Business Development Strategies: The 8 You Need To Know

There are a variety of different business development strategies one can use when developing business. But at the end of the day, every business development strategy falls into one of eight major categories.
I’m going to cover all eight of them. Plus, I’ll describe the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Once you get a handle on the eight primary strategies, you can use them to create or customize your overall business development plan. They are as follows:

  • The Expert/Inbound Strategy
  • The Client List Strategy
  • The Network Strategy
  • The Old Client Strategy
  • The Existing Client Strategy
  • The Referral Strategy
  • The Partnering Strategy
  • The Advertising Strategy

The Expert/Inbound Strategy

This business development strategy is used more by [doer-sellers] and may not be appropriate for a full-time business development manager
The Expert/Inbound Strategy tries to set the business development manager as an expert in the company or client’s field.

One example might be the engineer who creates the perception that he/she is an expert in energy savings for office buildings. This business development manager ‘s company designs energy retrofits for office buildings. Therefore, he/she is targeting real estate developers who may want to increase their building’s energy efficiency.

The business development manager writes articles and books, blogs, speaks at conferences, and participates in relevant industry associations with the hope that people will perceive him/her as the expert in the field.

As mentioned, this is an inbound strategy because the approach is passive. They put themselves out there and wait for people to reach out to them.

At first glance, it may seem like a business development strategy that relies too much on luck. But it’s been historically very effective, particularly when conducted by doer-sellers. Many businesses start out and have successfully grown using this strategy.

The disadvantage of this strategy is that it is very passive. You put yourself out there and wait for people to contact you. For this to work, you’ve got to get in front of many people.

It’s also difficult for someone who lacks the needed expertise to execute. That’s why it’s more appropriate for doer-sellers.

The advantage is that you establish yourself as a trusted expert in advance. When prospects call you, they already have some degree of confidence in you. Plus, they don’t feel like they are “being sold” when they are the ones reaching out.

The Client List Strategy

Another business development strategy centers around client lists (sometimes called “prospect lists”).

For example, let’s say you are targeting large general construction contractors in Tennessee. You can research, create, or even buy that list.
From there, you can use [cold outreach] or network your way to the decision makers within the organization. You can even use [email marketing] as a way to track clicks and uncover who might be receptive to talking with you.

Assuming you have the right list, this can be a very effective strategy.

Advantages of this strategy are that it’s very focused. If done right, it’s often the most effective strategy for bringing in new clients.

The disadvantage is that this is the most challenging strategy. Business developers using it will face some level of rejection, regardless of how good their approach is.

And if you use the wrong approach, this strategy can prove disastrous. For example, I once worked with a business development manager who would spend a full day cold calling prospects and asking them for work.
He didn’t do any research. He didn’t ask the prospect any questions. He just called people and pitched them like a telemarketer.
It never worked. And even being in earshot of it was painful.

If you need help, check out my word-for-word scripts for getting meetings with extremely busy people.

The Network Strategy

The networking strategy is not nearly as targeted. Business development managers using this approach often attend many industry events, lunches, etc. Their goal is to use their network to identify and connect with potential clients. Many business development managers use this approach because it is less stressful than the Client List Strategy.

It has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is you may identify a potential client that wouldn’t have appeared on a client list.

The disadvantage is this strategy can take a long time, is not as targeted, and relies on the quality of the business developer’s network (and his/her ability to leverage that network).

For more, check out my Networking Tips For The Lazy

The Old Client Strategy

This business development strategy is often overlooked. When we hire business developers, our first inclination is often to send them off to find new clients. But that might not be your best approach.

You see, it’s going to take far more time and effort to bring in new clients than it would to re-engage with clients you’ve worked with in the past.

It’s common for experienced business developers to start by reaching out to clients they’ve worked with in the past. That’s because they understand it’s the quickest way to a big win.

If your firm could be getting more business from past clients, it might make sense to help your business developer bring those relationships back to life.

The advantage of this strategy is that the leads are much warmer and they’ll likely be more open to talking with a business developer.

In addition, this strategy can uncover some client service issues you were unaware of. You may even be able to resolve a few.

The only downside to this approach is that if you focus too much on it, you won’t be bringing in new clients.

The Existing Client Strategy

A mentor of mine was the head of a practice for a large engineering company. He tripled the practice’s business during one of the industry’s deepest recessions. And he did it without bringing in a single new client.

How? He doubled down on getting more work with his existing clients.

This is often the first business development strategy I recommend. But strangely, firms often neglect it (or just pay it lip service).

The disadvantage of this approach is a less diverse client base. If work from a few of your big clients dries up, you can find yourself in a bad position.

The Referral Strategy

Depending on your business, your old clients might not have repeat work for you. But the people who buy your services probably know others who need what you sell.

In fact, even repeat clients likely know someone who could use your help.

Developing and instituting systems that have you regularly asking clients who else might need your services is a Referral Strategy.

Depending on your business, you may even be able to incentivize or reward those who send referrals your way.

There really aren’t any concrete downsides to this strategy. Some people find asking for referrals to be uncomfortable. My advice to those people is to cowboy (or cowgirl) up.

The Partnering Strategy

Partnering is a broad topic. There are many firms out there that make the majority of their revenue from partnering. Partnering might require you to be a subconsultant on another firm’s contract. Before you agree to that, check out my questions to ask before agreeing to be a subconsultant.

The biggest challenge of partnering often relates to payment. If you are not the “prime consultant,” you can end up being paid last. Collecting from a client is often easier and quicker than collecting from a partner.

The Advertising Strategy

Advertising can take many forms including sponsorships. And for professional services firms, it is not common. It’s usually only mid to large sized firms that spend money on advertising.

Advertising, especially to a large audience, can be very expensive. The return on investment can be difficult to track.

But, if you have a specific list of prospects or target market, advertising might make sense for you.

For example, if you only design pharmaceutical labs, it might be cheaper to advertise to members of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) than hire a full-time business development manager.

Advertising might also be used to supplement other business development efforts. For example, you might use retargeting to advertise to people you met with or who visited your website.

Like I mentioned, the primary downside of advertising is it’s hard to accurately track the result of your campaigns. However, if you track client acquisition cost and average lifetime value, it makes it easier.

Which Business Development Strategy Is The Right One?

Ultimately, your overall plan might combine elements of any of the eight business development strategies I’ve outlined.

However, unless you’re running a large operation, I would advise against using all of them at once.

Pick one or two. Get good at them. Once you have successful systems in place for them, add another strategy to your playbook.

Building Your Strategy With A New Business Developer

It is important to understand the strategies a business development manager has used in the past before you bring them into your firm. Their approach may differ from what your company expects from its business developers.

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