You must be present to win

Apr 08, 2019

The most successful business developers spend time with their clients, so show up and give them your full attention.

In between gigs, jazz trumpeter Byron Stripling made his way through a Las Vegas casino. It was cacophonous with the sounds of conversation and clinking glasses. As he entered the game floor he saw a sign with a large message: “You must be present to win.”

Stripling knew the practical meaning: Bettors need to be present to collect their winnings. As Stripling told this story to my jazz band, he said the sign had a profound effect on him. It encapsulated the key to his success: persevering presence.

More than 20 years later, I remember Stripling’s masterclass message – both behind the drums for occasional gigs and as marketing director at Shive-Hattery. Presence means showing up and being fully engaged in the moment.

The most successful client developers spend time with clients. Like good parents, good marketers are simply around more often. They win more work because they are with clients (in person), listening, and being helpful in many ways. Their mere presence builds familiarity, trust, and real relationships.

All the moments that lead to your proposal and presentation make a difference. Consider all your potential touchpoints with the client during your pursuit. You might be surprised at the creative ways to be present along the way.

You may not experience immediate gratification or recognition with your initial efforts, but your collective actions over time will pay dividends. Doug Bottorff, a civil engineer and business developer with Shive-Hattery, completes one business development activity each day before noon. He seeks creative ways to be present with his connections, including:

  • Interactions on social media
  • Attendance at local community events
  • Attendance at industry events
  • Being alert for “chance” encounters
  • Calling or visiting
  • Meeting for lunch, dinner, or coffee
  • Gathering client feedback
  • Inviting clients to the office
  • Sharing a relevant article or book
  • Biking, running, or golfing
  • Attending collegiate athletic events or other entertainment

“Look for ways to blend your professional and personal life,” Bottorff says. “I always try to be genuine with BD activities and attempt to follow a ‘give first’ mentality. Be a friend first, be honest about who I am, provide solutions, and then move into a professional services provider for them if it’s a right fit for both of us.”

Set a low threshold for face time with clients. When you’re together, give your full attention to the client. Let the conversation flow naturally and keep the energy focused on them. Being present means active listening and having a high-level of self-awareness.

Great musicians do this well. Here’s what I’ve learned from them to be more present:

  • Give first. As you meet people, look for ways to give. The busiest musicians and client developers I know always take time to help others. When they offer assistance, they don’t expect anything in return.
  • Listen more. The best musicians listen empathetically and are aware of their surroundings. Use Harry Connick Jr.’s rule to ask five questions before talking about yourself.
  • Be concise. The late great Ron DeWitte had amazing guitar chops. His guitar solos were articulate, concise, and meaningful without showing off technical abilities. With clients, use less jargon and be brief.
  • Commit. Stripling, the trumpeter, commits to bringing joy to people through music. What drives you? Decide what markets and clients you’ll passionately pursue. Persist to build meaningful client relationships.
  • Stay connected. Keep track of your connections. Use LinkedIn, your steel-trap memory … whatever works for you. Always keep track of people with whom you could form a business relationship.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice networking, persuasive writing, public speaking, conversation, listening, etc. Make faithful progress every day of your journey. As drummer Buddy Rich said, “You only get better by playing.”

Greg Kanz is marketing director for Shive-Hattery Architecture-Engineering. Contact him at

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