As I write this blog post, many of us are working to finish out the current year strong and turning our attention to writing a winning business development plan for the coming year.
A business development plan is a road map that defines where you want to take your business and the steps you need to complete to get there. It includes measurable milestones that can be monitored and adjusted to meet new challenges as they arise and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Without a navigation system, it's hard to get somewhere that you've never been to before.
Here are some ideas on how to build a winning business development plan.
Look to the past to plan your future
The first step in building a winning business development plan is to review your performance and experiences over the past year or so. Here are some things to consider:
- What worked well and what didn't? As you review your efforts, dig deep into why some things worked and others didn't. There's a big difference between something not working because you didn't devote the appropriate resources and something not working because your customers don't want or need it.
- What were your most productive market segments? The most successful businesses have clearly-defined target markets. They know who they can help and who they can't. When you're reviewing past performance, look closely at how each segment performed. You may want to stop targeting market segments that aren't producing and focus more effort on those that are. You may also realize that there are new market segments that have similar problems and needs as ones for which you've delivered success.
- What's changing in the business environment that should be considered in your new business development plan? You may have hired a new consultant at the end of the year that has deep connections in an industry that you have not yet pursued. There may be new legislation that impacts your target markets and either creates or limits opportunities.
Keep in mind, the past is often the prologue to the future.
Define what success looks like
I think it's safe to say that all of us want to sell more next year, but your business development plan should look beyond revenue generation.
Most business development plans contemplate generating new business through referrals, cross-sells and upsells. An excellent customer service experience is a prerequisite for those marketing channels. That's why it makes sense to include customer service benchmarks in your business development plan. Make sure you have a solid process for soliciting feedback on customer satisfaction - this is an excellent way to ask for referrals!
You also may want to include elements in your business development plan to raise your visibility. For example, increasing your visibility in an industry group through sponsorships or attending meetings is a great way to raise your profile with target accounts.
But the most important part of your business development plan will almost always be new business production. Start with the revenue you will need to fund new investments in your business, pay all of your expenses and produce a profit to reward ownership.
This will be the destination for your business development road map.
Review your target market and buyer personas
Having a well-defined concept of your target market and the buyers within that market is the hub of your business development plan.
Focusing your limited sales and marketing resources on high-percentage opportunities is essential in today's cutthroat business environment. Start by looking at your current book of business. Take your top 5 customers and look for things that they have in common like:
- annual revenue
- geographic region
- demographic and psychographic characteristics
- pain points
This will serve as the basis for determining your target market. You could say something like, "we target technology companies in the western United States with between $5 million and $100 million in revenue."
When you've determined which type of businesses you will target, you need to understand the wants and needs of the buyers at those businesses. For example, an employee benefit consulting firm typically needs to meet the needs of an HR leader, a CFO, a CEO and day-to-day HR practitioners. For most businesses, the sales process is becoming more complex, with longer sales cycles and more people involved in the decision-making process.
While most businesses have some idea of their target markets and the buyers within them, it's a good idea to review these elements of your business development plan every year. In many cases, it makes sense to narrow down your target markets rather than expand them. Today's buyer is looking for specialists, not generalists.
Choose your marketing channels
Now that you know who you're trying to reach, the next step is to determine where and how you are going to reach them.
This involves choosing your marketing channels. Here is a typical set of marketing channels for businesses that sell knowledge-based solutions (professional services and business technology.
- Inbound/content marketing
- Outbound email prospecting
- Referrals from existing customers
- Upsells and cross-sells
- Networking/industry associations
- AdWords and/or LinkedIn advertising
For each marketing channel, you need to map out a process with the end goal of creating a sales opportunity. The idea is to apply a consistent process that can be measured so that it can be adjusted and optimized. Here is a sample process for handling inbound leads.
Each milestone in your sales process should be mapped in a CRM platform so that you can track the status of sales opportunity and give management an insight into your sales pipeline.
Develop business development SMART goals and KPIs
The next step in your business development plan is to take your total revenue goal and apportion it to your various marketing channels. For each marketing channel, develop SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-related.
Here is an example of a SMART goal.
Generate 50 Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) in the first quarter of 2018
SMART goals allow you to track your KPIs on a regular basis so that you can make adjustment to your tactics if you're not hitting your milestones. They also prevent unexpected surprises at the end of the quarter when goals are missed.
Keep in mind that business development goals don't need to be tied to revenue goals. For example, your goal could be: make 3 presentations to target industry groups by June 30.
For a deep dive into goal-setting and planning, I recommend these 2 articles.
Determine technology and resource needs (budget)
The final piece of the puzzle is determining the technology and resources you need to execute your business development plan. Technology is a fundamental element of a modern business development plan. Most professional services and technology companies will be using the following in their growth technology stack.
- Inbound marketing / marketing automation technology
- CRM technology
- Dashboard / KPI technology
- Video conferencing / webinar technology
- Customer satisfaction technology
There are literally thousands of other technologies that you could be using. One of the key factors to consider when putting together your growth stack is the ability for the various technologies to integrate. We recommend HubSpot because it provides an end-to-end technology solution that covers your customers from when they first visit your website to ensuring their satisfaction as a customer.
One of the other key considerations in your budgeting is your people needs. By creating an action plan to implement your business development strategy, you identify your HR needs. For most SMB businesses, implementing your business development plan involves combining internal capabilities with outsourced talent for specialized needs. In many cases, outsourcing makes more sense than hiring someone with the talent to successfully execute specialized tasks.
While this is a 30,000 foot view of how to build a winning business development strategy, this blog post should give you a good idea of the process. But as discussed earlier, it's hard to get where you want to go if you don't have a road map to get there. If you'd like a free one-hour business development plan consultation ($150 value), schedule your session here.