Great! Your technology works but can you run a business?

There are over 600,000 companies set up in the UK each year. Many of these companies seek to offer new technology to the market, technology that they hope will improve their customers’ efficiencies, safety and cost.

Indeed, there are fantastic ideas out there. But only a fraction of developed products are launched at all and over 80% of them fail once launched.

Harvard Business Review article written by Joan Schnieder and Julie Hall states,

Companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.”

So why do innovators sometimes give up launching their products? What support do they need?

Choosing to be an innovative entrepreneur

Over the years, I’ve seen ground-breaking, patented technology never leave the warehouse of the company that created it. There is also great technology hidden within the pages of an engineer’s notebook, never to be launched into a market that needs it.

I’ve met some of these innovators. They are usually experts in engineering, manufacturing, project management and similar technical roles. Often, they try to develop their idea while still working full-time. Sometimes, they fund the ventures themselves. Other times, they leave the monthly paycheck to become innovative entrepreneurs and business owners.  

Great products are not enough

There are pros and cons with both choices when it comes to successful market entry. The educational and/or professional experience of innovators help them create relevant products. But they often don’t have the skillset to build and run a business. It is a significant transition that requires additional support. And it’s all doable once that support is in place!

Great - Your Technology Works But Can You Run A Business - quote

Innovative products often save the buyer time, money and effort. There’s likely to be improvements in efficiencies and productivity too. But this doesn’t mean that a buyer will snap up the new product. It’s not a quick process and if ‘you build it they just won’t come’.  Even after you develop and validate your product through pilots and trials, the buyer is still going to assess the business risks and have a focus on the liability if something goes wrong. This is the nature of the business-to-business buying processes.

Support for building and running a successful business

So having technology that works is not enough. The business owner needs to evidence a strong business that provides a quality product or service with competent people to deliver it.  

Often buyers are looking at the business management system such as ISO accreditation, financial risk, the calibre of the management team and sometimes, membership of bodies like FPAL. Moreover, the business needs to cultivate the relevant relationships in its industry to develop and leverage opportunities for business growth.

Fortunately, Scotland and in particular, Aberdeen, offer support through programmes such as Elevator’s Accelerator, OGTC’s TechX and Grey Matters. New programmes for innovative ideas are continually launched e.g. ONE’s Digital and Entrepreneurship Hub launched with RGU and Codebase. These initiatives help businesses to get ready for investment and to be commercially successful with their technology.

If you have a new product or perhaps an idea that you aren’t sure how to progress, drop me a line for a quick chat at info@sarahdownsltd.com

Diversification Strategy: How to Diversify into New Industries and Markets

A 2015 Forbes article suggests ‘Diversification is about building new products, exploring new markets, and taking new risks.’

I think diversification could be a subset of this definition. For instance, you might take a product or service that you already offer to a particular market and looking at other markets where you can offer it.

Most of the work I’ve done on diversification has been with oil and gas companies that see an opportunity to provide an existing product into a new industry. A lot of the time, the product doesn’t need extensive modification.

However, companies must ensure that they have done market research into the industry, sector or country before launching into a new market. This is just one of the considerations for a diversification strategy. In this blog, I will discuss diversification strategies and the key considerations for companies who seek to grow their business in this way.

Why consider diversification strategy?

There are several reasons why a company might consider diversification. You could consider diversification if:

  • You want to grow your business
  • You see an opportunity or gap in another industry
  • You are exploring ways to maintain a level of stability and security for your business

The recent downturn in the oil and gas industry led to many companies diversifying. It is a good way to de-risk your business by not putting all your eggs in one basket.

What must you consider before you diversify?

One of the first steps in planning diversification is to understand the market that you want to enter. Like I mentioned in the introduction of this blog, market research is crucial so that you thoroughly understand the idiosyncrasies in the new market that you’re entering.

Another area to consider is the resources that you will need to successfully enter a new market. When I say, “Resources”, I mean time, personnel and investment.  You have to ask yourself where the market pull is coming from and how long it will take to get traction.

In the end, it boils down to research. Research about your market and research into your own capabilities as a company.

How can you get help with market research?

Because market research is an area that many companies are under-resourced to do well or at all, I’ll briefly highlight how you can get help with it.

Scotland’s enterprise agencies are a fantastic source of research support. Such agencies include SDI (Scottish Development International), DIT (Department of International Trade) if you are in England & Wales and Scottish Enterprise. Also, ONE (Opportunity North East) is a private sector-led and funded to support growth in the North East of Scotland.

As part of your research, talk to potential customers in the industry that you want to serve. Speak to significant industry bodies within the industry. For instance, if you are looking to diversify into the offshore renewable sector, talk to ORE Catapult, a leading innovation and research centre for the industry.

How will you resource diversification?

Let’s say that you do market research and there’s, in fact, an opportunity to launch your product or service into a new market. The next thing to consider is how you will resource the implementation of your plan.

