4 keys to client engagement in a post-COVID world

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As COVID-19 restrictions disappear, business development and client engagement require a new level of listening, creativity, agility and courage.

As we approach the end of the federal fiscal year, it seems like everyone is hustling in the federal space. Business developers are trying to close deals and finalize the year end tasks. Government customers are finalizing solicitations and award documents and are trying to spend the last dollars of the year. Between all the year-end activity, I find myself reflecting on the changes to our industry post-pandemic. 

Client engagement has drastically changed. Everyone is so busy with end of year activity that it seems that no one in industry wants to say it aloud. Trying to get a customer’s attention is getting harder and having meaningful engagement in industry feels different. The days of “roaming of the halls” and talking to customers is probably largely gone, as government customers shift to a flexible working model. Working from anywhere makes engaging with customers feel and look very different. In the words of Jack Welsh, it is important “to change before you have to.” Let’s take a moment to realize what has changed and figure out how we need to change before we are forced to.

With client engagement, some elements will—of course—stay the same. Relationships will always matter and listening still matters, but how we engage with our customers and partners will look very different and the skills we need in business development will change.

Client Engagement 2.0

Client engagement in a post-pandemic world requires a new level of listening, creativity, agility, and courage.

A New Level of Listening: Amazon defines it as “customer obsession” and that has led to Amazon’s meteoric growth. Understanding and knowing our customers has always been very important, but the channels of customer interaction will be more diverse. We have to be listening many places—webinars, coffee shops, LinkedIn, and Industry Days.

Creativity: Sadly, gone are the days when we can just send a government customer some marketing documents and this will somehow lead to work (ok, it was never like that).  We cannot rely on our company’s marketing team alone; we have to create our own content that are useful for our customers and create our own brands. We have to plan our own marketing strategies. Or work closer with marketing to accomplish this. The best marketers work closely with both sales and BD.

Agility: Industry leaders and business development professionals need to be open to meeting our customers where they are and at various times. This includes virtual meetings, LinkedIn engagement, conferences, and coffee shops meetings. This requires a new level of entrepreneurial strategy. Maybe we engage by responding to a LinkedIn post or in a chat on a government forum. Perhaps a government customer can only meet for a few minutes at Starbuck’s around the corner from his or her house and he or she will be in sweatpants. Business development staff are competing for customers’ time in a new way. We are not just competing with other companies, but with other priorities.

Courage: Engaging with customers always requires a level of vulnerability and courage, but new client engagement will require further letting go of fear and taking risks to stand out and get a customer’s attention. Call someone up whom you do not know in industry. This can be a potential client or an industry partner. Meet them for coffee. Learn what they know, who they know, and continue building relationships, and find out what is keeping them up at night. Related to agility, business developers will need to be courageous and experiment with engagement strategies and pivot quickly. Much like a lean start-up, we will need to quickly test what is working and what is not.  

As we navigate the brave new world of business development and marketing to our government customers together, these are some of the new ways we need to approach client engagement.

Ashley Nicholson currently works as a director of capture at CALIBRE Systems and has over a decade of experience in business development in federal government contracting.  She specializes in healthcare technology in the federal civilian space.  She holds a master of arts in international relations from Webster University and is currently pursuing a master of data analytics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  She is an active member of AFCEA, ACT-IAC and Women in Technology. 

These views are my own and do not reflect the views of my company or any organizations in which I participate