In his first guest blog, newly recruited John Baker, business development manager at Modulift, talks about the value of sincerity when building relationships.
So early in my time at Modulift, I didn't expect to be asked to write the company's blog, but the theme of the last few weeks has been grasping new opportunities so I was happy to accept the challenge. I might be a novice blogger but I'm an avid reader of trade media and understand the importance of giving the reader an educational, relevant angle that they can apply to their work. With that in mind, here goes.
I've been involved in business development-related activity as an entrepreneur and employee of industrial companies throughout my career and have learnt a thing or two about creating new relationships and retaining old. It's the latter that I want to focus on primarily.
There are many reasons why an individual or company allows a relationship to disintegrate, but I've encountered three more than others.
The first is when a business is so obsessed with widening their market that they constantly seek new connections. Sales people and other representatives are challenged to visit new shows, join new associations and report their findings in terms of the amount of business cards they've collected. If Marvin has 15 new connections and Paul 12, Marvin gets the gold star. Paul must try harder.
The second reason is commonly seen at companies that serve multiple markets, the majority of which are cyclical. When one sector is hot, the buying decision makers become everyone's best friends. Sales guys phone them up and ask how their families are and take every opportunity to treat them to an expensive dinner. They remember birthdays, even their children's sports matches at school. 'How did Joe's college football match go?' they enquire.
All the time these industries are smashing it out of the park, the relationships blossom. Then just as quickly, when the bottom falls out, it becomes apparent that the whole thing was built on sand. Everyone moves on to the next buoyant sector. Those old relationships get forgotten until the cycle repeats itself and they're consuming equipment again. That's when the sales guy dials the number (they've forgotten it by now and need to look it up) and hopes the recession didn't put their contact out of work. If it did, they better have recruited someone else just as keen to buy equipment, they say.
The third reason is to some extent related; when product or service providers divide their attention to clients based on their size or spend. If a company is buying €1m of kit a year, they get 80% more customer service than one spending €200k. The trouble with that is the first company might only have spent that much to fit out a new facility and their buying potential over the next few years might be zero. On the flip side, the one who spent €200k might be about to ramp up production and place €5m over the next three years. Imagine the damage it can do if Customer B was made to feel inferior or second best when Company A was placing their orders.
All three sound equally cynical, cold and callous, but they happen. Actually, it's common practice at a lot of companies and is encouraged by management. Nobody says to Marvin and Paul, make sure you strengthen those 15 or 12 connections; cultivate them until they become friends and support them even through the darkest times. Managers generally don't say, keep working on that quiet account, it'll come to fruition one day.
That's just what happens at good companies, however, and one of many key attractions of my new employer, Modulift, was the value placed on building long-term, sincere relationships. Moreover, it is integral to my role. Home run!
As was discussed during my interview, I previously spent two spells at a port equipment and service business either side of pursuing my own business interests. The primary reason for being asked to go back was that certain key relationships had been lost. It wasn't only because I'd departed—the handover process was well managed—but more that nobody had been consulting with them on a regular basis. Competition sensed the opportunity and my employer had struck out. It took time and patience to rebuild that trust, particularly where the customer had sensed the company was only interested in their money. In those cases I was fighting a losing battle. We'd dropped the ball.
Of course, I accept there's an element of gamesmanship involved. Modulift, like other good, profitable businesses, doesn't pay its staff to manage relationships without any return. But there's a balance to find. Play hard, but play fair.
If readers take one thing from this blog I hope it's that proper, solid, long-lasting relationships make for a more enjoyable and rewarding career—on all levels. I have genuine friendships with many old and existing clients. The fact that many have placed lots of business with my employers and me over the years is secondary.
One of the exciting things about being new to a company is that there's an opportunity to start new journeys with people. I'll be at Vertikal Days, for example, which takes place at Silverstone race circuit in the UK on 24-25 May, while other trade shows and meetings are already filling up my diary. Yes, I'll be weighing up people's short- and long-term below-the-hook requirements but want to build strong relationships with all people I meet.
There's obviously more to astute business development than being everyone's mate. As I engage with people, I'll simultaneously be gathering intelligence that I might be able to feedback to our marketing and engineering teams to see if we can further enhance the product range. I was at an event hosted by a subsea company in Rotterdam recently and one of the senior engineers was talking to his colleague. I heard reference to something interesting that I invited him to repeat, which is already looking like becoming a product enhancement in the near future.
Modulift's existing product range suggests the company has already been doing a good job of listening to the marketplace. The new Active Link, an innovative end unit system with an integrated load cell, compatible with our existing range of spreader beams, is one example.
The market is also demanding that our kit gets bigger. As was widely covered by trade media, we recently manufactured our largest ever spreader beam that can lift 1,500 tonnes at a span of 20m. When I joined the industry 30 years ago, a heavy crane was a 500t mobile. If someone talked about 1,000t capacity they were laughed out of the room! Now, John Smith Rentals up the road has a crane that size on his front yard.
The company's marketing ethos has certainly helped me find my feet. For years I've been reading about Modulift in trade media and digesting this blog alongside other content. I've long been a supporter of their outreach efforts and it's exciting to now be a direct beneficiary of that communication strategy. Even in the early meetings I've had, it's evident that industry has a clear understanding of the brand, what it stands for and what they can expect from a business partnership with us, even if they are yet to place their first order.
I hope I've managed to table some worthy matters in my first blog. I'd be particularly pleased if young professionals have taken something from it. Millennials and young people get a lot of stick—some of it justifiably—but it's ultimately a group that will shape our future so we've got to embrace the generation. If apprentices and new recruits can demonstrate a bias to graft and play the long game, and employees in turn show faith, the future's bright.
Business Development Manager Modulift