If it is a manufactured product, you will need to think about where you will manufacture the product i.e. in-country or export into the new market.

This is important, particularly when you have local content laws to adhere to. For instance, how do you ensure the quality of your product stays as it should if you need to manufacture in a different location?

You can get support from Scottish Enterprise through its Manager for Hire programme. Scottish Enterprise is able to fund a percentage of the salary of a manager if you are expanding or exporting your products and services. Here is an example of how Scottish Enterprise supported Jas P Wilson during its expansion.

 

 

What do you need for different types of diversification?

The Ansoff Matrix shows four different ways to grow a business. They are market penetration, market development, product development and diversification. For the purpose of this blog, I use diversification loosely, describing market development and product development (along with diversification strategy) as potential ways a company might diversify its business.

 

 

It is often true that to get to the bottom right side of this matrix from the top left, you need to move across or down. Incremental improvements to your product might be enough to keep up with your market but staying in the top left too long could mean that you’re stagnating. I’ll highlight a few things to keep in my mind for each type of diversification in addition to what I’ve mentioned already.

Existing Product, New Market

Your marketing efforts need to be strong when ente**ring a market that is not familiar with your company or brand. Ensure your message is clear and relevant to the new market. This might require amendments to the existing messaging on your website, brochure and other marketing collateral.

Use case studies and testimonials to build your credibility. You are likely to be stretched for resources (e.g personnel and budget) to launch in a new market so consider how you will resolve this.

New Product, Existing Market

Product development requires a sound feasibility study and business case. With an existing market, you have access to a network of people who already know you and use your other products.

Use your existing customers to get feedback about your plans for a new product. Also, engage oil and gas operators early on to get an understanding of whether your new product addresses burning issues in the industry. Oil and gas servicing companies often won’t take on new technology if there is little buy-in from operators (their customers).

New Product, New Market

In addition to the above points, when established companies diversify into new markets with a new product, it takes a lot of research and marketing effort from the onset.

Consider having a separate brand for your products. For instance, a Well Co. might have five products with their own branding. This allows the company to drive several products into the market that can stand alone.

In Summary

Diversification is an option for companies looking to grow or to create more security for the long-term. There are different ways to diversify as enumerated in this blog. It’s OK to take incremental steps towards diversification if that’s your current capability.

Don’t underestimate how long it takes to successfully diversify. Consider timeline and resources from the outset. It’s realistic to expect it to take at least 18-24 months.

Develop a solid strategy and keep focused on what you want to achieve. Avoid pushing into too many markets at the same time. Access the support available through enterprise agencies in the UK. There are many ways to get more resources to get diversification right!

If you’d like to have an informal chat about your business and opportunities to grow or create stability through diversification, let me know.

The Playground’s Guide to Effective Networking: Which Kid Are You?

You’ve probably heard the startling stats. We fear public speaking more than we fear death.

When it comes to networking, many of us have a similar fear. We become uneasy and anxious because we fear the unknown or we worry that we won’t have the right words to say.

Why do adults struggle so much with networking?

I’m a mum to a two-year-old, Jacob. Umpteen trips to playgroups and playgrounds made me realise how similar playgrounds are to networking events. Parks, soft play areas, birthday parties and kids clubs — environments where children are surrounded by strangers and expected to build relationships, get along and even play together.  

There is a lot to learn from children, many of whom seem not to fear much. In this blog, I will describe the likeness of four kinds of children in the playground and who they might be as grown-ups while networking.

From Hating Networking to Loving It

First, let me tell you a little about my networking journey. I transitioned from a nursing career into the business world in 2012. I went from broken bones, blood and bandages to suits, sales and strategy practically overnight! Business networking was new to me and I found it very uncomfortable. I was definitely the person who would collect their name badge and delegate list from the registration table, then feel physically sick at the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and joining conversations.

Over time and with plenty of practice, mentoring and a dose of self-awareness, I have grown to enjoy networking and still do it on a regular basis. I am much better at networking and now I really enjoy it.

Whether you are a senior executive or the founder of a newly formed start-up, networking is a crucial part of growing your support network and building relationships with potential buyers. Since noticing the synergy between children in the playground and adults networking, I have been watching closely and have found some common threads.

 

the playgrounds guide to effective networking quote image

 

Here are four kinds to think about…

Networking Kid: Sideline Sally

This is the child who stays on the sidelines waiting to be asked to join in. At a networking event, this is the person who stands in the corner of the room reading the delegate list or scrolling through their phone, and not joining conversations. They try to look busy but secretly hope that someone will engage them in conversation. This was me in 2012!

Networking Kid: Clingy Callum

This child holds on to his mother’s leg, getting used to his surroundings until he feels he can go it alone. You recognise this person as the networker who wants to enter the room with someone they already know (e.g. a colleague or friend) and sticks with this individual until someone else approaches or they start to feel comfortable enough to talk to other people. Sadly, Clingy Callum might never feel comfortable and will always stick to one person throughout the event!

