Every time I tell someone what I do, they always reply with the same question — “what exactly is that?” What they’re asking is — what is business development? It’s sales, right? Or it’s about growing a business, right? Well…if you think about it, business development has many different faces. Numerous flocks of people think that biz dev is simply sales. It is not, I assure you. Sales is a part of it, but…not everything! Now if you scour the internet and Google “what is business development” – you’re bound to get different answers on every result you click on.
When you work for a services firm, business development is a process. Now I touch on services agencies because I believe building strategies for business development working for a web services company is different than web products. Why? Because products, often times, are tangible. Not in the sense that you can pick it up and touch it, but there’s a known feature that usually solves a client’s problem. Web services are intangible, and it’s challenging, at times, to get a client to see the value as you would a web product. Therefore, the process of developing business is slightly different.
The business development process is a continual cycle…
Biz dev needs to be cared for, looked after…you can’t wing your business development. Business development is not just sales, it consists of the following:
- Service or offering — what do you provide? How do you articulate this? This is why you are in business.
- Marketing — letting the world know that you have this service or offering.
- Sales — selling your offer and building your client list, as well as expanding on your current client accounts.
- Client advocacy & management — being there for your client and delivering what you promised you’d deliver. This helps retain clients and you can use that to your advantage to get more clients. Happy clients make for great references!
- Partnerships — teaming up with other firms that are complimentary to yours, not in direct competition.
- Networking — going to events, meeting industry people, building a network.
- Getting feedback — from your clients, from the prospects that you didn’t close, from your team and yourself.
This is an on-going process, and one that you’ll cycle through and tweak as time goes on, but let’s hop into it and talk about the many faces of business development.
Articulating your offer…
Why would a prospect want your service over another agency’s service? Let’s face it, there are thousands of web agencies out there that probably do exactly what you do. So, how do you differentiate? This is where business development starts. Articulating your offer is the first thing that needs to be done, it is the basis for which we build our business development plan. Now, the offer can (and probably will) change as time goes on, but fine-tuning what you already have is the quickest route to success.
Focus is the name of the game. Customers and prospects want an agency that has a deep understanding of one or a few things. Strategy, Web Design, Web Development. If you look at the agencies that have been in business for a while and are thriving (not just surviving), you’ll see that they have focus in one or two areas and companies specifically seek them out to do business with.
Articulating your offer is no easy feat, and for every agency out there, it’s going to be different. What makes you unique? Are they your services, do you have a deep and narrow focus in one area that beats out your competition? Maybe it’s your values? Your crew? Or maybe it’s a vertical that you know inside and out. Whatever it is, you need your audience to have only one response to it — “That’s what you do? I’d love to know more about that.” — Every time you tell someone what you do, you want them to be intrigued enough to ask you questions about it. This gets the conversation going.
I know, this is a tall order, but that’s why you have a team. Get their input, ask them how they articulate what they do. You can also look at the marketplace and how your competition is articulating their offer. My previous agency Oomph “crafts digital experiences with passion and purpose.” 10up, a WordPress digital agency, “makes content management easy, maybe even fun.” The agency my sister works for, Liberty Concepts, they are “building engaged communities and influencing conversations taking place online.” Now, these probably don’t get everyone they reach to say “really, tell me more…” but they do speak to their specific audience. And remember, your offer-articulation will change as time goes on as businesses and markets shift.
Marketing to the world…(or maybe just your users)
Marketing is the next crucial step and one, for a long time, that went overlooked in the business world. Sales was always the front runner, but ever since the dawn of the inbound versus outbound debate, marketing has got its fair shake. Of course, the reality is — is that sales and marketing are two very different disciplines and two very different mindsets. But they do work together, not in opposition like the long cold war it has been of the late (late) 20th century.
Marketing can either aid or handicap your sales team. You can have sales-focused marketing, it behaves as a function to grab those potential customers who are considering whether or not to buy. If you look at an entire client cycle from initial contact to the final launch of a project, you have a progression that goes something like this:
- Project idea
- Need to research firms (and pick the right one)
- Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list)
- Get a proposal and presentation
- Negotiate contracts and sign
- Kickoff the project
- Delivery of the project (completed)
- Evaluate the end product
- Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be)
So, with all that in mind and looking at it from the shoes of your customer, what are the things your customer needs from an information standpoint to make solid decisions? What questions will they have? And at each of these stages, what are your customers thinking about?
- Project idea — This is going to be a lot of fun or this is not going to be a lot of fun, either way, how do I get this project started? I need to find a web agency. Where do I look?
- Need to research firms (and pick the right one) — what firms have what I’m looking for? Who do they work with, what do they specialize in? What verticals do they work in?
- Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list) — which agencies impressed me the most? What case studies would I like to show my boss? Which firm do I get a good vibe from? Have they done really awesome work? Do they have good references?
- Get a proposal and presentation — how hard will this process be? What will I need to get them, what will they want from me? Will their proposal/presentation address my challenge?
- Negotiate contracts and sign — ugh, contracts! I know they’re necessary, need to get sign-off.
