Business development is the most important function of any professional services business. That's a bold statement, don't you think? What about sales? Or marketing? Or customer service? The reason business development is the most important function is that it encompasses all of those things and more.
Scott Pollack defines business development thusly, ";Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships." What could possibly be more important than that?
While every business is unique, here are some of the best professional services business development strategies across all businesses.
Develop consistent organic search traffic
Organic search traffic are those people who find your content on your website as a result of a Google search. A good flow of organic search traffic from your targeted buyers is the goal of any inbound marketing program. It can't be bought! By definition, if you're paying for it, it's paid search traffic. You own organic search traffic, you rent paid search traffic.
A study from Forrester Research found that organic search results were how most people found the websites they visited. 54% of people found sites with organic search results, 35% found sites with social media, 28% through website referrals and 18% through paid search results.
While an argument can be made that paid search produces more qualified website traffic, getting found on the web is the first step in a relatively long sales cycle for professional services businesses.
You likely wouldn't think twice about buying adidas cross-training shoes from a paid advertising search result, the same can't be said about a business process improvement consultant.
Buyers searching for professional services services generally look to start conversations with web searches, not make an immediate purchase.
It's important not to overlook bottom-of-the-funnel buyers in your business development strategies - the majority of our business has come from people who "Request a Consultation" from us. If you're doing a good job on the earlier stages of the buyer's journey, late-stage buyers will find you as they start formulating a decision.
Building a consistent source of organic search traffic is neither quick nor easy, but well worth the effort. The only way to do it is to create good content that helps your target audience learn more about their challenges and how to overcome them consistently over a period of time.
It generally takes 6-12 months of effort to start developing a sustainable source of organic traffic to your website. While some take this as a reason not to start a content marketing effort, if you don't get started, your competitors are getting that much further ahead on you.
Keep in mind that professional services marketing content is like a free sample. So start producing blog posts, eBooks, whitepapers, webinars and videos. You'll develop a reputation as a thought leader who has real-life solutions for your target audience.
Expand your growth possibilities with referral partners
Pretty much all successful professional services businesses get new business from referrals. A well-placed word from a satisfied customer is worth thousands of your own self-promotional messages.
The golden rule of referral marketing is that you have to give to get. And that starts with your customers. The first thing you need to do to develop a referral network is to deliver an excellent customer service experience to your clients.
And before you think that you have got your customer service experience under control, consider the following finding from Bain & Company: "8% of them (customers) described their experience as “superior,” yet 80% of the companies surveyed believe that the experience they have been providing is indeed superior."
So how can you find out what your customers really think of you? Ask them! You should regularly get feedback from your customers on the service you're providing.
Rather than being blissfully unaware of dissatisfied customers, stewardship reports help you understand where you're falling short and take steps to improve on your shortcomings.
It may be painful at first, but seeking out customer opinions is the first step you should take in developing a referral program.
You should take a similar "give-to-get" approach with potential referral partners. Rather than asking people you meet at networking events to help you out, help them out without being asked.
While you may get burned now and then with a "give-to-get" approach, you will start to learn to separate the givers from the takers.
Did you notice we haven't said a word yet about asking for referrals? Don't worry, that's coming. But the message is that you need to earn the right to ask for referrals.
With that said, here are a few tips on how you can generate referrals.
Ask for referrals from customers as part of your stewardship (service review) process. If you see in the course of your service review that the customer is satisfied, make it point to ask, "Do you know of anyone else who might be able to benefit from our service?" If their not satisfied, find out why and take steps to earn their satisfaction.
Develop referral partnerships with businesses that work with the same customers you do, but don't compete with you. Remember the golden rule and give first. Be ruthless with "takers." Terminate your relationship with them if they don't reciprocate.
Here's one thing that many people forget. Pay people who refer business to you! Offer them a percentage of revenue, take them out to a nice lunch or dinner or give them some free work to thank them for the referral.
This is a good example of how customer service is part of the business development function.
Use your website to generate leads
Content marketing is a great way to find potential buyers, but lead generation moves them down the funnel towards a buying experience.
A professional, user-oriented website is a must for professional services business development. Even if you don't use your website to sell, buyers use it to confirm your expertise and professionalism.
Consider this scenario: you have a great meeting with a buyer. You discuss her problems and help her understand how she can potentially solve them. You set up a second meeting to explore her problems in more detail.
After you leave the buyer's office, she takes a look at your website. She sees a brochure-ware website that hasn't been updated in years. All of the goodwill you developed goes out the window.
And that's not to mention buyers looking for potential vendors online. Even assuming that the buyer finds your site (which is highly unlikely,) they will immediately scratch you off the list of potential vendors. And the worst part of it is that you will never know about it.
Your website should include lead generation opportunities that exchange a helpful piece of promotional content for contact and demographic information. This gives buyers an opportunity to opt in to your marketing process.
The first step in generating leads is giving your site visitors the opportunity to convert. And that starts with a professional website that's about your buyers and customers, not you.
Practice respectful outbound marketing
Outbound marketing is an excellent business development strategy for professional services firms. By outbound marketing, we're not referring to old-school dialing for dollars where you make hundreds of calls in hopes of scheduling a couple of meetings. We're talking about email prospecting where you are providing value with every interaction.
And you can't do this without having marketing content that is helpful. You need to show value before you ask for a meeting with a busy decision-maker. Show value by sharing blog posts, case studies and eBooks that help potential buyers do their jobs better. If you show value, they will opt in to your marketing process, giving you permission to share more content with them, as long as it's helpful and relevant.
A decision-maker will be more willing to take your phone call if you have shown them that you understand their pain points by sharing useful content with them.
Maybe their not in a buying process right now. If you do a good job with respectful outbound marketing, they will remember you when they are ready to buy. So be respectful, don't bombard prospects with meeting requests. If you ask for a meeting once and they don't respond, it's unlikely that they will on the 5th or 6th request. Nurture them respectfully and you will be rewarded.
Use technology in your business development
One of the paradoxes of business development technology is that it makes you seem more human to potential buyers. We're talking about inbound marketing software, CRM software and sales prospecting software. HubSpot offers all three of these technologies in a tightly integrated package.
With the right technology, you can:
- Segment your leads by industry, company size and other meaningful criteria so that you can give them highly targeted content.
- See who has opened your emails, what website pages they've viewed, which of their lead generation offers they accessed and other lead intelligence that allow you to have much better conversations with customers and prospects
- Nurture leads with email and marketing content to help move them down the sales funnel
- Analyze your business development initiatives with marketplace feedback to optimize result
- Use your limited business development time and resources on the things with the best potential for success
If you're not using these technologies, you're fighting with one arm behind your back.
The best professional services business development strategies are those that help prospects and show them what it's like to work with you. Don't fly by the seat of your pants, document your strategy and analyze results to constantly improve. Want to learn more? Schedule a free consultation with us.