Networking Kid: Empathetic Eddie

There is usually an empathetic child in the playground. They play well with others but they keep an eye out for anyone on their own. Often, Empathetic Eddie will ask if the child on his own would like to play. This is similar to what I do now. I often look out for the people hanging around the coffee point or standing in the corner waiting to be approached.

Networking Kid: Overbearing Olivia

The overbearing child that clings on to others, not giving them any personal space.   I’m sure you’ve met that annoying person at a networking event that doesn’t let you get a word in. They have the ability to talk AT YOU for 30 minutes without coming up for air!  I’ve had to politely excuse myself from such conversations and I’m certainly getting better at escaping them now.

In Summary

It is important for us to think about the type of networker we are and become aware of our own traits and habits. Maybe there is something you can practice to help you develop more effective networking skills.

If you need any help, let me know!

 

Why You Should Align Business Development Efforts with Your Exit Strategy

Over 600,000 companies launch in the UK every year. This is an incredible number of businesses, many of which will develop a business plan at some point. But few of these businesses will plan for their exit.

Whether you want to build a company that takes over the world or you want a lifestyle business that gives you flexibility and a decent living, you should consider your exit strategy as part of your business development efforts.

In this blog, I explain the importance of outlining your exit strategy to enhance your business development plans.

Think about an exit strategy early on

Starting a business involves planning for the future. Business planning includes target markets, product development and financial forecasts. Many start-ups leave out plans for their exit, that is, how they will end their business.

But creating an exit strategy from the start can help you align your business development strategy, as it helps to provide a clear goal for your business. Setting your exit strategy in the early days will create a solid foundation and a clear sense of direction to work towards.

Align your exit strategy and business development plan

I compare not having an exit strategy to not having a will. You usually wouldn’t wait until ill health to write a will. In the same way, an exit strategy for your business is an important consideration to make from the outset. Don’t wait until your business is in bad shape or your personal circumstances change before thinking about your exit.

You are better off planning ahead to ensure you have a smooth transition out of your business. Thinking about the end from the start is important for me as a Business Development professional. I like to know my clients’ end goals. This allows me to develop a business development plan that gets them to where they need to be within a specified timeframe.

Why an exit strategy enhances your business development efforts

Example of a “sale” exit strategy

Let’s say a client tells me that they are launching a new technology company with a 5-year exit strategy to sell. This information allows me to build a plan to address vital criteria that a potential buyer will require during a sale.

Such criteria might include a strong company brand, a credible management team, business management systems, market research from existing and prospective customers, a strong sales process, healthy cash flow, framework agreements and so on.

Example of a “cash out” exit strategy

Alternatively, say a client tells me that they want help with a lifestyle business, which they will eventually dissolve. This means the client is likely to take out the cash from their business.

Therefore,  it is key to drive sales and marketing from the outset with the aim of maximising revenues from the business. All business development efforts will closely align with marketing to ensure a healthy sales pipeline and sales processes to effectively manage new and existing customers.

Summing it up

No matter how much a business owner loves what they do, exiting their business should always be an option. If the founder ever decides to merge or sell the company, an exit strategy allows them to leave the business in a profitable state. This is very important when a business is established.

For instance, any staff could be negatively impacted if the owner does not have a plan in place in the event that the business is sold. Having an exit strategy is a key part of business planning. It is a simple process that documents your plans for the future. Be proactive about this part of business planning.

When you’ve done this, you can get back to the fun stuff: Running and growing your business!

Leadership Lessons From Running My Own Consultancy Business

At the May 2018 annual Leadercast conference, Neil Clark, RAF pilot and CEO at Human Factors Business IHF Ltd said, “Leadership is a behaviour, not a position.” This resonated with me.

Many people that I invite to Leadercast say they haven’t got a leadership title or that they are not leaders. We end up in a conversation about how you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. When you run your own business, you might not be a manager of a team but you can be a leader. It’s about being self-aware, leading yourself before you can lead others.

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position” Brian Tracy

What is your idea of a leader?

It often comes down to who we imagine a leader to be. If you look at your group of friends, for instance, you know the ones that are leaders. You will have met people who are quite happy to take responsibility, step up and use their initiative. People can quietly lead too. You don’t need to be outgoing or loud to be a leader.

Sometimes, there is the misconception that your voice needs to be louder than everyone else’s to be seen as the leader. “Public victories follow lots of victories won in private,” Dr Tharaka noted at Leadercast this year. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes for leaders who are publicly successful today.

Dr Mae Jemison talks about how leadership is like having a place at the table. If you are fortunate to have that place – whether it is in a boardroom or in your family – use it! You could support, help and influence the people around you with your place at the table. What is your purpose (or why) now that you are at the table?

