Strategy – How devising a more successful approach to developing business opportunities
When it comes to developing an effective approach to business development the first question is where to start. It seems such a big task. There are so many potential clients, plus intermediaries and influencers to talk to.
Given the daunting scale of the task one of the common responses is to make oneself busy, on the basis that surely some of the people you connect with are likely to be potential customers?
But being busy is not the same as being effective. In fact, being busy for Busy’s sake is no help at all. A scatter-shot approach is inevitably random and haphazard. Instead of gradually making progress through developing opportunities in structured way, this approach can be a bit like banging your head against a brick wall.
To develop business opportunities requires a bit of thinking, possibly some research and definitely some analysis. This approach will increase your knowledge, so you can make more informed decisions that will enable you, and your team, to consciously focus time, effort, money and resources where you think they will deliver the greatest returns.
What this ‘thinking’ means in practical terms is gaining a reasonably detailed understanding of the market that your business operates in. When it comes to selling products and services to businesses (whether your business works locally, nationally or internationally) there is inevitably a limited market. Therefore, it should be possible to describe it. To be clear how much customers (in this market) spend on the products and services your company provides. Which competitors operate in the market? What share of this total market your business has
at the moment? Which products and services, that you offer, are the most profitable? And to be able to identify segments (parts of the market) based on common factors such as turnover, business type, location, type of business, sector etc. so in the future you can be more selective about who you target.
Pulled together this knowledge enables you to understand where your business fits into the market today; how large the business opportunity there is to go at; and which customers (of the total market) are closest to the ones you currently have. This is the basis for developing sound reasons to promote what you do to similar companies; to focus on new segments you currently don’t work with; as well as develop new products and services that you can take to market to become more successful.
At this stage of the business development process you will have a lot of information in your hands, and this will allow you to make decisions about where to focus time and effort, for sound business reasons. The next step is to convert that thinking into a business development plan.
The secret to writing good business development plans is rather simple – it is to make sure that actions are specific, timed and owned. A bad plan will contain non-specific and general tasks e.g. contact prospects by Q2. A good plan will be specific e.g. call prospects (named individuals) to discuss products/services X, Y, Z and achieve 5 appointments between weeks 6-12; invite specific prospect(s) during week 7 to attend ABC event; send a brochure/eDM to specific prospects in week 10 etc.
These examples may not be right for every business. They simply serve the purpose of showing actions that can be chased and checked periodically. The key ingredients of the plan will include: the person allocated the task; a description of the task; how the task is to be performed; when the task needs to be completed and the target outcome. This approach can apply to existing client relationships the same as targets, and less senior members of the team can play their part, as long as they are tasked to perform actions they are capable of achieving.
Beyond a reasonably detailed plan, what makes BD successful is having the right attitude and a management culture that sees BD as being an important part of the job; similar to having chargeable work that has to be delivered.
A gap in many companies is the connection between marketing and business development activities (or the disconnect between them.) What this means in practice is that the activities and plans that are developed and run by the marketing function are not always leveraged
into the business development arena, when they should be. Therefore, it is good practice to make sure at the outset that marketing and PR know what the business development focus will be; and equally that BD plans take full advantage of marketing events, sponsorships and activities. One of the key challenges is getting the attention of a prospective client. This isn’t easy, when you are one of a number of potential suppliers demanding time from a customer, who also has their day job to do. This is where you can leverage the events, seminars, trainings, sponsorship etc. that are already in the pipeline and give you an excuse to make a call or send an email.
Business development is about connecting and then building relationships. Although personal experience and knowledge of the industries we work in is important, it is only when we understand what the customer needs that we get the opportunity to pitch for business. The challenge is to ensure you have a compelling proposition, which is covered in the second article of this tutorial; because the proposition and the customer’s perception of your company brand will determine whether you get a foot through the door. But once you have an appointment; and therefore the chance to meet and discuss work issues, you also need to have a plan to make the most of the time you are going to spend together.
Pitch Factory has developed a tool to help business developers prepare for first meetings, and to help them open out broader conversations that can often reveal surprising business opportunities.
At the foundation of our approach is recognition that change drives a customer’s needs. Change drivers come in two forms: Internal and external. Internal change drivers are driven by performance and ambition. External change drivers are driven by market conditions and regulation/governance. If a company (or a division) is not performing well then it has to change what it does, which might drive cost reduction initiatives. Poor performance or ambition can drive M&A or other investments. Market conditions, such as oversupply in established markets or new tariff-free export markets can drive expansion needs. Regulation and changes in national and international law can require changes to process, IT systems etc.
So in preparing to meet a client, it is well worth trying to find information about your prospect’s business (annual reports, results, and news) as well as think through the market the client operates in. These are the drivers of change, and change is where business development opportunities are created.