Business Development: A Novel Perspective

In every novel there’s a problem to solve. For most business development opportunities, a proposal is submitted as a solution to a customer’s problem. But the similarities between the most common three-act novel structure and the business development lifecycle don’t end there.

I am a creative writer at heart. When I first came to Shipley I looked at everything as a novelist to help me understand the process. It’s what made the most sense to me and, honestly, still does. If I can look at a business development tool and think of how I would use it to draft a novel, somehow I’m better able to understand how I would use it in business development.

Sometimes all you need is a new perspective.

Phases 0 and 1: Act 1

Everything is status quo. We’re getting to know the characters, learning about their lives and what the day-to-day looks like for our heroes. Possibly those characters dabble in new things here or there, but in the beginning we’re primarily establishing a presence.

In Phase 0 of the business development lifecycle—Market Segmentation—Management considers potential new market niches or customers to identify growth plans. Much like the classic novel structure, we’re just identifying. We’re seeking. The action is subtle, but extremely important.

In Phase 1—Long-Term Positioning—the campaign plans are executed to establish your organization’s presence and capabilities, aimed at identifying leads or opportunities. We’re still in that identifying phase, but we’ve progressed. We know our characters, customers, competition a bit better. We know how to position ourselves well. The story arc starts to escalate.

Then we come to Phase 2 and everything changes.

Phase 2: The Inciting Incident

This is where our now beloved characters are spurred onward into an unforgettable journey. That moment where they are propelled forward into an adventure that will define the entire novel. The reason the novel exists starts in this very moment. Someone has a dilemma that our hero can solve!

This phase is no different. During Phase 2—Opportunity Assessment—a newly identified opportunity is qualified and assessed to determine your organization’s interest and whether it is winnable. For the sake of our story, we know that this is an opportunity our heroes must take and ultimately win.

When that new opportunity is identified we hurdle head-long into the action.

Phases 3 and 4: Act 2

This is the very meat of our story. The tension builds. The plans are all going into place. Our characters are propelled onward and upward coming closer and closer to the final battle. The heroes face unfathomable obstacles along the way, more adventurers join the fray, and together they toil.

Phase 3—Capture/Opportunity Planning—is where individuals in the customer’s organization are influenced to prefer your solution and organization. You’re getting to know your competition and your customer even better. You’re finding out just what it takes to win and creating a value proposition.

Phase 4—Proposal Planning—the proposal effort is planned while capture/sales efforts continue. After Phase 3 you know what it takes to win. You’re preparing and putting all the pieces in place to help your faithful customer. You must save them from their horrible dilemma.

After so much planning you’re finally ready to show the customer exactly what you have to offer; you have a solid win strategy.

Phase 5: Act 3

The final battle commences. Our heroes walk into potential danger, but they’ve trained and prepared for this. They know what it takes to win. And now they’re ready to take their prize.

Phase 5—Proposal Development—is where the proposal is prepared, approved, and submitted. After all your research, planning, comparisons, decision gates, you’re drafting the proposal. The writers vigorously craft the customer-focused sentences that are sure to win the deal.

Submittal is the final moment. Everything you’ve done so far has led to this. The moment where all your hard work is about to pay off. All you have to do is submit the document. Many hurdles have come along the way, but you’ve confronted your challenges. You’re about to win. All you must do is click that button.

Phase 6: The Resolution

This is the chapter in your story where everything is complete. The tension is gone. Our beloved heroes have saved the day despite the odds. It’s important to note that not all heroes win. But there are moments along the way that define them.

Phase 6—Post-Submittal—is where you learn what you were made of during your adventure. What went well? What didn’t go very well? What can we improve for next time? Don’t undervalue this phase. These post-submittal activities bring everyone together and resolve any leftover issues. Win or lose.

I must present a word of caution. No one likes loose ends in a story. The best way to make sure there are no loose ends in a story is through organizing and outlining. These are some writers’ least favorite parts of writing. But don’t underestimate their value and importance.

In business development, one of the best ways to make sure you submit a compliant and responsive proposal is to plan and organize the whole process. Tailor it to your specific needs and always, always, stick to the process. Follow the three-act novel structure if you must. But, whatever you do, save the customer from their dilemma.