How does your business development program compare to these five factors? You’ll be reviewing your Q1 revenue performance soon.  Hope you’ll be happy and confident about the next nine months.  Or, will you be pleased, but concerned about the rest of the year? Or disappointed…and really concerned about the rest of the year? The senior counselors of Prosper Group want to help.  Since we have decades of experience with oversight of the function,  we submitted our opinions of the “five most important factors” in an agency’s winning business development operation.   Here is a summary of the top five in order of priority: One: Identify prospects strategically This factor was referenced most often by the counselors. Start by defining your “ideal” client.  Then, find the prospects that meet the definition. Seek input from your staff.  Do some research.   Ask if you are picking clients, or are clients picking you? Some suggestions:  Identify prospects that need your capabilities; develop information on their current agency relationships, challenges/opportunities, decision-makers (and who in the firm knows them or will); review opportunities with clients to provide them new services; seek referrals from people who know you (like clients).  As several counselors indicated, this methodology allows permission to say “no” to certain prospects and leads.  You can avoid wasting resources on those that just aren’t a “good fit” for some (now) obvious reasons. However, you may have an interest in a new category, discipline or geography that isn’t part of your current skill set, but you’d like it to be.  Adding a client that gives you a chance to develop, prove and then promote your new capabilities is strategic.  Just be realistic about what you’ll have to do to win and how hard it may be to meet the client’s expectations when you do. Two: Create a new business culture All your employees should understand the importance of additional revenue from existing and new clients.  Be sure they realize the viability of the firm  depends on it. That includes their jobs--their potential for new opportunities and growth in the firm; compensation; and, of course, the quality and frequency of their favorite perks.  So, get everyone involved. Some examples of engagement that create a robust business development culture include:

  • Account teams regularly identify new opportunities with current clients;
  • Everyone networks in person and on social media to expand awareness of your firm’s distinct capabilities;
  • Anyone can support the development of marketing materials;
  • Anyone may be tapped to participate in the preparation and pitch to prospects.
Oh, and everyone celebrates the wins. Make “winning” part of your culture and make “winners” your champions. (Reward them accordingly.) Three: Know your “why” You must be able to answer “Why should this prospect hire us?”  Why are you different and better?  Have a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. One of our counselors says: “What you know is unique to you. What you do is usually generic. Focus on your deep knowledge of business categories, target audiences, key trends and issues.” It all results in “why” your priority prospects will be convinced to hire you. Position the positive impact you’ll have on them--their work days, achieving results, benefiting their companies. And, importantly, their personal career successes. Of course, your “why” must be at the center of your messaging, marketing initiatives and new business materials.  Build your reputation around it. Be sure to integrate the “why” in to your pitches. It makes you distinctive and memorable. Focusing on “how” and “what” will not. Four: Manage a process Your business development has to be a machine that’s always on.  Someone has to be in charge.  Ideally, it’s not the agency principal.  It’s beneficial to have a flexible team that can be the center of the process to ensure continuity.  (If your best talent is 100% dedicated to client service, you are missing an opportunity.)  Also, you can’t grow with any speed if the principal or the “new business leader” must always be at the center of every pitch. Institutionalize the best practices that work for your firm so time is spent productively on insights, strategies, creative, rehearsing the pitch. It also ensures others can quickly access and understand the “rules” that help you win business. (One of our counselors has a “business development checklist” with 167 different items that can be important in winning clients.  Some are obvious.  The ones that aren’t can be important.)  Our counselors also suggest:  Adhere to an annual budget—including what you’ll spend on individual pitches;  review with discipline the status of outreach to prospects; create a toolkit of ways to turn “strangers” in to hot prospects;  analyze wins and losses…especially  losses; and determine who needs what kind of training. Five: Market your agency as you would a client Treat the development and implementation of your marketing and sales efforts with a top priority.  Be able to be proud of your website, social media, publicity, thought leadership, proprietary tools, case studies, capabilities materials.  After all, these are the kind of capabilities you’re selling to your clients!  Let’s go back to your “website.”  Is it really doing justice to the uniqueness of your firm?  Does it demonstrate the firm’s capabilities as an effective communicator?  Is the information that is important to prospects easy to find and compelling to read? And, what about LinkedIn?  It’s becoming more and more critical to the identification of potential agencies than ever.  How are you leveraging it? All your communications activities should explain why you are the right partner. Tell stories about solving problems and over-delivering on expected results.  One consultant advises:  “Find ways to attract attention of your key prospects through relentless, insight-rich messaging that delivers important ‘new news’ and fresh thinking.”   That’s the top five from a group of experienced consultants.  Hope they’re helpful.  Your top five priorities for the year are more important.  What are they?  Have you shared them with others?  Who in your agency can help you develop and deliver on them? How can you get everyone involved in the appropriate ways? Ensure your business development program is working for you as you develop priorities for the remainder of 2019.  Though new revenue is dependent on the other drivers of growth, you’ll see how it enhances reputation, retains and attracts talent, reinforces culture, improves financial performance. Simply put, it adds value to your company.  Don’t miss out. By Rich Jernstedt, Prosper Group