- Kickoff the project — what should I expect? Who will they need from my team? What information do I need to put together?
- Delivery of the project (completed) — will this go smoothly? Will there be any unforeseen obstacles? Will we get along with everyone, will I like what they build and design for us?
- Evaluate the end product — is this what I expected? Do I feel we got our money’s worth?
- Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be) – the last project went awesome, can’t wait to do it again. Or, the last project was awful, I don’t want to go through this process again.
Answering questions like these will help your sales team close more business. Now, obviously, marketing isn’t all sales-oriented. Marketing is also about brand reputation (which…will ultimately help with sales) that gets people to like you. And these are people that you may not even do business with, but they could become brand fans. And brand fans can be really good for business. They can advocate for your agency or a project you worked on that was super cool. Marketing can always reach a much wider audience than sales, you can use social media channels, automation and other technologies to get your value and brand out to the rest of the world. And remember, people and companies that are interested in buying from you will always research you first online and make assumptions and judgments without even speaking to you first — and that’s why marketing is uber important!
Sales — the cowboys of the business world…
I’ve written a few posts on sales and I’m sure to write more because sales its own special snowflake…and there’s a lot to it. Sales is demanding, very demanding. And if you’re not careful in business development, sales can eat up the majority of your time, because let’s face it — it’s the driver of more revenue. So what should we be focusing on in sales? Good question!
First, you need to look at the marketplace, what choices are out there that a prospect could potential make, what solutions are available to sell? Then you need to get serious about targeting your ideal client, who are they and what position do they hold, what types of companies/organizations do they work for? What problems or pain points can you solve for your customers? Who are your competitors and how might you lose to them?
Then the next step is establishing a sales process or refining the one you have now. You can be a sales cowboy, but even cowboys have a code. Don’t go out there and play things by ear, or ride the bull until you fall off. Get yourself focused on funneling prospects through a process that progresses the sale. Now, you may be progressing the sale to a ”no” but that’s ok. Rejection happens, but you have a process in place to make progress. The process won’t guarantee that you’ll close business, but it will guarantee that you get the “no’s” out of the way quicker, and get a better understanding of how your getting the “yes’s”
Look at how the sales process naturally goes, something like this:
- Lead generation / Prospecting
- Proposals / Presentations
- Contract signing / Closing
What are the things that you need to do in each of these stages in order to progress to the next one? What’s the requirement of each stage, what is the purpose of each stage, which team member will be a part of each stage, and what resources will I use for each stage? I have a table that outlines all these things, see below:
Having something outlined like this will help you on a couple different levels. The first one is obvious, it follows the stages of the buying process. When you have a legitimate lead and you know they are going to buy (maybe not from you, but hopefully), then you can progress the sale by getting the prospect to hit the requirement for each stage. The second level is that prospects will come to you at different stages of the buying cycle. They may be dealing with another agency and then something went wrong. Maybe there was a conflict of interest and they went searching for a new agency and found you. But, that prospect has already been though the qualifying stage with another agency and wants to hop right into scoping. Well, you just need to know if they meet the requirement to hop on in to scoping. Use this table as a guide or make your own so you don’t have to think about the next step, you can concentrate on your prospect.
Customer satisfaction and delivering on your promise…
During the sales process, the sales cowboy always makes promises. Make sure those are communicated properly to the project team. If a client is expecting one thing, and the project team doesn’t deliver on it, then that makes for an unhappy client and bad word of mouth. Which, in the world of small business, goes a long way!
Good communication and continuing to build client intimacy and advocacy will have a drastic affect on your customer base. Clients want to feel like they are the only client, so when your account managers or project managers connect with the client, there needs to be cohesion from the sales team. The sales people have been dealing with these customers and then once a sale is made, they hand the customer off to the project team. Make sure there’s continuity there that usually comes in the form of a project handoff meeting between the sales team, PM, and the new client.
But as a business development person, you’ll want to check back in with the client to make sure things are running smoothly, that the client is getting value out of the process and project, and you need to look for more opportunities. Relationships are a huge part of agency business. Don’t be afraid to leverage those relationships, even if that means getting a case study out of it. At the most, you can get more business through other projects within that customer’s company, or good referrals for other organizations that might have a project in mind. When you’re in the midst of a project, the focus is on delivering great work, but you still can’t neglect finding opportunities, or being oblivious to them.
Navigating the world of good partnerships…
There are different types of partnerships out there; formal ones, informal ones, referral partnerships, hand-shake partnerships, ones that have contracts and ones that don’t. The only thing I’d really like to touch on with partnerships is this: In today’s business world and with the ever-growing list of customer needs — partnerships help with being able to give a client a full experience.
Your agency is really good at a few things, right? Like web strategy and design. Another firm specializes in custom web development and the templates you design need to be developed with custom code. That makes for a decent partnership. Where the waters can get muddied is in ownership. Who owns the client? How will meetings be handled? This is all something that you’ll have to work out with the other agency to see what the best experience is for the customer. Maybe the customer only wants to deal with one entity. If that’s the case, you can communicate things through from your partner agency.
