Infrastructure output is expected to grow by almost a quarter in 2021, with a further 10% increase in 2022, according to recent forecasts from the Construction Products Association.
The furlough scheme is coming to an end. Towns and cities are getting a little busier again. And there is genuine hope that the worst of the pandemic could be behind us. So, many businesses in the sector are shifting their focus from survival to growth.
We are likely to see an increase in hiring for senior business development roles, as companies capitalise on market opportunities.
The pandemic has affected the way we interact with one another, and one of the functions arguably most impacted by the increase in virtual working is business development.
It is critical that companies looking to recruit Business Development Directors hire people with the skills and experience to succeed in the current environment. Not those who thrived in the world that used to exist.
So how has the pandemic changed business development activity?
Although wining and dining of clients pre-covid had already decreased for many due to ever stricter public sector procurement guidelines, there were still plenty of other opportunities for eager suppliers to build rapport with key decision makers. Whether it was awards dinners, round tables or business breakfasts, there were still some ways to socialise within the rules. Most of that kind of activity has completely disappeared over the past 18 months and will be slow to return.
Back in 2019, Business Development leaders would often have a roster of networking events they could walk in to, allowing them to build key relationships. There is a real skill in working a room.
Those who did it well would keep their business at the forefront of the minds of potential partners, suppliers and clients. For the last 18 months, these events have been online. This has left very little chance for meaningful chat and making new connections among delegates. To what extent will people be able to justify returning to physical events when they do return? And how much opportunity will charisma have to work its magic in the future?
Winning one contract with a major client can open the door to a much longer relationship. Having a team based in the client’s office gives fantastic access to a large pool of potential new clients in different departments, particular for consultants. It was easy for adept business developers to bump into clients in the corridor and get introductions to new decision makers.
With many client staff working remotely and access to HQs restricted this hasn’t been an option. Many offices are opening up again but with some staff only commuting in on a limited basis the days of casual on-site meetings are a long way from returning.
Old-school business development is being replaced by the use of strategic marketing to show thought leadership and free workshops that address client issues and demonstrate value.
Most target clients are busy in back-to-back Zoom and Teams calls. They will resist adding in another one unless they can see a clear benefit. Suppliers need to tempt them in with a specific proposition that differentiates. The good news is for a virtual meeting they don’t have to factor in travel time so should be easier to pin down.
Public sector clients have been using structured bid criteria and evaluation for many years. Many private sector companies are now following suit.
It is no longer enough to talk a good game in a meeting and have a great company reputation, private sector clients expect suppliers to communicate their solution effectively and persuasively within a bid document which can be marked and evaluated against the competition.
Equally in a buoyant market suppliers can afford to be very choosy, and their BD professionals need to carefully analyse client opportunities to pick which ones they invest their time pursuing.
A very different set of skills are required for business development in the infrastructure sector in 2021. Business development leaders need to demonstrate how they have adapted their approach to the changing business environment.
Of course, social skills are always important in any interaction. Some people can adapt better to changing circumstances than others. But it is important that you are testing candidates for a new business development role on what new work they’ve won during the pandemic.