Twenty years and I know nothing.

Image of 20 years award for business development.

My career in the creative design & marketing agency world began over twenty years ago - shudder! Yep, I’ve served my time. Man & boy. From pasty faced Account Exec, to Client Services Director, to eventually setting up my own business. In that time, I have worked pretty consistently in business development roles, successfully developing sales pipelines for a number of medium to large sized agencies, bringing in millions of pounds of revenue in the process.

As one century slipped into another I witnessed huge changes to the industry that I love. It’s become so different that it is hard to compare my early days with what’s happening right now. There are obvious changes in terms of technology, marketing channels, skills etc. but also ‘slow burner’ changes; things that creep up on you without you noticing. One example is the current tone of business communication. These days, it’s far more relaxed and casual. And that’s great. After all, it reflects how language and culture evolves over the years.

There’s also been a change to the type of people now working in the industry. Millennials, Snowflakes, Hipsters etc. fueling the profession with new thinking, new energy, new blood.

However, some things I’ve noticed of late aren’t so positive. People seem so much more cautious and guarded; as though afraid to speak, to be an individual with an opinion that they can voice.

Example: I recently approached the Direct Marketing Manager of a well-known company. It has an engaging, fun brand and presents itself as a great company to do business with. It touts the fact that it wins countless ‘Best Employer’ type awards and that working at this company is practically the best career move you could ever make.

Because getting something in the post is a treat these days, and more likely to be opened than an email, my approach was a 3D direct mail piece sent directly to the prospect. It played on the theme of starting a conversation in a clever (or so I thought) and engaging way. It had high production values and a simple statement that chimed perfectly with their brand. But when I phoned to follow it up, I was told by a receptionist that my prospect had indeed received the mail piece and did not want to talk to me at all – ever!

Now, there are ways and means of declining an invitation; a simple ‘no thanks’ will suffice for me and that will be the last you’ll hear from yours truly.

So, I licked my wounds, after all rejection in business development goes with the territory. And maybe that mailer just wasn’t that good anyway and I should come down off my high horse?

But no. This was something different. Something new. And what I keep coming back to is that this response was all down to fear. Fear of having to talk to someone, fear of lifting your head from the keyboard or screen for a minute and to actually engage with someone you hadn’t met before. And I find that sad, after all what’s the saying again – strangers are only friends we haven’t met yet? Listen, I know that the person I was trying to contact probably gets countless approaches from agencies similar to mine. And I appreciate how wearying that is and how stretched marketers can be. But surely you can spare 30 seconds to say thanks but no thanks?

Maybe I’m suffering from a bad case of sour-grapes, but I think the tools that we all have at our fingertips and on our phones; the apps, websites and services that are supposed to allow us greater levels of communication than ever before, are the very things that are stifling real conversation. As we increasingly become glued to a screen of some sort and interact in digital space, we have become afraid to talk and would prefer to hit a dislike button or block a follower or caller.

It’s all made me feel that in the words of that wise old sage Manuel from Fawlty Towers, “I know nothing”.

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