5 Biggest Business Development Mistakes Services Firms Make

5 Biggest Business Development..

How many of these mistakes are you making in your efforts to increase your client base?

Talk to the principals of any professional services firm and absolutely all of them would say that effective business development is essential to the longevity of the firm. Even for firms that rely mostly on RFPs, there’s an understanding that business development is essential to influence contract awards. Most professional services firms received a very loud wake-up call during the Great Recession and, to their credit, have a renewed interest in generating new business to achieve their revenue growth goals.

Unfortunately, in most small and midsized firms, there’s a huge chasm between an interest in business development and effective execution.  In my work with these firms, I see common patterns that lead to ineffective results. Here are the 5 Biggest Mistakes in Business Development I see repetitively. How many are you making?

Failure to develop a plan and a system.

Business development or sales activities are not looked at as a process. There’s a sense that business development is this ethereal and uncontrollable mystical endeavor. The idea that sales activities can be systematized is a foreign concept.

When you develop a sales strategic plan and then systematize the tactics, you can develop useful metrics about what works and what doesn’t work. Also, discipline and consistency is a key to effective business development, and a clearly developed system contributes to increased discipline.

What is your sales strategy and plan? Your plan needs to be written and/or diagrammed and then broken down into tactical action steps. An effective sales system turns these activities into metrics and includes accountability mechanisms.

Failure to make business development a priority.

Business development often has a serious case of lots of talk and little action. Professional services firms and practitioners will say how important business development is, but when you look at how much time and energy is placed on business development, there’s a disconnect. It starts at the top. Is business development included in your strategic plan? In partner or management meetings, is business development a standing agenda item? Does leadership walk the walk, able to talk about business development activities and wins? Are new ideas encouraged or shot down quickly with the “that won’t work” refrain? This management best practice prevails when it comes to sales: what is measured gets done.

No focus on cross-selling.

It is infinitely easier to sell to existing clients. Yet, cross-selling remains an untapped opportunity to grow revenues. Why? Firms that are broken into divisions often have strong silo cultures. Divisions act autonomously and have little impetus to talk to their clients about the services provided outside their division. Also, while management may have mentioned the idea of cross-selling, there are no goals established and there is no consistent dialogue, support or accountability. Additionally, there is a huge “comfort level” barrier to cross-selling. Project managers and solo practitioners are uncomfortable with cross-selling at the risk of being seen as “too salesy” and bothering their clients.  And they don’t know what to say or how to initiate the conversation. Like with anything in life that takes us out of our comfort zone, cross-selling becomes something easy to avoid.

The reality is clients are always looking for ideas and ways to execute better. Long-time clients are more often than not very open to assisting your business if you ask. Sometimes a simple question like, “We’re looking for ways to grow our ‘X’ service, and I wanted to pick your brain for some ideas.”

Failure to identify sales targets and the players.

Who would you like to be doing business with? Who are the players in those organizations? You need to develop a target list so that you can then create a plan to meet the players and court them. Without identified targets, it’s like taking a trip without a destination. You might get somewhere, but you’re just not sure where or when. And here’s a real important tip. Don’t only focus on today’s decision makers. Identify the up and comers in your target organizations and court them as well. You never know when today’s up and comer will become a decision maker.

No follow up.

Follow up is a component of the sales system that it warrants special mention. Did you connect with someone at an industry event? Have lunch with a client? Get introduced by a client to another player in the same office? Maybe you sent a follow up email and connected with the person on LinkedIn (or, egads, maybe you didn’t even do that). Now what? You need to make sure there is a consistent follow up plan that is entered into a calendar/CRM system. Here’s another great tip. Instead of an email, send a good old-fashioned snail mail letter. You’d be surprised at the impact a letter on beautiful stationery carries.

In my work with professional services firms, these are the five biggest mistakes I see made time and time again. These happen to be extremely fundamental sales processes. Without the fundamentals it makes it very difficult to be highly effective at business development and makes it hard to move onto more advanced and creative approaches. You have to decide if business development is truly a priority at your firm or if you’ll operate like the average firm that talks about the importance of business development…and then talks some more.

John Surge is the President of A|E|C Growth – The Professional Services Marketing Firm. He helps small and mid-sized firms and solo practitioners develop effective marketing plans and marketing tools and provides business development audits and consulting.

How many of these mistakes are you making in your efforts to increase your client base?

Are you engaged in what we call
“accidental marketing?” Think of what could be accomplished if you had a real plan of attack?