The football pundit Alan Hansen once said, “You can’t win anything with kids.” This assertion was then spectacularly disproved by a Manchester United team filled with young and precocious talent; a team who, despite their youth and inexperience, emerged victorious with the 95/96 Premier League title.
In most professional business development (BD) it appears that Mr Hansen’s erroneous opinion sticks. The clear implication remains that market-facing professional sales is not a game for the youngsters. It’s still often believed that senior account team members should own relationships, particularly with larger clients, as they daren’t trust a junior member of the team to nurture a key relationship or bring in a fresh lead.
All too often, the BD Coordinators and Advisers find themselves stuck in an internal role. They manage the operational aspects for account management or client development. They provide a link between financial reporting and the partners. They spend time corralling and policing the internal technical teams. They manage databases, client target lists and they also develop relationship or marketing maps.
There is no doubt that this is all important work. But ask yourself. Do you encourage your young coordinators to develop their own relationships with a client? Do you empower your graduates to use their social skills at networking events and meet with leaders of the future? In far too many cases I’m not sure that the honest answer to that question can be yes.
Graduates, and ‘younger’ people in general, know how to network. They have superb social skills and loads of friends (some who will go on to achieve great things in the business world). And what do we do with our graduates? Through a diet of exams and study, we actually teach them to forget these key skills. As Ruby Parmar said in a recent BDLN interview, ‘when they come out the other side three years later, we then say: ‘What about your network? How are you going to win new clients?’ They are unsurprisingly on the backfoot.’
The smart firms are starting to recognise this. They are implementing methods to harness the power of youth; even building it into personal development plans. Your competitors are aware of the opportunities to be had from ‘man marking’ a client and building long term and valued relationships. They go for depth and breadth. Just remember that those young managers at your favourite client are the future buyers of your services. Best not forget that.
You must empower your youth. Recognise that their skills are different from yours but just as important. Remember that energy and enthusiasm are great ways to get people to like you (even the clients who have a smattering of grey hair.). You must encourage junior BD staff to build peer-to-peer relationships with your clients. Support and embolden them to take your clear, concise and compelling message out into the market at events and seminars on your behalf.
Hungry and ambitious BD people (should there be any other kind?) thrive on getting that card, bringing in that lead, and landing the sale. And it shouldn’t matter how old or experienced they are.
Sir Alex Ferguson won something great with kids twenty years ago. So why aren’t you?