All signs are pointing to a banner year for professional services firms in 2018.
The recently enacted Tax Cut and Jobs Act is likely to loosen corporate purse strings and spur investments in professional services contracts to manage and grow businesses. This, coupled with the increasing trend to outsource non-core business functions, signals a great opportunity for professional services firms in the coming year.
In order to capitalize on these opportunities, professional services businesses need to have efficient business development functions that focus on high-percentage opportunities. With that in mind, here are our top business development tips for 2018.
1. Growth by subtraction
One of the biggest mistakes professional services firms make in their business development process is to have too broad of a focus. The thought behind an unfocused approach is often that the firm will miss out on opportunities if they target too narrow a slice of the market.
In reality, the opposite is true. Today's buyer is looking for someone who is uniquely qualified to help them deal with their specific challenges. They're looking for specialists, not jacks-of-all-trades.
The business that specializes and focuses on a tightly defined market niche will always have an advantage over unfocused competitors. Here's why:
They're able to keep up to date on micro-trends affecting their target market niche and adjusting their approach accordingly.
They're able to package their services to specifically address the challenges their buyers face.
They're able to focus limited business development resources on high-percentage opportunities.
Rather than looking for new market segments to fuel growth, savvy professional services businesses are jettisoning unproductive market segments and using their expertise in productive target market niches to grow.
2. Use technology to focus resources effectively
Most professional services firms don't have dedicated sales professionals - they have consultants and principals that sell, manage accounts and manage service teams.
It's crucial that business leaders use technology to optimize the efficiency of their business development process. There's no excuse not to do so. HubSpot has free versions of sales, marketing
How can technology make your business development process more effective? Here are just a few ways:
Segment leads and customers so that you can create highly targeted marketing content and campaigns.
Measure prospect engagement with your website and marketing campaigns to focus resources on those prospects showing "buying signals."
Generate leads with premium content offers embedded on your website and marketing content.
Track your sales activity and follow-ups with CRM software.
Manage and monitor your sales pipeline to keep you on track towards your business goals.
These are just a few of the ways you can use technology to focus your limited business development resources. With free and low-cost sales technology available, there's no reason not to use it!
3. Invest in your website
Your website in the bedrock foundation of your business development process.
Consider this scenario - you meet a prospect who fits your ideal target market criteria at a networking event. You have a great conversation and agree to meet the following week to discuss a potential project that you can help with.
What do you think this prospect will do when he's back at his office? There's a good chance that the first thing he will do is check out your website to get a better feel for your business. If you have an outdated website like many professional services firms (or even worse, no website!), that great opportunity will quickly turn into a long shot.
For SMB companies, your website is an opportunity to show potential buyers your expertise and professionalism. More importantly, it's an opportunity to separate your firm from those who aren't investing in a modern website.
As a rule of thumb, if you haven't redesigned your website in the last three years, you're probably due for an overhaul. Even if you have recently redesigned your site, it's worth looking at ways that you can improve user experience and lead generation.
You should always be aware of your site's technical performance, particularly page load speed. Generally, if your pages aren't loading in 3 seconds or less, users are bouncing to someone else's site. Here's an excellent free resource from HubSpot to measure your site's technical performance.
4. Use a mix of marketing channels
Many professional services firms rely on marketing channels that have produced results in the past.
In a rapidly evolving buying environment, this is a big mistake. Cold-calling may have worked for you ten years ago, but you're likely finding it less and less effective every year. For those who have embraced inbound marketing, you can no longer produce "listicle" blog posts with calls-to-action embedded and expect to generate a healthy flow of leads.
The simple truth is that you have to evolve your business development approach to keep up with the evolution of the buying process. Much of this evolution is fueled by technology. For example, buyers are overwhelmed with marketing emails and are turning to technology to filter out the email that they don't want and haven't asked for.
Does that mean you should stop using email in your business development process? No, but you should adapt your approach to be viewed as a reliable source of valuable information as opposed to a spam factory.
Most professional services firms should be using some combination of the following marketing channels:
Inbound lead generation
Outbound email prospecting
5. Embrace Video Marketing
Cisco VNI estimates that 79% of all internet traffic will be in the form of video by 2021.
If you're not embracing video marketing in your professional services business you're missing opportunities to educate your potential buyers and demonstrate your expertise.
It's great to use professionally produced videos if you can afford them - they will enhance your branding efforts immensely. But most of us are holding an overlooked video production source in the palm of our hand - our smartphones.
Shooting well-scripted videos and using freely available video editing software like Adobe Premiere, iMovie or others enables you to produce highly effective business videos. Consider using video for the following:
- Case studies
- Customer support and how-to videos
- Social media posts
Video allows you to effectively communicate with your customers and prospects while showing the personality of your business and the people who deliver service to customers.
Use the 5 tips to step up your business development game. Keep in mind that these should all be deployed within the framework of a business development plan that is clearly understood by everyone in your firm.