A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from a friend which got me thinking about this particular topic.
The friend in question is David Lomas, who runs M3 Publishing – but more importantly, is the kind of guy who always has a dozen projects on the boil and has a huge network of connections.
David called me as he was driving home one Friday evening “just to keep in touch”. We spent the next 20 minutes or so just shooting the breeze, exchanging stories and brainstorming a little about a couple of projects we are working on.
Here's the point: 95% of people – when driving home on a Friday – would be listening to music, thinking about their weekend, or grumbling about the traffic.
But in David's case, the thing that came most naturally to him was to phone up his contacts to see how they were getting on.
The rest of us either wouldn't bother, or we'd be thinking “I don't want to intrude”, “I don't have a good reason to call” or “Why would he want to speak to me on a Friday afternoon?”.
We talk ourselves out of keeping in touch. Perhaps because we fear that 1 in 10 call where the person really doesn't want to hear from us. Or perhaps we just don't enjoy these part social, part business calls.
Now maybe David and others for whom business development seems to come naturally go through the same self-chatter like this. Or maybe they don't. But either way – it doesn't stand in their way. When they have a few spare moments they don't turn inward – they reach out to contacts and clients to stay in touch.
Another example: Steve Head.
Steve is one of the UK's top professional speakers. He's got that rare ability to entertain, inform and inspire.
Steve has an unusual business development approach – one I've not seen anyone else use: he keeps in touch with clients via text messages.
When I saw him at the Professional Speakers Association in Manchester, he talked about how he checked his phone after an evening away from home before a client seminar and was astounded to see that he'd sent 125 texts to clients the previous evening.
When I quizzed Steve about it he highlighted that every one of those 125 messages was personal and sincere. In other words, it's his way of keeping in touch with people he cares about – who also happen to be his clients. It's absolutely not a cold, calculated “what can I get in return” business development methodology. Nor is David's habit of phoning up his contacts.
Nonetheless, the habit shared by Steve and David is a healthy one from a business development perspective. By keeping in touch, they keep top of mind with clients. And because they both really care about their clients: every interaction they have deepens their relationships.
So do you have a business development habit? A way you keep in touch and deepen client relationships on “autopilot” without having to think, plan and prepare every time.
In reality – most of us don't do this naturally.
Personally, given a few moments spare, my first thought is to read a book or article – to expand my knowledge. I don't instantly think of getting in touch with current & prospective clients.
In order to get good at business development I've had to create habits which “force” me to do the right things. For example, keeping a list of my priority client and prospective client relationships and reviewing it weekly to brainstorm what I can do to help them this week.
It's not like I find keeping in touch with clients painful or difficult. It's simply that, unlike David or Steve, given a few spare moments, it's not my first thought.
And that's the thing. The world of the professional isn't filled with empty hours where we can start from scratch, plan how to keep in touch with clients, and carefully execute the plan. We're busy. Really, really busy.
We don't get hours spare at our desks. We get a few minutes here and there. Or we get an hour driving home or on the train.
If we have to think, plan and prepare our keep-in-touch activities, the reality is that they just won't happen.
So for people like me who aren't naturals at business development – we need to have already done our homework by the time our free moments arrive. If we're going to call people up (or even text them) we need to have thought through already who we're going to call and what we're going to say. Because if we leave it to our free moments, by the time we've figured out what to do the moment will be gone.
Most importantly, we need to get ourselves into the habit of staying in touch. Initially we have to force ourselves to do it with reminders and rituals. Over time, we'll come to do it automatically without having to force ourselves. We may even come to enjoy it.
And then we'll be indistinguishable from those natural business developers we all get so envious about.