It wasn’t easy for me to put pen to paper this time, as I genuinely condemn self-advertisement in the business development field. Instead of the writings simply called ‘mushy PR’ by the media expert who I respect the most, actual results are the most telling for a professional about the things that matter. At least that is what I believe. But there is a recurring demand by our partners who are proud of the processes taking place at their own companies, and there is a growing interest from potential clients about our professional ideas on this topic, so much so that it behoved us to share them in our magazine of business development.
In recent months the number of company owners and top managers expressing a keen interest in the main profile element of our company, business mentoring, has significantly increased. So much so that the number of business mentoring programs started this year already exceeds the total number of programs conducted in 2018. The number of companies that are just one step away from embarking upon such a development path is even more notable. It is a particularly surprising piece of data considering that the expression was utterly unknown in the Hungarian business scene, and when it occasionally came up at a manager club event or conference, most of the decision-makers were puzzled by the concept. Then the trend started to form gradually, as there was already a huge demand for business mentoring from the West. Simultaneously, even looking at the business world five years ago, only a few Hungarian decision-makers thought that it is something they needed. Things started to change drastically about two years ago. We have been trying to analyse and interpret the exact reasons for this, but we are still not positive what made and what makes managers turn in this direction so suddenly.
One of the critical factors is that the transformation of the consumer market that has taken place since the last economic crisis ended two-to-three years ago in Hungary. Now it is clear that the ‘nightmarish prophecies’ predicting that Hungarian consumers will split into two distinct groups were right. The social classes commonly referred to as ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’ have formed. On top of it, the demand for ‘true premium’ has emerged among well-to-do consumers, which was absolutely unimaginable ten years ago. The less wealthy have fully accepted the products designed for the needs of ‘the masses’. This observation created an enormous challenge for Hungarian companies, as in the case of mass products price is a key factor, in which it is impossible to compete with international companies even in Hungary if we have a long-term vision. And in the case of consumers with premium needs, most businesspeople are not only unable to satisfy them, but they don’t even have a grasp of their underlying decision-making mechanisms. And that makes it somewhat difficult to meet their needs. We have discussed it time and again that this premium need is not to be confused with the expectations referred to as premium in a Hungarian business milieu for decades. It is not about the most secure or the most professional product or service anymore, or one in which the highest number of working hours were invested! Instead, solutions associated with the desired status and image, which are of course unique and are not accessible for everyone. But I could go on listing the parameters of truly premium needs all day.
At the same time, another need arose on the side of Hungarian company owners, which was not unheard of before, but the demand for it has grown drastically in recent years: they would like to make their businesses predictable and timeless with a defining international presence and a foreign expansion, along with the revenue and profit that come from these. The current economic environment in Hungary is undoubtedly favourable in specific industries, but it still doesn’t ensure stability and a sound vision for the future for managers. But most people associate international expansion with several hundred million HUF worth of investment, an exciting challenge, a shot in the dark. To make it worse, the professionals of today have heard countless stories about wasted hundreds of millions, part of which is usually financed by the companies themselves. Even if they happen to have an eager investor, a modern, new-generation manager doesn’t like returning from any venture with nothing but failure in his pocket. And he particularly dislikes explaining why they lost 1–2–3 million euros over their ‘endeavour’. So, they have a vision for entering the international market in a much smarter and economical way, which is actually achievable now thanks to technological progress, the world of the Internet and the emergence of the home office! Owners have also internalised that it is impossible to enter a market without real local knowledge. They are fully aware of the fact that building an international sales team is not enough if the only thing that makes it international is that they are working for a foreign market, but they are made up of Hungarian salespeople. So, there are a lot of changes and lessons they learned from these changes taking place in the mind of 24–45-year-old company owners that make them want to consult with a reputable agency that will help them plan their business strategies.
The essence of mentoring
Many factors contribute to the drastically increasing demand for business mentoring. What can a unique business development program such as this do for you? My colleagues sometimes interject ‘everything’ in the middle of a conversation while answering this question. But I must add, it is ‘everything that can be achieved in business development’. And this statement actually holds up! Our clients usually find this hard to believe at first, but once they see us delivering the results that we promised them from the start, they are amazed. And for me, it seems like the most natural thing that a good consulting firm really has to ensure every necessary aspect and tool for the development of its partners. Of course, this cannot be built up in a day! To be able to sit down with a businessperson and make such blunt promises requires years, or according to my experience, decades of serious, deliberate effort invested in the development of a company.
So, what does this ‘everything’ cover exactly regarding business development? It definitely includes the private mentoring of the owner or CEO of the company. The point of business mentoring programs is not only to develop a company but also to educate its top decision-maker so that they will be able to develop their own company in the future. Of course, this lesson doesn’t take place in a classroom. What’s important is that we evaluate and analyse the background, origins, and processes of whatever happens within the company in terms of business development, then present it to the top decision-maker. This way they can learn about the roots of the given problem, and they will be able to recognise its signs in the future. They learn to define the task, which they will be able to apply in the future as well. And they not only observe the solution as a mere bystander but becomes an essential element of the process, and so they will be able to solve any problems that may arise in the future.