Knowing your ‘why’ in leadership

Simon Sinek does great work on how to find your ‘why’. Not everyone knows their ‘why’. Once you find it, your everyday decisions should align with your ‘why’. If you are exhausted because you are throwing your energy into something, pause and ask if what you are doing aligns with your ‘why’. If it does, then it’s OK.  It could be the boost you need to move forward. If not, then you should revisit your motivations for doing what you’re doing.

 

When I started my business, I listened to a lot of podcasts including ones about leadership. It quickly became obvious to me that as a business owner, you have to be very clear about your ‘why’. Why do you do what you do?

My ‘why’ is definitely about helping people. When I look back at my career, I see that it has always been about that. Every job and voluntary position I have held has been about people. Jim Loehr at Leadercast said, “Align your life and energy with your why.” My career journey suggests that this is true for me.

Being a leader in my business

In running my business, I am committed to helping people. It’s all about my clients and what they need to succeed. For instance, if I felt that I didn’t have the right skills or network to help a potential client, I’ll pass the business to one of my associates who is better suited. It’s not about winning all the work. My goal is always to make a success of the work I’ve won.

Possibly the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in business is to be comfortable asking for help. It was a hard lesson because as a new business owner, I felt that other people believed I shouldn’t need to ask for help. For me, leadership is very much about being self-aware. It means knowing when to get support outside of myself to make progress. Rather than going it alone, I’ve built a supportive network of fellow business owners and mentors.

I’m often in a position where I’m leading my clients through business decisions. Sometimes, they have personal challenges that impact their business journey. I encourage and support them through that. The more you ask for help, the more comfortable it becomes to ask.

Leadership Lessons from Running My Own Consultancy Business

Challenge your own leadership

One of the greatest leadership skills is to be able to step outside yourself and challenge what you do. You could have people in your life that can ask you difficult questions to keep you in check – this is highly valuable as a leader. A few years ago at Leadercast, Kat Cole, COO and President of FOCUS brand (North America) described an interesting rule for challenging her own leadership. She called it, The Hot Shot Rule.

In The Hot Shot Rule, you imagine that you are away from work and a hot shot in your organisation has the opportunity to look over your work. What would they see that you could do better? What areas would need attention?

Kat explained that this rule works well for all aspects of our lives. A hot shot might see how you could manage your time better, be a better mother, or a better friend. Obviously, trying to be better at everything all at once is overwhelming so Kat picks one thing at a time to improve over time. This rule really resonated with me. It’s been almost three years ago that I heard it and I remember it well!

Being a leader could be a lonely place, even if you have a big team to manage. But you don’t need to be alone. Leadership thrives on self-awareness, support and being able to challenge yourself to make small and big improvements. Like Andy Stanley said, “The person in the mirror is counting on you.”

How to Bring New Technology to the Oil & Gas Market

Countless products are launched every day by small and large companies. Not every product succeeds. In fact, it is more likely for a developed product to never reach its market. According to the Marketing Research Association, just 40% of developed products make it to market. Of those that make it, only 60% will generate any revenue. Therefore, 76% of all developed products never sell at all!

In the oil and gas industry, these stats are probably even lower. In this blog, I will discuss key aspects of a successful product launch in the oil and gas industry.

Understand the market opportunities for your product

Before you develop a product, ensure you have done market research to understand the need your product will meet. Companies often focus on one application but research might show that there are opportunities across multiple sectors.

You might need to take time to better understand the sectors by going out and talking to people about their challenges. Consider ways to solve the most pressing issues in these sectors.

Know your potential buyers’ priorities

It is also important to know the potential buyers that you want to initially target. Find out if your product will be a priority purchase for these buyers. The reality is often that buying companies require resources to take on a new product.

There might be competing resources where your product will save a buying company £2M but there is another product in a different area that might save it £200M. You can guess where the buying company will put its limited resources.

Consider the risks to the buyer

Introducing new technology usually brings significant risks to the buying company. Understand these risks so that you can adequately support the buyer, and answer questions about liability and legal implications.

There is also the risk of a steep learning curve. That is, how long will it take the buyer’s employees to learn the new technology and be efficient in their use of it? Will there be downtime? Do staff need training? These are some of the questions that you will need to consider when launching a new product.

Research indirect competitors and alternatives

When you are doing your market research, don’t just look at competing products that can do exactly what your product does. Look at indirect competitors to your product and also alternative technologies. It’s about knowing where your product fits so that you can find your niche, both nationally and internationally.

Align with industry priorities

If your technology doesn’t align with current industry priorities, it could be difficult for buying companies e.g. oil and gas operators to pay attention to your product — regardless of how good it is.

For the oil and gas sector, industry bodies have specific calls for ideas. Consider these when developing your product; alignment with these is likely to help you gain funding and support to launch to the market.

