insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Fall 2021

Four Ways to Make Remote Business Development Work

Digital business development has its challenges, but these four tips will help you effectively attract new clients while working from home.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

Remote work has a lot of benefits: greater flexibility, no commute, and more time with family and pets. But if you’re planning to stay remote, you have to think about how business development will change when it’s purely digital.

As a CPA, you have some responsibility for business development, no matter your position or firm. At the very least, you’re responsible for client service and satisfaction—core components of business development. You remain responsible for business development even if you’re working from home, and business development can be done effectively in a remote environment. Like many aspects of work-from-home versus in-office, business development has pros and cons in either setting. Let’s explore how to make remote business development work for you.

Here are four of the biggest challenges of remote business development, as well as tricks to overcome them:

1. Developing rapport: Rapport is often defined as “mutual understanding” and it requires connectivity to uncover commonalities. To set yourself up for success, do your research in advance—digging into the available information about the person you’re meeting with can reveal topics or interests you have in common. On video calls, scan the virtual environment of your client (subtly!) for clues, like sports teams’ logos or family pictures, that can open the ground for rapport-building. In a virtual world, you’re going to have to work a little harder to uncover the commonalities with your clients and other stakeholders that are the building blocks of a relationship.

2. Earning trust: Trust is earned through repeated positive interactions. Without the touchstones of in-person meetings, plan extra virtual interactions to demonstrate that you’re working on the relationship, being proactive, and doing what you say you will. These can range from check-in videoconferences to update emails. The other factor in earning trust doesn’t change from the office to remote work: You have to do great work. With strong communication skills and high standards for yourself, you can build trust with clients in a virtual environment.

3. Determining needs, wants, pains, and fears: In a virtual environment, it can be hard to get clients to open up about the problems they’re facing, making it extremely difficult to get at the heart of what you can offer them. Try sending questions in advance of a one-on-one video meeting to understand what’s driving their decision-making, where their pain points are, and how you can craft a package of services to best meet their needs. Giving them time to think about their answers and a private virtual room in which to discuss them often helps get to the root of what your clients truly need. This is critical, because without knowing what they really need, you won’t be able to do your most effective work as a trusted strategic advisor.

4. Dealing with distractions: One of the biggest challenges of the digital world is gaining and keeping the attention of your potential clients. If a client is only passively participating in your conversation, it’s likely they’re missing important information and you’ll have an even trickier time building rapport, earning trust, and finding out their needs. Try different ways of contacting clients to see where they’re the most tuned in: Are they more responsive via email, or do you have your best conversations on the phone? Do they seem turned off or engaged by videoconferences? Comfort levels with different channels can differ based on age or personality. Find the best formats and use them to engage your potential clients in conversations with real back-and-forth—not a one-sided pitch.

So, stop making excuses. Many things have changed during the pandemic that will never return to the way they were—and change isn’t going anywhere. Cultivate a different skill set now and learn to roll with change. This will only help you as our business world continues to evolve and transform. Embrace (or at least learn to tolerate) the new reality of conducting business development activities via digital channels. Relationship building will remain part of your business development strategy—just often without the traditional relationship-building activities.

It’s time to embrace these changes and dive into virtual business development. Firms are reporting strong gains, clients are spending money, and it’s time to get back in the game—as long as you recognize our new environment and make the commitment to change accordingly.

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