If someone is at least likeable for you, then you can work successfully with them in business ventures. It has also been widely studied and proven in many ways that the human relationships between business partners is a major factor in business decision-making, and in many cases, it also overrides common sense. And in business development, this factor is of paramount importance, because it is about strategy, concepts, and intangibles that are undetectable and incomprehensible to the untrained eye. It is no wonder that the big players in the business development profession have started to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on business development relationships.
A tragic year
For the business development profession, 2020 was a tragedy. At the onset of the pandemic, clients began cancelling programmes left and right, and for a long time, there was simply no chance for the profession to have a meaningful conversation with potential or existing clients about the importance of the profession and precisely how it could be beneficial in such situations. Around May, all the players realised and accepted the fact that this bitter pill had to be swallowed and we must keep quiet. Of course, there were also companies that had to manage huge volumes of projects and, virus or no virus, their partners were looking to them for solutions in times of crisis. It was not easy to find a way to maintain and even manage this profession online, which everyone considers to be a personal one, but people are creative and new solutions were born. Today, we can see that those companies that have not only survived 2020, but have been able to thrive, and not just because their industry was a clear winner during COVID, but there was a lot of business development behind the scenes. Thus, looking at last year’s results, the situation is very ambiguous, with the much larger half of the market experiencing a huge decline and the smaller half showing very strong growth. More importantly, last year’s performance clearly forecasts the outlook for the coming years, as it is safe to say that the virus situation and its consequences will be with us for a long time. In other words, only those business developers who have gained significant experience during this period that will be able to survive. And experience is gained through work, so consultants who are struggling in terms of 2020 results will not have an easier year this year.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
Experts have already interviewed the heads of several firms that were part of the smaller, winning side of the market. They were asked what they thought was behind the fact that they had not only not seen a downturn, but had made significant progress. The reactions are very interesting. On the one hand, the most striking thing is that it is very difficult to reach these managers. And it is simply impossible to get them to engage in any meaningful way, say in the media, at least at question-and-answer level. It is odd because, on the other hand, the various media and news channels are full of loud business developers and consultants, so you would think that this is an area where communication is almost mandatory. In their view, this restraint is fundamental to their success. They don’t put on an act, and they don’t try to educate people in a spectacular and public way; they just do substantive work. But the most interesting thing is that what links these companies, although they themselves won’t say so, because they don’t see the whole picture from the inside, is that the relationships they have with their partners are at an almost uncategorisable level, somewhere between friendship and business interest. Indeed, it is also clear from the telephone and video conferences that these relationships tend to be more on the friendly side, without, of course, crossing that particular “line” even once. It is therefore no coincidence that, in a period as challenging as COVID, they have been able to move forward and keep improving, because who can you trust if not your professional friend?