except that it isn’t always.  How many times do we really get busy servicing business that we forget to make time for more business development?  A good gardener can really extend the season with successive sowings… yes, spreading out the harvest so that stuff ripens at intervals.

Remember to gather seeds to plant for the next harvest.  In your post-sale, ask for the business again.  And really great business cultivators also ask for referrals to other planners in the company or other contacts in the industry.

With these 11 principles I leave you with words of wisdom from Ancient Greek philosopher Plato, “Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.”