Business development is always about helping the company grow. It is especially true in the case of Hungarian companies. Growth means an increase in revenue or profit, either by decreasing expenditure with the help of a more efficient operation, for example, or by getting a bigger piece of the pie. Growth is also possible by conquering entirely new markets. The point is that the enterprise progresses. This always requires the complex personality and behaviour analysis of the entire management or key characters to identify their decision-making mechanisms. That is, we have to figure out what made the company successful in the past, what is the cause of the current problem, and how the situation can be solved in a way that the face of the company can deal with it. When it comes to growth, two things have to be addressed for sure: products and sales. In the case of Hungarian companies, the biggest challenge is typically to turn their existing knowledge and services into a real product. To add the right name, design, and conditions to it that fit the needs of the potential target group. So, creating the product concept is an essential part of business mentoring programs, and it is based on complex market research, the evaluation of the company, and the future consumers’ decision-making mechanisms, whether it is a B2B- or a B2C-type product. In many cases, the growth process can be started by simply transforming an existing product or turning the existing knowledge into a product. But if we want to play it safe, we also have to start creating/transforming/developing the sales team and building the product concept simultaneously. Note that the sales profession has substantially transformed since the crisis began in 2008. The once-successful sales personalities have become old-fashioned and redundant in the market. And with the rise of the two younger generations, these ‘fraternising’ connections are becoming obsolete, especially in the case of bigger deals. So, building a sales team necessitates attracting the generation under 40, passing on the newly-formed concept of a sales career as more than a last resort, seeing it as a valid profession—contrary to what the older generation thought or thinks of it. They have to be introduced to the circle of decision-makers at which the product concept is aimed. So, a complex sales development is usually also an essential element of business mentoring. Not to mention that if a mentor company is smart, they will want to increase profits from the first minute, which is easiest to do by growing sales revenues. This way, the partner can see the success and sustainability of the development right away, as future mentoring fees do not have to be paid from their existing resources but from the extra profit.
Image and branding
Building the right image and creating a unique brand are organic parts of a complex business development project. Company owners of the 34- to 45-year-old generation are aware that they cannot do it without these parts. But they still have misconceptions about this being a well-defined PR process, and so even PR experts are unable to help them in this. On the other hand, they can do substantial harm! According to basic PR theory, the goal is to make the owner or manager of the company well known. To this end, they keep dragging them to TV shows and other popular channels of communication in the name of networking, which can easily mean the end of their career. That is, the part of their career allowing them to become true premium! Being overly popular is extremely negative for decision-makers with real premium needs. They want to be respected in a particular professional circle. They don’t want to be loved by everyone. What they want is to have a distinctive presence in the business circles that matter to them. They associate popularity with mass products. Modern image creation in elite business circles is decidedly social media- and event-based. It also goes without saying that certain high-end management magazines and professional journals are important elements of an image-building campaign, but even these require caution in Hungary. This country is too small to accommodate the category of business celebrities; one is more likely to become a simple celebrity. For the premium businesspeople, it is downright unpleasant to appear next to a popular personality loved by the masses, to present after them at a conference, or share their wisdom in articles linked to them. Throughout my professional career, nearly one hundred people gained fame thanks to our image-building projects. I used to study with an excellent professional, whose favourite saying was the following: ‘well, my favourite Hungarian mentee, if you ever take it upon yourself to build the image of a businessman, keep in mind that although it is important where you make him appear and what you make him say, it is even more important where you don’t let him appear and what you don’t let him say’. After 18 years on the job, I can fully see and understand just how right he was about this. This often leads to heated debates with my partners abroad and in Hungary as well, but after reflection, both parties always feel that the debate was well worth it, as was taking the advice of my mentor.
Of course, every business mentoring program is different, as it is always tailored to the personality of the given company owner. In the end, it is the client who needs to feel comfortable in their own business. And the way to achieve this is always different, believe me! Beyond the basic elements, business development involves a wide range of programs. Some people put a greater emphasis on the wellbeing and balance of their colleagues, in which case we include the entire company in the personality analysis. For some companies, social media is the most defining factor. Some merely start by developing the management. And of course, we cannot ignore the hottest topic of the past 6-7 years in the world of business mentoring: recruitment. This process supports the development of companies through recruiting, selecting, and onboarding new employees, as well as building a motivational system. Companies today have the most significant needs in this area, and although it is already close to a miracle that we have filled almost 1000 positions so far through our recruitment activities that are part of our business mentoring program, it is even more important that we also provide a lifetime warranty for every single hire. This often surprises our partners, but feel it is perfectly natural. If we are involved in the strategic work (building up the company, defining the structure), then we can draw accurate profiles with the help of our personality analysis system, which eliminates the possibility of making big mistakes in finding the right person for a given position. It is also in our own interest to do everything to recruit the right people, as we will have to work with the new employees, and they will be defining factors in the success of the business development, so it is essential for us to bring the most suitable people to the company. Have we ever received claims on the lifetime warranty? Yes, on seven occasions so far. But they all had one thing in common: the company in question had shown significant growth compared to the date when we created the first organisation, and to which we matched the recruited employees. After having experienced a couple hundred million forints worth of development, nobody minded having to replace the colleague hired for undertaking proactive tasks for a more stable employee.
We could write a whole book on the ins and outs of business mentoring (and maybe we will) – it is an extremely complicated business development concept that can be broken down to very straightforward components at the same time. There is an idea that I describe to every mentee: a mentor is a good business coach and a good consultant rolled into one. A mentor supports the personal, business, and psychological development of the mentee in their professional and personal lives, but compared to a coach, they can also show actual, measurable results in revenue and profit. And of course, there are concrete tasks and consulting projects they undertake within the company, but they do not take off as a consultant would do, only leaving behind a colourful, neat envelop of transcripts that ultimately just end up at the bottom of a drawer. They stick around to oversee the development and are available throughout the practical implementation of the wise pieces of advice, and they also accompany the partner during the evaluation of the results.
It could be partly contributed to this that every business mentoring project we launched so far gained us a kind of permanent co-operation with our partners. The link between the mentor and the mentored company doesn’t break, at least it hasn’t done so in my practice. There is no reason to: we already developed a harmonious relationship, and our results motivate our partners to continue. What I like most in my/our job is that we deliver continuous professional and personal development. And constant growth is not such a bad thing in business, either.