REFERRALS WILL MATTER MORE THAN EVER. It’s going to continue to get harder for business development teams to meet with prospects, especially at the top of the sales funnel. Just too many competitors who sound alike, with marketing content that’s not differentiating or compelling. Referrals will be the difference-maker. A referral from a trusted source will become and even more reliable mechanism to get initial meetings. And meetings, not marketing, will matter more in driving a firm to the head of the pack among the competition.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Bob Wiesner.

Bob Wiesner is managing partner, Americas of The Artemis Partnership, a global consultancy focused on helping its clients improve the results of their business development efforts. Bob has been working in this area for over 25 years. He’s the author of “Winning Is Better — The Journey to New Business Success.”

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

In the first part of my career, working for global advertising agencies, I found that I was spending much of my time doing things that I was good at doing, but wasn’t necessarily enjoying very much. When I was laid off in 1994 in a RIF, I resolved to focus my professional time on doing more of the things that gave me joy and meant something to the people I worked for and with. That led me to training and consulting. It’s been as rewarding as I had hoped it would be.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

From my perspective as a consultant in business development, I think the changes will be less profound than what might be happening in other areas. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are the same in this regard: People will continue to make decisions about hiring professional services providers for the highest-stakes projects. And people aren’t changing much in how they make those decisions. The tactics by which buyers and sellers interact are changing, sure, but the real drivers of decisions are not changing.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Create a client-centric culture. Change all marketing and sales communications to be client first, and product or firm a distant second. Orient your entire workforce — especially those who are client facing — to always be on the lookout for better ways to serve the client and for new revenue opportunities that benefit both client and firm. Firms that do this will always find ways to preserve and grow current client relationships and acquire new ones.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Employees want work-life balance, a feeling that their contributions matter, a chance to do what they do best, to learn, to grow, to be recognized. Yet many employers engage in business development activities that work in direct opposition to the employees’ objectives. Simply put, they pursue too many projects, and lose too many bids, burning out and frustrating their people. As I’ll discuss below, a poor business development strategy leads to team members to re-evaluate their jobs against their own, newly ranked priorities.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

WFH is no longer the future of work. It’s kind of become an ordinary way of working. Yet buying decisions haven’t changed from before WFH times. So we have to find ways to use the Zoom environment to get most of the same outcomes they needed to get before: build trust, establish chemistry, empathy and understanding, build strong relationships. It’s doable for sure.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

Better business development behaviors will improve the lives of buyers and sellers. Here’s my dream scenario: All companies in a competitive space decide to pursue fewer opportunities than they’ve been pursuing. They’re more selective about what they pursue, which will make their people a lot happier, less likely to burn out or seek new jobs, and able to approach the remaining pursuits with higher levels of engagement, creativity, energy. Now, from the buyer perspective, instead of receiving 20 responses to their RFQ or RFP, they get 10 or 12. They’ve lost nothing, because the 10 who decided not to respond weren’t going to win anyway. And the buyer now has more time and energy to devote to the important things in work and life.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The Great Resignation has forced companies to take a closer look at how they use their human capital to pursue new business. I don’t think nearly enough companies are now doing this, but I’m heartened by the ones we’ve worked with to achieve this objective. When competitors see the positive difference this makes, they’ll start thinking the same way.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

We see just a very small slice of this. But it’s significant to the professionals who experience it. Enlightened, human-centric companies are empowering their business development teams to take more control. And a feeling of control is vital to wellbeing. That control can be found in several related areas of business development: Setting and implementing an effective BD strategy instead or being purely reactive to inbound opportunities; allowing BD team members to make informed decisions on which opportunities to pursue; using each team member in a way that focuses on their strengths instead of their position on the proposal assembly line; making room for innovation and creativity. All these things create a much healthier culture.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

Message: Do not continue to burn out your sales and business development teams by pursuing too many opportunities. Pay more attention to the financial and human cost of each pursuit, and look closely at what you’re pursuing, how often you’re winning, and whether those wins are giving your people the financial, personal and emotional rewards they’re seeking. A very close look at all of this — which we classify under the heading of ROI of business development — will provide the impetus for major changes that will improve and evolve a company’s culture. A business development strategy that embraces “Pitch less, win more” will pay dividends throughout the company.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. TRUST WILL PLAY AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT ROLE IN SELECTING PROVIDERS. Buyers are faced with more choices than ever. And for many firms facing difficult market conditions or depressed budgets, the perceived downside of making a mistake is huge. A recent RFQ that went out to design/build firms in the A/E/C space from a public institution received over 50 responses, almost twice as many as they would’ve expected in the Before Times. The winner was a firm that the decision makers knew exceptionally well and trusted. Trust makes the decision easier and safer, especially in volatile, uncertain times.
  2. PRODUCT OR FIRM-CENTRIC COMMUNICATIONS WILL TURN OFF BUYERS. Is there a buyer on the planet who doesn’t have access to tons of information about every option they’re considering for a project? Firms that push out typical marketing and sales communications that focus on themselves won’t make it far in a pursuit. It’s just a waste of the buyers’ time. We’ve heard of countless new business presentations that started off with firm credentials that were then interrupted by senior decision-makers. Said one decision-maker to us, “We don’t need to hear that s**t. We know enough about them. We need to hear what they know about our situation, and how they’ll address it better than the other guys.”
  3. INSIGHTS WILL CREATE DIFFERENTIATION. CAPABILITIES WON’T. The barrier to entry for most professional services providers is minimal. Will there be even more such firms as a result of The Great Resignation, as people leave large firms and choose to go into business for themselves? In many ways, buyers will look at this larger supply of potential providers and, if based solely on capabilities, will be hard-pressed to differentiate among them. What buyers will look for instead is evidence that a firm really understands the problems or challenges the buyer is facing. Insights or wisdom communicates this better than anything else.
  4. GETTING FACE TO FACE WITH BUYERS WILL GIVE FIRMS A HUGE EDGE. Just before the pandemic, a large European based pharma company was looking for a provider to work the consumer business in the US. They reached out only to US firms, and didn’t require a face-to-face meeting as they went through their evaluation process. The pursuit team from one US firm boarded a plane and was able to meet with the pharma decision-makers in their home offices. They won the project. While it might be harder to meet face to face today and in the future, firms that are determined to make it happen, even when prospects don’t require it, will be more successful than those that believe that remote communication is sufficient to win.
  5. REFERRALS WILL MATTER MORE THAN EVER. It’s going to continue to get harder for business development teams to meet with prospects, especially at the top of the sales funnel. Just too many competitors who sound alike, with marketing content that’s not differentiating or compelling. Referrals will be the difference-maker. A referral from a trusted source will become and even more reliable mechanism to get initial meetings. And meetings, not marketing, will matter more in driving a firm to the head of the pack among the competition.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“YOU’VE GOT TO CARE . . . BUT NOT THAT MUCH.” My boss at Rogen Inc., Neil Flett, said this to us after a particularly tough loss in a competitive pitch. It changed my mindset about my business life. It gave me perspective not to dwell too much on business losses, but to learn from them, make adjustments, and then move on. And to keep my spirits up.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I’d like to talk with the people who sit on top of the largest advertising agencies or networks or holding companies. I’d like to remind them that, despite the drive to improve capabilities, add resources, become more data driven, become more creative, and so on, they are missing the point. Growth is driven by humans on the client and prospect sides who use human criteria to pick agencies. It seems to me that too many agencies — and many professional services firms — have lost this perspective.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.