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Posted By: Laura Burch

Stacey Vega, Business Development Manager

Our executive vice president is a big fan of Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I went through training on the program 15 years ago and recently did it again. All I can say is what a difference 15 years makes! I had many "a-ha" moments based on 15 years of work experience that I did not have the first time. I had many more takeaways and related more closely to key topics because I had experienced them first hand in my career. Some of the topics in the book may be a little heavy handed; however there are certain core concepts that directly apply to successful business development.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Often in business development, we are so eager to close a deal that we don't take the time to ask enough questions; questions that help us understand the customer's needs and concerns. This concept reminds us to initially approach our customers from a position that puts their issues, goals, concerns, and worries FIRST. When we make this our starting point, we begin to truly comprehend what their objectives are. It immediately reduces the potential for misunderstandings and other factors that can lead to a negative outcome. After we understand the customer's position then we can effectively communicate our position and empower the client to make informed decisions that can lead to a positive outcome.

I'll share a good example of this from early on in my career. George Steinbrenner (you may have heard of him) was a board member for one of our most affluent clients back when I worked in the institutional investment industry. At one point, we had had a truly awful quarter. Though we lost money, we still managed to outperform the designated benchmark, which meant that the client owed us our fee. Well, as you might image, this didn't go over well with Mr. Steinbrenner. Legend has it there were several "loud discussions." Afterwards, my boss decided to meet with the entire board and talk about what happened. In the end, my boss decided to negotiate a lower fee with the board and everyone was happy. In addition, he also offered to renegotiate the terms of their management agreement in order to prevent that situation from occurring again in the event that the market did not pick up.

The customer stayed with us and we had a great relationship with them, but the situation could have gone very differently had my boss not put the client's concerns first. We spent a lot of time and attention discussing the board's position first, then formulated a response to the issues at hand. Unfortunately, more often than not, we see the reverse take place, causing relationships to deteriorate in the process.

Begin with the end in mind
Someone I have come to admire greatly throughout my career is Mickey Drexler, current CEO* of JCREW. He's had an interesting career trajectory, filled with big, loudly celebrated wins and some major failures. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about how he admits to being wrong about the effect social media and e-commerce would have on the retail market – specifically, he underestimated its importance. In summary, he missed the "boat" on harnessing technology to move product and drive sales. Now that the company has had multiple quarters of declining sales, he's trying to play catch up.

This is a pertinent example of what happens when we don't act from a position of keeping the end in mind. What is the goal? What is the overall objective? These answers should drive your activity and decision making every day. If they don't you run the risk of becoming ineffective and losing sight of what your goals are and how to achieve them.

*Since writing this it was announced that Mickey would be stepping down as CEO. He remains on the BOD as Chairman. The move was said to be done in the best interest of the company. I speculate that this is not the "end" Mickey had in mind!