08 May 2017

How to encourage your team’s business winning capability


CEOs and business leaders across the defence industry are fast recognising that business winning is key to sustainability.

As the landscape shifts, business development requires a more creative, innovative and strategic approach. At the same time, with many leaders schooled in a technical delivery background, there’s been an over-reliance on business winning as a discrete function.

In today’s ever-competitive environment, business winning is a capability that needs to run throughout the business. So many large scale organisations are simply not set up to support ‘winning’, operating instead in a world where delivery is king. Sales is becoming a more critical, sophisticated function demanding a more proactive approach, greater support from the broader business, including trust from the top . From business development professionals themselves, a greater strategic focus is more necessary than ever, given the need to identify long term approaches to the complex landscape of new adjacent markets and exports needs. Increasingly, this is requiring a greater breadth of skill from sales, in order to respond effectively to the customer across the range of new business phases.

The sales connection

Many Executive Team leaders within the defence sector bring with them an attitude very much shaped by the unique characteristics of the sector – this being in the majority of cases, a career spent within complex, large scale technical programme technical delivery. This exposure, can understandingly colour decision making, and perceptions of risk which can have consequence for their relationship with business development teams.

Defence leaders tend to value certainty. So they treat the sometimes vague outcomes of initial relationship building from sales with skepticism. With the high costs associated with breaking into new markets, qualification and bidding, Executive Team Leaders do have a tough job to direct – or re-divert – the activities of business development to the most likely and lucrative markets. However, these early stage business development engagements can be shut down prematurely by the business, as the cultural leaning toward ‘certainty’ are at odds with the complexity and ‘messiness’ of early stage market shaping and opportunity development. This is short-sighted at best.

To avoid the premature withdrawal from potentially lucrative longer-term activities and vital relationship building, business development professionals need to be better at sharing progress, convincing and positioning their opportunities in ways that gain trust from decision-makers internally. Those with the power to re-direct the activities of sales need to be more open to the ambiguity of early-phase relationship creation and proposition development.

Large defence organisations especially, also demonstrate a disconnect between sales teams and the people delivering the rest of business. This is another key shift being addressed by leaders. Progress is being made in terms of getting multi-disciplined teams involved with the customer earlier in the lifecycle, although there is some way for many businesses to go in getting the whole delivery organisation behind the teams bringing in the work

Breaking down barriers

The need to invest in business winning capability of teams of individuals and strengthen business development integration with the business is being recognised by a number of defence organisations. Often unfairly, the business development function can be seen as less professional by their highly technical colleagues, with people who are good talkers rather than those who get things done. Strengthening the profile of business development internally and upskilling sales as well as other interfacing functions is helping more progressive players become more integrated, seeing better ‘business winning’ outcomes as a result.

Making business winning a collective goal is key.

Create a better business winning culture

There are some key steps organisations can take to foster a better business winning capability:

  • Create a consistent dialogue between sales teams and senior leaders to foster transparency and collaboration in business winning and throughout the sales cycle.
  • Invest in business development; recognise and respect that the business’ future depends on having the right person in the right role. This is about creating winning partnerships, collaborating and influencing relentlessly, internally and externally.
  • Remember your customers have choices. Traditional defence procurement with extensive contracts has meant organisations have lost sight of this and we need to move back to the mindset that the customer is king, with more choice even when they’re locked into a contract. It’s about delighting customers not just delivering. The way you engage with, build relationships with and ultimately work with customers is as important as the end-product. Shape that true customer service environment or customers will look for out-clauses.
  • Encourage your people to take a disciplined approach to developing and leveraging of their networks, identifying the new people they need to build relationships with rather than sticking with those they already know.
  • Push your people to think outside their own area of expertise and really get to know the product and service offerings that your whole organisation offers, so they can offer joined up propositions to your customers.

There’s a real culture shift at play here. True business winning capability requires a collaborative approach, shared goals and ensuring the whole organisation is obsessively customer focused.

By Mike Owtram, Partner, Kiddy & Partners


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