Whether you’re a seasoned economic developer who long ago earned your stripes, or new to the business, there are a few important things we all have in common. One of those is “Pipeline Management.” As I’m sure you know, if you’re going to succeed, you need a “pipeline” of business to get you there, so perhaps it’s worth a few minutes thought to give yours a quick check-up.
First, what is a pipeline and how do I get one? Hopefully you already have one - - it’s all those companies you and your colleagues met at trade shows, industry events and on those mission trips. But is that queue of companies just a collection of business cards or is it organized and prioritized, with an action plan and timetable so you can stay connected to the promising ones? Because knowing who you’re talking to, talking to them on an appropriately regular basis, and knowing what you want to do next are key to making it all work for you. If your contact is a decision maker, or at least a well informed source, great…if not, you need to fix that. Be confident the prospect company is a good target for you - - they fit your target industries, they have growth or expansion potential, your community really does have what they need. If not, maybe it’s time to hit the delete button and move on.
How do you make it work and succeed? Resources…both people and money. Someone has to be committed to the process. When I was responsible for FDI at New Jersey Commerce, and I’m sure you share this experience too, one of the biggest challenges was staying focused on managing follow up. Someone or something is always demanding your attention. So there must be someone who everyone agrees is devoted to managing that follow-up process. That may mean hiring someone new, or, consider outsourcing the task. Appropriate follow up is key: making calls to stay connected and up to date, sending e-mails with success stories or other developments. That requires resources, starting with a good, user friendly CRM, but also some room in the budget for other things. When you’ve got a hot prospect, maybe a visit to their office is called for. If you can get them to visit you, organize a proper, informative tour that highlights your community’s assets. (Be sure you drive the route first…you don’t want any surprises!) Or maybe you just need to send them a tchotchke with your logo on it! These things all cost money - - be sure you allocate some portion of the budget accordingly.
What can you expect from your pipeline? Over time, if done carefully, this process will yield success - - the numbers prove it. You’ll have disappointments when a prospect chooses a different location, or turns out to be a dud with no real expansion plans. Of course, we all dream of landing that “mega deal,” but those are few and far between. Never lose sight of the fact that economic development is a process, not an event, usually best approached with a grind it out “3 yards in a cloud of dust” outlook, and that’s what pipeline management is all about.
You can’t win them all, but you can’t win at all if you’re not in the game. So keep that pipeline flowing!