insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Fall 2020

It’s Time to Rev Your Business Development Engine

Your business development practices may be metaphorically rusting on the side of the road, but now is the perfect time to bring the engine roaring back to life.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

What happens if you park your car and don’t start it for several months? You might cross your fingers when you eventually try to start it, right? It could have a dead battery, a flat tire, a mouse living under the hood—any number of the maladies that come with a neglected car. In the worst-case scenario, it could have parking tickets, a boot, or simply be gone!

The same thing can happen in business development: when it’s neglected, it can become ineffective, broken, or could disappear altogether.

Listen, I get it. I have lived the same nightmare as you since March. I understand why business development has fallen to the bottom of your to-do list, but it cannot be neglected forever or you risk much more than a dead battery or flat tire. Anyone who has been active at business development in the past has gone through a drought: several weeks without networking, months without a referral, several proposals lost in a row. But when you combine ongoing economic uncertainty with a lack of business development effort, you risk a new kind of drought.

Forget about new business for a second. What about your current clients? What if your largest client asks for a new bid in an effort to mitigate their costs? I’ve seen it happen with some of my clients, and it will most certainly continue as the pandemic slows cash flow to a trickle. If you ignore business development too long, these problems combined could become the equivalent of a car thief—when you finally show up to go for a spin, you’ll find your ride has evaporated into thin air.

So, how do you restart your business development engine? Here are some tried-and-true recommendations that will get you up to speed:

Make Sure Your Clients Feel the Love

This is where your client goodwill efforts, like inviting them to a pertinent webinar or sharing a helpful article, come into play. Schedule calls “just to check in” and see how their business is doing given all the disruption in our world right now. Don’t fear bad news. You aren’t expected to solve every problem, but you are expected to be empathetic and listen. Make sure your clients know about some of the newer services your firm has launched in the past few years—maybe your cross-selling efforts here can land a project or two. Finally, remember that approximately 50 percent of all your business development time should be spent with your existing clients.

Don't Neglect Relationships

Pull up a list of anyone who has sent you a referral in the past few years and reach out to check in. It’s been difficult to get the scuttlebutt on the street without our usual coffees, lunches, and networking events, but I suspect you haven’t been trying hard enough. Also, now is a great time to help your referral sources make new connections. Make introductions within your network to fuel some activity. Remember that approximately 25 percent of your business development time should be spent here, as non-client referral sources influence a considerable amount of your new business.

Commit to Writing and Speaking (via Webinar) to Your Target Audiences

No networking? No sponsorship events? No seminars? No award ceremonies? Just because we aren’t meeting in large groups doesn’t mean there isn’t a desire for valuable information. In fact, the thirst for knowledge is high! It could be a great time to build a strong personal brand around a topic that serves as a magnet for new business going forward. While rarely instant, new business opportunities can trickle in for years from something you wrote or a webinar you presented.

Rethink Prospect Development

First, touch base with any prospective client you didn’t win in the past few years. Check in to see how they are doing and if they need any help. If they chose the low-cost provider, it’s possible they have been neglected in the past several months. Second, consider your ideal client. Create a list of individuals and organizations that you would like to do business with and reach out to them, or utilize your client and referral source network to open doors for you.

Just like a car, allowing your business development to lie dormant for too long can cause serious problems. Now that you recognize these potential risks, as well as what you can do about them, it’s time for a jump-start. Commit to spending up to eight hours a week on a few of these activities and before long your business development engine will roar back to life.

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