Earlier this month I hosted a panel event on Business Development in 2020. I raised the topic of intrAverts and extrAverts in the context of business development. It sparked a conversation, which was what it was intended to do, but moreover, it once again reaffirmed to me that we do not spend enough time focusing on what makes us different. We just assume everyone is like us. We assume that everyone has the same challenges or finds the same things easy or enjoyable.
Intraversion and extraversion are about where we draw our energy from. Extraverts draw their energy from outside. They are energised by others. Intraverts draw their energy from within. They are the ones left feeling drained after a day with people.
These two concepts are often muddled with another definition of extroversion and introversion: the notion that introverts are shy and that extroverts are loud and seek to be the centre of attention. It’s important to know the difference. You can be an intravert and yet also enjoy getting up in front of an audience, just as you can be an extravert and refrain from activities because of shyness. Being an intravert does not mean you do not like people, it just means that you do not need them to replenish your energy levels.
I am an extravert (I also happen to be an extrovert). I am energised by people and my best days are the ones I spend surrounded by people. Those days leave me buzzing and full of ideas. There is another reason for that. Extraverts tend to like to think aloud. Having meetings gives me the opportunity to get my brain cells firing and it is when I do my best thinking. I like making eye contact and having face-to-face interactions. I am best engaged in “traditional” business development activities: speaking at an event, networking, face-to-face meetings.
What does all of this have to do with business development in 2020?
2020 is the year we stayed home. Almost everything has been brought online. Webinars, meetings, work events, catch-up calls, sales meetings. Almost without exception, our world clusters around our computer…be that set up in our home office, on our kitchen desk, or on our makeshift desk!
A long-standing problem for intraverts has been that the office, particularly the open plan office, does not afford the quiet spaces that they need to think. 2020 has created that space for them. Ironically, 2020 has also taken away the collaborative space that extraverts need to flourish.
The virtual world provides an opportunity for extraverts to reach out to others, but the silences caused by frozen screens and lack of real eye contact means it is a challenge. For me, it does not provide the same buzz. Interestingly, virtual meetings are not always ideal for intraverts either. They can find having their image on display and the intense focus draining.
Different people like and dislike virtual meetings for completely contrasting reasons, and of course, there are some for whom the current set up is ideal and working better than what went before!
Time for a reset?
2020 has provided us opportunity to rethink the way we do business development. 2020 has generated an empathy that was lacking before. It has made us see our teams, our clients, and our peers differently. We have opened up our homes to them. There is a deeper focus on the individual.
2020 was virtual. There are business development activities that translate well into the virtual world, there are other activities which fall short. Virtual coffee allows for a degree of informality at the start, but many see it as a meeting by another name and there is an expectation that it will have an outcome in a way that a face-to-face coffee can just be about having a chat and a catch-up. It is harder to have spontaneous connections online, those which would have perhaps been generated from a day spent at a conference or attending an event. LinkedIn does that to a degree. It does it differently, which is perhaps what makes it so powerful.
Whatever happens in 2021, it is likely that there will be a shift towards working from home more often. New habits will have been formed in 2020 that are here to stay. There will be an opportunity to reset the balance between a working environment which favours one type of need over another. Everyone should be able to be at their most energised.
The world will also be more virtual, whether we like it or not. Those who have paused their business development, and who are looking to pick it up again where they left off, are unlikely to be the ones who thrive in the new normal.
Firms who are revisiting how they do business development will undoubtedly be including a virtual element to their strategy. There are insights to be gained from 2020.
We should step back and reflect on the differences that exist between us to inform our strategy.
We should be using empathy to rethink our business development and learning from those who have found it easier in 2020. Is it the intraverts or extraverts? I started off thinking that perhaps it was me, perhaps my environment, that lacks people, makes it harder for me and for extraverts. However, conversations with peers that are intraverts have led to them arguing that it is perhaps the extraverts that are best prepared. Maybe it is easier for the intraverts to hide. So, I am not sure I know, nor how much it matters. What I think does matter is that we should not assume that everyone wants to go back to how it was pre-Covid, anymore than we should assume that everyone wants to stay as we have this year.
People who have thrived doing business development in 2020 might not have been the rainmakers of 2019. Next year should be the year we learn from that and expand our activities, taking into account everyone’s talents and differences. This has always been the right way to approach business development in professional services firms, hopefully this year the empathy that so many firms have acquired will bring this into sharper focus.