Partnerships are also good to reach a wider audience for leads. This is why you’ll see many hosting providers like WP Engine, Pantheon, Acquia, etc. have many partners. In essence, they all help each other out. Now, a lot of these bigger hosting companies require that you pay a certain amount of money each year to be a partner. That’s not right for every agency, but it may be right for you, it all depends on revenue, growth, and the ROI you think you’ll get from being a preferred partner.
As a biz dev person, you need to seek out, research, and evaluate different partnerships. Partnerships should add to your business and your partner’s business, they should be mutually beneficial. If they aren’t, then it really isn’t a partnership.
Network…don’t business develop with business development
Networking has been around for a very long time, but they didn’t always call it networking. It’s been called schmoozing, rubbing elbows, social climbing, mingling, and many other names. But networking plays a big role in business development. It’s meeting people, it’s being seen, it’s playing the game.
But there are a few things I want to point out about networking. The first is that it isn’t about the company, it’s about the individual. As a business development professional you attend events to network, but you need to network wisely. When I first started out, I was the guy that would hand out my business card to everyone, and that just doesn’t work. Nobody wants to talk to the guy who wants to talk to everyone.
And when I first started out, I didn’t have much of a network. I only had my friends, and that’s where I started. I asked them to connect me with someone they knew who was in my line of work that I could get advice from. People love giving advice, so go talk to people. Listen to people. When you go to an event, go there to meet one or two people, but make solid connections. Learn what they do, have good conversations, have impactful conversations. Make impactful impressions by making strong connections.
The other thing I want to touch on is the trap of networking. Don’t go out there and attend every event that you can, you’ll get burned out on that, quickly. The thing you’ll notice as you start to go to more networking events is that there are soooo many business development professionals at these events. And most are there because they want to sell something. Pick out the events that are focused on a certain vertical, like say your agency works in the healthcare field. Search for healthcare/digital events — I know you can find plenty. And pick the ones that have an expert speaker in that particular industry. There are usually a lot of industry (remember, healthcare) people there that can either connect you to the right people in there company or are the right people. But you don’t go there to sell them anything. There’s nothing people dislike more than being at an industry event to learn something and a salesman walks up to them to try and earn their business, it’s a turn-off. So, when you’re at these events, listen to what the speakers are saying, learn about the subject, and tell your prospect (or whoever you meet) that you are there because you have an interest in the subject matter. Have organic conversations, don’t push a solution down someone’s throat at an event, it hardly ever works.
Networking is about consistency, the more you go to industry events, the more you’ll be recognized as someone in that community. And then when prospects at those events have a project they need done, if you’ve left a good impression and made an impactful connection, they’ll remember where they put your business card and give you a call.
Feedback improves the process…
I can’t stress the need to get feedback from your clients. It will really help you improve the process. You’ll also want to try and get feedback from the prospects you lost during the sales cycle, that will help you improve your sales process.
With prospects you lost, think about putting together a quick Google form and sending out a survey that has 5 to 10 questions with input fields. It’s hard enough to get people to give you feedback, let alone someone you didn’t sign as a client, so don’t make it too daunting. But if you ask nicely and tell them it would improve your process, many will comply. Certain questions could be:
- Did you understand the solution we recommended implementing?
- Was there any part of the process that confused you?
- What was your favorite part of the process?
- What did our competitors do better than us?
- What was the ultimate deciding factor for choosing / not choosing us?
Remember, you can give these to anyone who went through your sales process to better that particular process.
For clients that you did work for, they’ll go through a different feedback review and it should include sitting down with your client to get feedback. Put aside 30 to 45 minutes, a week or so after the project is all finished and review the project. And just listen to their answers. Certain questions could be:
- How would you say the overall project flow went?
- Was there any part of the project process that you didn’t like?
- Do you feel like everything was communicated to you properly?
- How would you describe your feeling toward the end product?
- And many more….
And remember, just listen, don’t offer excuses or argue with them, just listen. Get the feedback to the team and the leadership, and tweak the process if it needs tweaking (which…it always will!).
Then, if appropriate, ask for testimonials or case studies. Ask if you can use them as a reference. I can’t point out the importance of having a number of references on hand. When a biz dev guy is in the middle of selling something and the prospect asks for a reference, it’s nice to be able to pull from a pool of happy clients. And then also, look for future opportunities. Communicate with your clients after the project is finished, check in with them and keep that relationship strong.
Wrapping up business development…
Let’s cycle back to the beginning, what is business development? Well, it’s all of these things — you’ll wear the marketing face, the sales face, networking and partnership face, and the customer advocacy face, all the while trying to articulate your offer just right and getting feedback throughout the process.
If you look up the exact definition of business development, it probably goes something like this:
The process of experiencing growth through acquiring more profitable clients and expanding existing customer accounts.
– which, if you think about it, encompasses many things, many faces. Business development is a discipline and one that should be given the proper time to work for your agency. Believe me, it will take time. The role of business development is a jack of all trades, but still a master of one. Kudos to all the biz dev people out there — the unsung heroes of the business world!