This is a guest post by Ty Toepke, chief growth officer at The Frontier Project, an Inc. 5000 company that consults with Fortune 500s, global nonprofits, and fast-growth startups.

Search "business development best practices" in your favorite search engine and you'll get just over 55 million results in less than half a second.

  • Knock on the right doors.
  • Get second conversations.
  • Use LinkedIn.
  • Use a custom URL on LinkedIn.
  • Network.
  • Create a sales culture.
  • Something else about LinkedIn.

Not exactly a clear place to start. Even if you were to read the first page of the results, you'd never remember all of the suggested best practices. All (well, most) of the suggestions are helpful to a degree. But the key to effective business development is actually much simpler.

It all comes down to momentum.

How do you build--and then maintain--business development momentum? Make sure you are always able to answer six simple questions for every deal you have open and every prospect you have on the horizon.

  1. What was done last?
  2. Who did it?
  3. When did they do it?
  4. What will be done next?
  5. Who is going to do it?
  6. When will it be done?

It's not rocket science. It's not sexy. And it doesn't quite qualify as a hack. But these six Ws are the key to successful business development. And it's exactly because this momentum management process is so simple and straightforward that we often overlook it.

Business development professionals spend an immense amount of time and resources figuring out whom to call and how to get to them. But once they secure an appointment? The tight discipline exhibited on the hunt slackens.

We send a proposal and then wait too many days to see what the prospect thought of it. Someone invites us to call back in a month, and we call back in six weeks--or forget to call back at all. We aim to update sales tasks at the end of the week, but are distracted by an urgent task that arises, losing the thread and the details.

It's tempting to blame the salesperson for laziness or poor detail management when timely follow-up doesn't happen. Or, just as common: We blame the systems or processes--or even the software. The lost deals add up, frustration mounts, and team tension results. And it happens to rookies and veterans alike: I've seen some of the most seasoned sales and fundraising professionals lose deals because they didn't execute in the right time frame to catch a prospect while the momentum was strong.

Each time we delay recording our next step in a way that will empower us to remember it, we reduce the chances that the right action will happen when it should. Consequently, we chip away at the momentum that we just created with our last step, reducing the chances of the deal closing. The boulder we are pushing up the mountain rolls backward just a bit while we are distracted trying to push another boulder along as well.

By taking the time to record a next step and set a reminder, we effectively set a parking brake on each business development boulder until it's time to start pushing that one again.

The good news: It's not an expensive investment. If you are a small shop with no budget for a fancy CRM, start with a Google Sheet with 10 columns:

  • Name and Company
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Deal
  • Last Activity
  • Last Date
  • Last Person Assigned
  • Next Activity
  • Next Date
  • Next Person Assigned

Or even simpler: Use tasks or calendar appointments with those details in them to remind you to act when the time comes.

The even better news: The six Ws above aren't a skill that requires a great deal of time to learn and then sharpen. Together they form a small, simple habit loop. Once the habit's built, the behavior becomes second nature.

In the same way your dentist schedules your six-month appointment as you are walking out the door, schedule your next interaction with your prospect as soon as you hang up the phone. It might be tomorrow, or even a year away. But if it isn't scheduled with an accompanying reminder, it is exponentially more likely to be delayed or forgotten. And thus the deal is more likely to be lost.

Whatever the system, you also have to check it regularly. Your business development tasks should be the first items you look at every day, even before your email. They should also be the last things you look at each day as you prepare for the next.

Embed these behaviors in your business development processes and hold your team accountable for doing them, and I guarantee you'll close more deals. And you'll build a team of momentum addicts, disciplined in the simple actions that win business and grow companies.

 

Published on: Dec 2, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.