Comply with commercial requirements

Ideally, you want to have both strong technical and commercial team members to allow you to create a robust, sustainable business model.

Ensure you have people in your organisation looking at finance, quality e.g. ISO standards and environmental impact, which are required to do business in the industry. Do this so that when there is an opportunity to sell to a buyer, you can say, “Yes, we tick all the boxes”. Therefore, the transaction is likely to go smoothly. You can get support in these areas from an outsourced resource, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a staff position.

Have the right roles in place

You need sales, business development and marketing working together to create an effective strategy so these roles are crucial.

If the groundwork is done properly, you will have the right messages and a good understanding of your target customers. Over time, your marketing team will have drip fed key messages via various channels so that your product launch doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Get support for international expansion

If you are looking to expand your launch outside your current location, reach out to business support bodies such as Scottish Development International (SDI) if you are based in Scotland and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) if you are outside Scotland.

Ensure that your product is ready for an international audience and that you have considered all political, economic, social, environmental, technological and legal aspects. Having SDI or DTI support you, and with the right team in place, you should get the advice you need.

Create a robust business development plan

At the beginning of product development, the focus is on market research and product design so business development doesn’t have a key role, however it can support the marketing team with research using face-to-face relationships.

When that’s done and the product is ready to launch, the priority then becomes creating visibility for the product. This could be through exhibitions, speaking engagements and simply opening the doors within potential buying companies, suppliers or partners. Business development (BD) often acts as the focal point for these relationship-building activities.

Communicate and track success

Stakeholders such as investors need to be kept updated with what’s going on. The BD role can support in the engagement by tracking success and creating a pipeline.

If there’s a sale or a lead, it is important to reflect on that success and identify what has worked. By creating a sales process, building a good understanding of customer touch-points throughout the sales journey. That way, you can replicate the steps that led to a successful product launch.

Build a strong company brand

Companies often launch a great product with a strong brand. While this is beneficial from a branding perspective, most potential buyers want to develop a relationship with the company — not the product.

In developing a brand for your product, make sure that you are building your company’s brand too and not overtaking it. Your company should be clearly associated with your product’s brand so that customers get to know your business. In doing so, you set yourself up for selling more products into the market. It will not be such hard work to introduce future products as your company’s trusted brand is at the forefront.

Manage new clients and deliver well

It’s not over when you make a sale. The journey with your new client begins after PO is sent and it’s now time to implement an account management structure that enhances the customers’ experience.

Actively ask your customers for feedback, always verifying what you thought you knew and creating iterative communication lines between your company and the market it serves.

Document lessons learned

Over time, you will have more and more information from your market about your product’s performance.

Create processes for regularly updating your website and social media platforms. This allows you to build awareness of your company’s success in the market. Collaborate with your customers to document case studies and testimonials, which you should share with prospect clients.

Developing new technology and successfully launching to an ideal market is a challenge in any industry. However, with careful planning, support and documented lessons, it will be easier each time you do it. Your market will come to eagerly await your next product launch.

 

The Value of Mentoring for Startups

Mentors are people who guide you through a time of change, transition or gradual improvement.

I am fortunate to have had some great mentors during my career so far, particularly during career transitions. You may know that I moved from nursing into business development. My mentors through that time of change significantly impacted who I am today.

In this blog, I discuss what I have come to believe: Mentors can add a new dimension for startups, aiding vision, clarity and growth.

My First Mentor

I will specifically talk about Laura, my first boss after a career in nursing. Her mentoring moulded my career in business.

Laura helped me to recognise the transferable skills I had gained in nursing. The opportunities she gave me built my confidence in networking at senior levels and strengthened my understanding of what it takes to run a business. I developed an appreciation for the challenges and considerations of turning a business around, and driving growth.

I had a good grounding to go to my next role and a few years later, I started my own business.

Main Challenges for Startups

Startups have several challenges; the unknown world of customers, competitors, product-market fit, investors, partners, the list goes on.

In NE Scotland, startups survival rate is 61.2%, the highest in the UK. London has the lowest survival rate after three years at 50.1%. Startups have a lot to contend with, given that they have a 50%-60% survival rate! Therefore, a good mentor can guide startups and their founders in the following areas:

  • Deciphering what they want to achieve and how to get there
  • Developing commercial knowledge to build a sustainable, growing business
  • Ensuring the seemingly boring but important stuff is in place e.g. T&C’s, accounting, contracts
  • Building a strong and trusted network as a continuous source of support and guidance

This is not an exhaustive list, as startups have a variety of challenges depending on their experience, industry and goals. The above is a good place to start with mentoring. Getting these right makes a big difference.

Mentoring Accelerates Growth

One of the fastest ways to learn is to learn from other people’s mistakes. If you have ambitious growth plans for your business, you could benefit from a mentor who has successfully launched products in the market and developed a strong brand.

Such a mentor is invaluable in offering advice on cash flow, market entry strategies, product launches, customer acquisition and retention.

