Developing a relationship with a new organization can be a time-intensive endeavor but is one that can absolutely pay off for years to come. In my experience, the first engagement with an organization is usually the least profitable because you need to invest time and energy into building relationship(s), understanding dynamics and various stakeholders, and learning the lay of the land. Once you have had a successful engagement with very satisfied stakeholders, however, referrals within the organization can take off like wildfire. It might even take some discernment, and a network of referral partners, to know when you aren’t the right person for the “job” or when you’ve hit your capacity with clients or projects. It’s challenging for my clients to say “no” or “I don’t have any capacity for four months” when this happens. And many other coaches and coachsultants WISH they had this challenge to handle!
Even if you have a referral into an organization looking for a coach or coachsultant, navigating the business development process is as much an art as a science. An important part of this complex web is understanding various players in the cast of business development stakeholders so that you get in front of the right people who will move a project forward successfully. Like Shakespearean plays of old, several players in this cast can have multiple roles, complicating the business development process.
I am certain there are more characters or different versions of these characters out there, but here are Tara Butler Floch’s cliff notes on the types of stakeholders involved in the decision-making process:
- The Sponsor — This person is the most critical among this complex cast of characters. They give the financial green light for your project. They may or may not be directly involved as the project unfolds, but they play a critical role in making the project or initiative possible by allocating resources and championing its goals. They also have the power to find money for your initiative if none has been allocated, which is often the case, particularly in small- to medium-sized companies.
- The Decision Maker(s) — This person or people decide “Yes, we want to work with you.” They are responsible for the decision and determine how you will work together. Now, here is where it gets complicated. The sponsor is also a decision maker. And in many coaching engagements, so is the coachee (but not always, so if coachee buy-in and coach:coachee fit are important to you, you should insist they be part of the decision-making process). There may be additional decision makers to boot. Uncovering who all the decision makers are and understanding their decision-making process is crucial to your success. As an example, does it need to be a unanimous or consensus decision to move forward? The more decision makers in the process, the longer the business development process often takes. You may initially get in front of a single, gatekeeping decision maker, and your success will be buoyed when you get in front of all the decision makers, particularly if other coaches or coachsultants are vying for the project. No one will communicate your unique value proposition as effectively as you do.
- Influencers — These individuals shape opinions, provide recommendations, or offer expertise that may influence the decisions made by sponsors and/or decision makers. Influencers can be your friends and they are important people to get to know and maintain good relationships with. They also can sometimes be the initiator—the person who reaches out to you or who opens the door into the organization. It’s important to recognize, however, when an influencer is not a decision maker and then work with them to get in front of decision makers. What’s tricky is that influencers may need your help to move the ball forward. This may require some free coaching on your part to prepare an influencer to effectively put your idea forward to a prospective sponsor or another decision maker. Unfortunately, many enthusiastic influencers are not influential enough, which can shelve a prospective project indefinitely. Keep your expectations in check if your contact is an influencer but not a decision maker. Some of the art of business development is helping the influencer get you in front of decision makers who can move your project forward.
In a 1:1 coaching engagement, one person may simultaneously be the sponsor, sole decision maker, and coachee. On the other hand, a whole swath of people may be involved in the decision-making process. As an example, an HR influencer, who may/may not be a decision maker, can bring you in, and you can have several layers of decision-making leaders, including the coachee and a sponsor who secures the necessary funds. In the first scenario, you can go from conversation to signed proposal in a day. In the second scenario, it can take days—more often weeks or even months—depending on decision makers’ priorities and how aligned they are.
Coachsulting engagements like HPT work (High Performance Team) with a senior leader and their team usually involve a complex web of decision makers, influencers, and sponsors—navigating that web can be both exciting and challenging. It can require patience and diligence to keep the ball moving forward. With that said, once a successful engagement moves the needle, it can open the floodgates for additional engagements.
The one critical factor for moving these engagements forward quickly is need. When there is a clear need and the work feels essential, the decision makers, influencers, and sponsors tend to quickly line up with each other. The key here is that you come to mind when a need arises, so you either need to be a well-known entity to them already or be a well-known entity to the person they ask “Who do you know that can help us with … ?” This comes back full circle to why building a relationship with a new organization and their respective decision makers is an investment that can provide great returns in the long run.
To learn more, check out my recent article “Getting in Front of Decision Makers”
If you have been struggling with landing corporate business and need help, don’t hesitate to reach out for a complimentary Business Breakthrough Session.
As always, I would love to hear from you!