Dean Barber

For Business Development, Think Customer and Process

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on April 16, 2017 at 12:06 pm

The well-known phrase “first, do no harm” is actually not in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by physicians, but the purpose and the meaning certainly is.

Based on the fiasco created by United Airlines this past week with the literal beating of a passenger that it wanted to “re-accommodate,” I think most businesses, big and small, should consider taking an oath to putting their customers first.

Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, credits his company’s focus on customer service for its success. The e-commerce giant’s shares hit an all-time high this month and are up nearly 50 percent over the past year alone.

In his latest annual shareholder letter released last week, Bezos wrote:

“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

“Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

A company’s desire to delight customers can truly differentiate it from the competition.

First, Do Not Annoy (Or Offend)

Economic development organizations, those entities charged with  sparking economic change and vitality in communities via capital investment and job creation, should be obsessed with customer service. And that goes for serving existing businesses, entrepreneurial startups, or in the recruitment of new companies to their respective communities.

It is in that latter category that I have been the recipient of some ham-fisted attempts at business development by economic development organizations. To put it bluntly, they have annoyed me with nonsensical emails that they should never have been sent to me.

Email, while incredibly important, is already an annoying necessity by virtue of the fact that every day I must wade through it to delete those messages that have absolute zero bearing on my business or what I do. And that is after employing spam filters.

Mind you, most emails that I get from economic development organizations are good and informative and worth keeping. And for that, I am appreciative.

But I continue to get emails from EDOs inviting me to one-day events that should have only been sent to community stakeholders and not to a consultant (me) 1,000 miles away. (The exception is if you are paying me to speak at your event, to which I may spend several days in your community.)

Inappropriate Emails

Last week alone, I got at least a half dozen of wholly inappropriate emails from EDOs. One was a survey for business owners in a town in Minnesota. Being that I’m in Dallas, there was no reason to junk up my email with that.

Then I got another one for a one-day event in Michigan, in which it was obvious that it was not directed to me per se, but sent en masse to virtually anyone with a pulse. Delete.

I got three emails, two from ED groups in Florida and another from one in Louisiana, all of which addressed me as if I were some muckety muck in an aerospace company. They asked to meet with me at the upcoming MRO Americas trade show in Orlando about moving my company to their respective communities.

And the crazy part is that I actually know two of the economic developers who sent me this nonsense. I responded to their off-the-mark emails with, “Really?”

Crazier still, I am not even registered to attend this particular trade show.

Talk About Crazy

True story. When I was an economic developer some years back, I attended a big manufacturing trade show in Chicago. I recall that it was a pretty productive event, and that I had some good meetings with companies.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from a sales rep with a company that manufactures conveyer belts. I kid you not, the sales rep asked about my interest in buying industrial conveyer belts from his company.

My response was something like this: “Do you have any idea who you are calling? Had you simply looked up my organization’s name on the internet, you would immediately see that I work for an economic development organization. We don’t buy industrial belts.”

Having been in their shoes, I try to cut most sales people a break and be respectful, but that particular phone call was beyond stupid.

Business Development 101

Before you make that call or send that email, it’s always best to know who you are communicating with. Have at least a basic knowledge of who that person is, what they do, who they work for, and what that company or organization does.

In short, a little due diligence can go a long way. Folks, this is basic blocking and tackling, which I see too many companies and economic development organizations failing to do.

It has me wondering, “What were they thinking?” More often than not, they weren’t.

For business development to be effective, and I am talking essentially about sales, it should be process-driven. But here is the key — the process needs to be smart and right. It cannot be unthinking.

As Bezos wrote to shareholders last week, “It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, ‘Well, we followed the process. A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process.”

To my economic development friends who send me junk emails, I would say this is opportunity to learn and improve your process. If you even have one.

A Teaching Moment

My purpose is not to pick on or embarrass anyone. For that reason, I have named no names. My purpose is simply to impart some things that I have learned, often through making my own embarrassing errors.

Of the three economic developers who sent me recruiting emails last week, one blamed it on his IT department, while another didn’t respond at all to my “Really?” comeback. The third apologized, saying he would remove me from all future outgoing emails, which is NOT the right solution.

The fact is that I DO want to stay apprised of what is happening in communities when it is relevant to me as a site selection/economic development consultant. But his response is actually a common one, to which I wrote two years ago in a blog entitled Sort That Database and Everything Will Be Gravy.

In a series of back and forth emails, which prompted that particular blog, I was trying to explain to an economic developer in Kansas that it should not be too hard to differentiate email communications between internal and external stakeholders.

Soon thereafter, I got an email from her boss, as she must have shared our conversation with him: “Thank you for your constructive feedback. Thanks to you, we have now started a ‘site selection consultant’ list which we will target for when we have project announcements.”

Bingo. They got it. They understood that the right solution was to sort their database of contacts in order to ensure that the right messages were going out to the right people.

Executing on the Right Process

The nuts and bolts of business development, which I can teach to economic development organizations, is an exercise in effective outreach. It entails putting in the time and hard work.

It means a never-ending mining of sources, ideally decision-makers and those who can influence decisions. (See Seek and Ye Shall Find: Connecting in a Connected World)

It means crafting an effective message aimed at a specific customer group. It more often than not means adding humanity, developing relationships and trust. In short, it means being smart, diligent and executing on the right process. (See A Rocky Road to Travel: Making Business Development Work)

The process should never be one-size-fits all. Mistakes invariably will happen, but if you recognize and correct your bad decisions and keep your customers’ needs foremost in your mind, good things will happen. The process becomes the solution.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. BBA helps companies and communities. Mr. Barber is available as a keynotes speaker and can be reached at

  1. Dean — Amen, brother. My biggest gripe is with folks who try to sell me what I have already bought — including the superbright folks at Harvard University. Here in Austin, I attend an “Internet Marketing Party” every time I am in town for the event. Careful, sophisticated email handling is the lifeblood of all those firms. Would that the NON-Internet Marketeers would learn this lesson.

    Rollie Cole

  2. Thank you, Rollie. I’ll always remember the quote from William F. Buckley: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

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