The Value of Mentoring for Startups

Qualities of a Startup Mentor

I’ve mentioned some of the benefits of a mentor. But you need to have a mentor with the relevant experience and a willingness to give guidance. A mentor should ideally be someone who has run their own business, been on the board of a successful business and/or has a background in advising and mentoring companies in the growth phase.

While the experience of a mentor is important, it is equally important that the person doesn’t focus on creating a mirror image of their own experiences when providing guidance. Learning from their mistakes and actively listening to their mentee are key qualities of a good mentor.

Getting a Good Mentor

Telling you about the value of a mentor is one thing. But how do you get a mentor? Many people are mentored by a former boss, former colleague or business associate.

If these are not options for you, fortunately, Aberdeen has a host of mentoring support opportunities. These include the Aberdeen Young Professionals Mentoring Scheme run by Ross Jolly, AXIS Network chaired by Jenny Junnier and Ideas in Partnerships, run by Carolyn Maniukiewicz. If you engage with Elevator UK, you could also get a mentor as part of its Accelerator Programme, which runs a few times every year.

The essence of a mentor is to motivate and inspire. Sometimes the best way is to find someone who inspires you and who has achieved things which you aspire to. Then learn as much as you can from them.

Other Support in Aberdeen & Scotland

I have already mentioned Elevator UK. Business Gateway is also a good first port of call whether you are a startup or an established business looking for support. The courses and resources provided by Business Gateway support the growth and management of new and existing companies.

If you are looking to export your products and/or services, Scottish Development International (SDI) provide advice, support and introductions to international markets.

Remember to keep building your support network. Be open-minded as you never know what you will learn.

If you do these things in addition to working with a good mentor, you will add great value to your journey as a startup and perhaps you will give back one day as a brilliant mentor yourself!

10 Tips for Networking with Senior Executives

Does networking with senior executives terrify you? I have been surrounded by business owners for most of my career and I’ve learned a lot through their friendship, mentoring and counsel. In this blog post, I am going to offer some advice for getting comfortable with networking around senior executives.

Early Career: Networking with Senior Executives

At 16, I completed a Summer placement at Wood Group Management Services where I worked alongside their top three executives. They were as ‘normal’ as could be and I had no hesitation asking them questions. I chatted about life, what they did on the weekend, their families and sometimes asking for advice and guidance. Maybe the teenage girl in me was yet to learn the common hierarchy of the business world.

I went on to nursing where I cared for known sportsmen, a royal, a TV celebrity and many senior executives.  My earlier experience remained true – they were normal people with a need (usually needing to be fixed) and it was my job to support them and their families through the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I had difficult patients. Like a few who thought that their O&G title and medical insurance should place them in a private hospital with fillet steak for dinner. Unfortunately for them, they had to be treated like everyone else.  When it comes to an emergency, a private hospital doesn’t have an A&E or Trauma department, there is no special treatment for titles or high salaries.  And there’s certainly no fillet steak served at NHS hospitals!

Entering the Business World: Networking with Senior Executives

Now in the business world, I have no anxieties at all about networking with senior executives. In my first job after nursing, I worked and shared an office with the company director.  I was quickly networking with other directors and meeting with MDs for lunch.

Honestly, I often found middle management harder to deal with.  Perhaps because by the time a person gets to senior executive level or is running their own business, they have a different manner about them. They seem to respect people who work hard, and they have a no BS policy, which resonates with me. I’ve loved dealing with people like this.  

10 Tips For Networking With Senior Level Executives

Top Tips: Networking with Senior Executives

I’m thankful for my early career experience with senior executives. I believe that it helped me build the senior level network I have today. To be able to pick up the phone and ask for advice or guidance has been invaluable for my career. Networking with senior executives is key to business development. No wonder that is where most of my clients come from.  

Here are 10 tips for making the most of networking with senior executives:

  1. Start a conversation asking about their interests. Remember that even CEOs are human beings too and therefore want to engage in normal conversations. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  2. Avoid treating executives as superhuman. Simply treat them as you’d like to be treated.
  3. Don’t name drop as a way to get their attention. Be yourself – be real!
  4. Respect their time. Senior executives are usually running a business or managing a large part of an organisation, so if they give you their time, use it wisely and respectfully.
  5. Get to the point and make it memorable to take advantage of the short amount of time you might have with them. It will make the next part easier too…
  6. Follow up after your meeting. Ensure you thank them for their time and advice. This is important for relationship building at all levels.
  7. Offer your help if the opportunity arises. Senior leaders are not experts in everything and they could need help from time to time. Whether it’s a travel tip or information about a new piece of technology that might mitigate a challenge, offer something that benefits them (and I don’t mean a sales pitch!).
  8. Ask for advice or mentoring. Senior executives are often more than happy to help others.  If you feel a specific leader would make an ideal mentor for you, ask them. You could also ask for feedback or advice in an area of your business or career to benefit from their expertise straight away.  
  9. Be genuine. Truly listen rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Give sincere responses.
  10. Don’t sell at the first meeting. This is off-putting to most people, and especially to the guy at the top! Invest in building a relationship first. An MD or CEO will often pass a supplier enquiry down to a colleague as this isn’t often where their focus is….do not be offended by this.

