The heart of effective business development (BD) lies in the pursuit of trust-based relationships. Unlike many other industries, BD for professional services is not about selling your firm's features. It is not about aligning with specific projects. It is not taking a shot in the dark with a canned message. Instead, it's a structured process encompassing Research, Discovery, Pursuit, Initiation, and Nurturing.
Research – The Foundation
Every successful BD journey begins with research. Attempting other BD tasks without thorough research is counterproductive. While you might envision BD professionals as outgoing extroverts, meticulous researchers are the best. They align the firm's technical capabilities with the prospect's needs. They delve deep into the prospect's organization and culture before attempting to sell anything.
Discovery – Building Connections
Once you identify a promising prospect, BD professionals initiate contact. The "discovery" meeting serves to gauge the prospect's awareness of your firm and the reputation you hold with them. It's about establishing a personal connection and demonstrating genuine interest. BD professionals emphasize the seriousness of the firm's intent.
Pursuit – Building Relationships
BD is akin to dating – you spend time together to explore mutual attraction. It's essential to realize that BD professionals don't chase projects; they pursue relationships. The focus shifts to building connections between your technical team and the prospect's decision-makers. BD professionals serve as liaisons in the pursuit process.
Initiation – The First Project
Once a mutual attraction is evident, it's time for initiation. BD professionals and technical staff embark on the first project assignment from the client. This step is pivotal because it represents a significant leap of faith from the client. It's your first opportunity to prove the client's decision was the right one. While BD professionals play a reduced role during this phase, they continue to manage the relationship behind the scenes. They ensure open communication and perform regular check-ins.
Nurturing – Sustaining the Relationship
After a successful initial project and client appreciation, it's time to nurture the relationship. The primary responsibility falls on the technical professionals delivering the work. BD professionals offer support. They collaborate with the technical team to ensure consistent client care. This is particularly true when there are no active projects. Good nurturing means continuous research and discovery. A client's organization can change personnel, budget priorities, and infrastructure plans.
Maintaining BD efforts is crucial, even during busy project phases and backlog periods. Ideally, BD professionals research and discover future clients 18 to 24 months before they order any work. Firms that understand and prioritize effective BD maintain a healthy backlog, even during economic downturns.
The essence of successful BD in professional services lies in the cultivation of trust-based relationships. This includes meticulous research and a commitment to nurturing connections over time. This structured approach ensures that your firm thrives, regardless of economic fluctuations.
Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC