Business Development in a Coronavirus World

The focus of my work over the past few months has been business development. Our company is growing into a new geography, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that our team there will have work to do. That’s no small challenge, even in a world without coronavirus.

But once the virus hit here in the U.S., I noticed that it became much more difficult to get meetings with people. When I did get a meeting, the outcome was often not what I was hoping for. That’s not too surprising when many businesses are shutting down or laying off employees. It would be difficult to find people who are interested in having a conversation about new business.

But giving up wasn’t an option, so I did the only thing I could do — I adapted. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the new state of the world and how I could change my process to improve my chances of success in this new environment.

How Has Business Changed?

Teams Have Changed

Many companies have been forced to lay off team members. For those who remain, the dynamics of their work situation have likely changed significantly. They may have more responsibilities, they may be in a completely different role, and things have (most likely) gotten more difficult for them.

Business Models Have Changed

Some companies have completely pivoted their business models. For example, many manufacturing companies transitioned to developing medical equipment or PPE instead of the products they had been making.

Initiatives Have Changed

Companies that were previously planning growth or the launch of a new product have had to cancel their plans. Projects were axed, budgets reduced. Many companies have shifted to a survival mindset.

Human Interaction Has Changed

Social distancing has made it nearly impossible for us to have true human-to-human interaction with people outside of our immediate families. This means a lot more time is spent on video/telephone calls or communicating via email instead of having in-person meetings.

What does all of this change do to us? Some people rise to the challenge and are energized by the new problems that need solving. Others struggle more and experience increased stress. This stress can manifest as isolation, unresponsiveness, a short temper, flakiness, indecisiveness, etc.

How to Compensate for the Changes

Lead with Empathy

The most important thing you can do is listen to people and try to emphasize with them. If someone shares that they’re having a rough day or that something unexpected landed on their calendar, offer to reschedule the meeting. If you find out that a project is canceled or a budget reduced, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to imagine how they might be feeling in the situation. Maybe there is a resource or an experience you can share with them.

Reduce the Back-and-Forth

The first tangible change that I made was to begin using Calandly to streamline scheduling. It allows people to view my availability and schedule a meeting with me instantly, without having to do any back-and-forth. After scheduling, they even get a link that allows them to easily reschedule the meeting if their availability changes. I think a lot of people are exhausted from the increase in digital communication; anything I can do to reduce that stress will be appreciated.

Be More Flexible

Another change I made was to offer people multiple options for connecting. Instead of just assuming someone wants to do a video call, I ask people if they would prefer a traditional phone call.

I know from personal experience that Zoom fatigue is a real thing. I don’t want to force someone to sit in front of their camera for an hour when they really just need a break from their computer. There are many possible reasons why someone might prefer a phone call over a video call, or vice-versa, so giving them the option is nice.

Allow More Small Talk

When I’m in a meeting, I start things off with more small talk than I would previously. Maybe it’s intentional, or maybe it’s just that I need it more myself now! Either way, I think it’s positive to give people the opportunity to share what’s going on in their life, blow off a little steam, or just joke around for a minute before talking shop.

Some people will engage in it more than others, so you have to read your audience and know when to get to business. I find that any piece of information that I can learn about someone will help me better understand their situation and allow me to better navigate the rest of the meeting.

Inspire Hope in the Future

Finally, I try to wrap up my meetings by saying something like, “I look forward to meeting you in person sometime” or, “Hopefully someday soon we can get together for a coffee or lunch.”  It’s just a little reminder that this situation is temporary and in-person meetings will come back eventually. I hope this might brighten someone’s day a little.

The reality is that many aspects of the business world have gotten more difficult recently. The only thing we can do is adapt and try to make the most of it.

Practice being empathetic with everyone you meet, and recognize that we’re all dealing with a lot. One possible positive outcome from all of this is that we’ll actually form some stronger human connections built on mutual respect and empathy for one another.