Next time you are invited to a networking event with senior executives in attendance, don’t be anxious. Be yourself, be respectful and enjoy spending time with people who are as human as you and I.

 

Business Development & Sales – What is the Difference?

Many people in my network have asked me “What’s the difference between business development and sales?” It’s a great question and one that I will answer, to the best of my ability, in today’s blog.

I understand the source of the questions; many sales and business development professionals have similar job descriptions. The roles appear interchangeable in some organisations, and it can be unclear who is responsible for what.

In my opinion, this stems primarily from a shift in job titles of salespeople to ‘business development’. This has mainly been done in an effort to overcome negative connotations that surround the word ‘sales’ and bring down some of the barriers. But, in reality, it has just created a lot of confusion!

However, I want to take your attention away from the actual job title for a few minutes and focus on the responsibilities of the role.

Core Skills of Sales and BD

In general, sales roles are target or bonus-focused, with a requirement for strong negotiation skills. Business development, on the other hand, is about developing relationships with clients and partners alike, and takes a much longer-term view.

Both BD and sales roles need presentation skills and interpersonal skills. However, there are certain skills that are unique to each role.

Skills for Sales

A sales professional needs to be comfortable with hunting and knocking on doors to gain new customers. If I was to rank the top 3 characteristics/skills of a salesperson, it would be:

  1. Hunting Instinct, the person needs to be great at going after prospects. It could be through cold calling, emailing or whatever means.
  2. Competitive Spirit, this is what drives a sales professional to succeed – the motivation to be the best at what they do and hit that target is often on them.
  3. Negotiation Pro, they are usually skilled at driving conversations that lead to win-win decisions and ultimately closing the deal.

Not all professionals embody all of the characteristics above. For instance, they might not be fiercely competitive, but they do well in sales nonetheless. These non-typical sales professionals are likely to make great business developers.

Skills for Business Development

Business development professionals can adapt to their environment and use different skills to achieve great results in their role. The top 3 skills for business development professionals are:

  1. Relationship Building, this is the key capability that business developers need in order to create long-term relationships and partnerships that lead to business growth.
  2. Creative Thinking, speaking of business growth, simply building relationships is not enough. Business developers must be able to find ways to leverage the relationships so that it creates a competitive advantage for the organisation.
  3. Adaptable Style, things change in organisations and in industry. A business developer can’t be easily fazed and must be able to adapt to new situations.

Goals for Sales and BD

Sales are usually focused on hitting targets and getting that bonus at the end of a job well done. For business development, it is usually about seeing the organisation succeed in the longer term.

Therefore, it is important that an organisation carefully considers which role they require to meet their business goals. If the organisation focuses on monthly or quarterly sales and not on longer-term strategic growth, then it’s probably a job for sales. A business developer is likely to get frustrated with a short-term focus.

Business Development & Sales – What is the Difference (Quote Image)

Impact of Industry on Sales and BD

Some industries have longer sales cycles that require a series of engagements that ultimately, lead the customer to make a purchase. Longer sales cycles might require a business development approach, however, when it comes time to closing the deal, certain skills, like negotiation, will be crucial.

The Oil & Gas industry, for instance, often operated on shorter, more transactional cycles before the downturn in 2014. Many sales professionals simply had to pick up customer calls and take orders. But things changed, and the industry’s suppliers required a more proactive approach to generating business. It has been a difficult transition, understandably.

Longer sales cycles could become the norm, and sales and business development professionals need to take more proactive approaches to achieve their goals – whatever those might be.

Deciding between BD and Sales

Business development and sales often work well together, but not many companies have both. SMEs often can’t afford to have the two roles, even though I believe an organisation needs both skillsets.

Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether to hire a business development professional or a sales professional:

  • What are you looking to achieve with this role? If you are replacing someone who has left, are you re-assessing the skills you actually need? Are there any lessons you can learn from the previous individual’s performance?
  • Is the main focus on sales targets or where the next win is coming from? Or is it more about the overall strategic development and growth?
  • How are you looking to manage the new recruit? Will their performance be judged on sales figures or more general KPI’s?
  • Do you require someone that is technical or non-technical?

For instance, I am non-technical. But my clients are willing to come in and support from a technical perspective. I just need to know enough of the ‘technical speak’ to get the interest in the first place and open the door for my client.

You need to map out your organisation to identify existing resources and gaps. If you have mainly technical people, it might be a good idea to bring in a resource that is non-technical.

On a side note, technical companies tend to go for a salesperson who is technical. This tendency isn’t as common with BD roles.

Another consideration is the overall business strategy. If the business is about to enter a new market or launch a brand-new product, it is likely that, to begin with, the company needs a business developer. Marketing will also take a leading role here.

Consequences for Businesses

If you bring the wrong type of skills into your business, you will waste time and money. The business will also not achieve its goals, and there could be ill-feeling amongst the team, as well as the person who has come into the company to do a job.

It could be damaging to a person’s confidence, especially if he/she believes that the expectations of the role were unrealistic and didn’t play to their strengths. Businesses need to be mindful of potential reputational fall-out in cases where these issues are not properly managed.

If you need to take your business forward but you are unsure of which skills you need in your organisation, get in touch to find out how I can help.  I have a number of trusted associates (both in BD and Sales) that I call upon depending on what that need may be.

 

How Business Development and Marketing Can Work Together

This is a guest blog written by Yekemi Otaru of YO! Marketing.

I’ve been called many things in my 13-year career, including Technical Sales Engineer, Business Development Executive and Marketing Manager. I suppose there are worse things to be called.

Each role felt the same at times; the same purpose dressed up in a buzzword job title. Now that I run my own marketing consultancy, I get to work with talented business development professionals. It is clear to me that marketing and business development are different but must work together to achieve business goals. How can these roles work together to achieve business growth for their organisation or client?

When some people think about marketing, they imagine brochures, logos, matching colour schemes and perhaps promotional goods and beautiful websites. This is all important for supporting a business. However, marketing goes much further than that. I’ll come to how in a moment.

Business Development and Marketing in Sync

Let’s first examine the role of business development (BD). BD is about working at the front line of client relationships. The main aim of the role is to cultivate relationships for the long-term, creating sustainable business growth.

That’s how I see it. Coming back to the essence of marketing, I’d argue that’s my aim too – to help businesses grow. But I do it differently from my business development colleagues. I push out well-crafted messages through relevant channels. BD, in turn, ensures that the fruits from my effort are nurtured and nourished for the long-term. I cannot live without their follow-through and they cannot live without my seed planting.

Business Development and Marketing Enrich Your Buyers’ Journey

My favourite way to break down the stages of the Marketing/BD collaboration is using the funnel approach. The stages are; Awareness (top of the funnel), Consideration (middle of the funnel) and Decision (bottom of the funnel).

Here’s an infographic to summarise the customer’s journey through the funnel:

infographic-bd-marketing-yo

This approach is used by companies like HubSpot and is commonly referred to as inbound marketing.

Let’s look at how BD and Marketing work together throughout the funnel.

FUNNEL STAGE MARKETING BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Awareness Define ideal customer profiles

Develop value proposition for each customer group

Create a list of potential customers based on profile

Make initial introduction to customers that fit the profile

Consideration Publish content on industry best practices

Perform competitor analysis to understand potential customers’ options

Create digital lead magnets as part of an email marketing strategy

Deepen relationships with new contacts via networking

Ensure relevant compliance requirements are in place

Create a customer engagement strategy and a process for maintaining existing relationships

Decision Schedule demos

Set up webinars and free trials

Create and share case studies

Develop a digital marketing program of regular interaction with customer via relevant content and customer events

Set customer’s expectations

Answer questions about product and services, and next steps

Handover to sales team to close the deal

Identify future opportunities for upselling and cross-selling

Benefits of Business Development and Marketing Working Together

Considering that 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to a sales person, it is more important than ever that sales, marketing and business development work closely behind the scenes to facilitate this journey. Furthermore, 57% of the purchase decision is already complete before the customer even calls the supplier.

The advantages of working through the process together are:

  • You know who your customer is (hint: it’s NOT “everybody”)
  • You go from a general description of your customer (macro-view) to a list of specific companies (micro-view) that you want to engage with
  • You add value to potential customers before they even ask for information (or realise they need you)
  • You ensure you have what it takes to do business with your potential customer before you go in for the deal
  • You have a clear strategy for interacting with and informing your target customers of what you do
  • You meet your potential customers face-to-face – not just online – thanks to strategically selected events and networking opportunities
  • You build trust by ensuring that all teams are aligned with your messaging and what the customer can expect from your business
  • You have the best people from each role guiding your potential customer from start to finish

It is a pleasure when I see this collaboration across teams. A business can work smarter (and not harder) to achieve business growth. I call it nothing short of amazing!

 

About the guest blogger

Yekemi Otaru owns YO! Marketing Limited, a strategic marketing consultancy that works with B2B companies to achieve business growth. In addition to being a published author in social media networks, Yekemi’s areas of expertise are marketing strategy, competitor intelligence, product marketing and content marketing. Yekemi is often invited to speak at B2B marketing conferences and local events. She has a strong background in engineering and is often involved in mentoring young girls to enter STEM subjects.

 

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