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Rich's Top 20 Business Development Tips


1. Contact past clients at least once per quarter using a variety of media: personal visits, phone conversations, networking events, e-mail messages, or handwritten personal notes.

2. Don't go it alone! Exposing potential project team members during the business development process has the dual benefits of demonstrating a collaborative approach and mentoring younger professionals in the art of rainmaking.

3. Brainstorm ways to involve past and current clients in your efforts (e.g., charettes, co-presenting at a conference, serving on town and technical committees).

4. Ask provocative, inquiring, open-ended questions to learn more about your client's universe. Then (and only then!) provide specific information about your firm and the benefits it provides in the context of their needs.

5. Provide free advice, resources, and/or industry best practices during the business development process. Doing so will demonstrate that you have your client's best interest at heart versus just trying to land a job.

6. Always invite clients and prospects to workshops and presentations you and your colleagues will be delivering.

7. Use “affinity” groups (e.g., your alma mater, a fellow 4-H Club member) to help get a foot in the door to prospective client organizations. Of particular value is your alma mater, which likely has a digitized searchable alumni database.

8. Don’t forget to include executive directors of professional associations in your firm’s “army” of business development advocates. Interview them for a newsletter article and make sure they receive your newsletters (as long as it’s useful information).

They have a fiduciary responsibility to provide information and resources to their client base— the association members you’re targeting. They can also be a tremendous resource when conducting market research.

9. If your firm provides value to its clients by addressing community resistance to a project and shoring up support, then ramp up your detective skills by joining a NIMBY group using your personal e-mail account. Being on the receiving end of communications yields a wealth of intelligence that can shape your strategy and that of your client’s.

10. When pursuing a past or prospective client to schedule a conversation or meeting, use a variety of communication media, including office voice mail, e-mail, and cell phone (if appropriate). While some folks find it easier to respond to e-mail, your original message may not have penetrated the company’s spam filter.

11. Befriend administrative assistants, who can be important influencers in the business development process. Ask them for their help and advice in connecting with their boss. They can “unlock” calendars and be a unique advocate for your firm.

12. Go the extra mile— conduct a client/prospect study. Formally interviewing (in person or over the phone) 25 or 50 clients and prospects enables your firm to: (1) “touch” the organization several times through the initial letter, the interview, a thank-you note, and a follow-up meeting; (2) elicit trends, drivers, and your clients’ changing needs; (3) learn about their knowledge and perception of your firm and its services, as well as your competitors; (4) for clients, assess their satisfaction with your project management and delivery; and (5) identify upcoming needs and opportunities to work together.

Outsourcing this type of study typically yields more robust data (both quantity and quality).

13. Be judicious in using online networking tools (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) in the business development process. If you're not, they can eat up valuable time with little to show for it.

For example, identify and join industry/client-specific LinkedIn user groups. Become familiar with the site, and then try posting a "news" item in the form of a recently published article, an upcoming talk, or a new service offering.

14. Follow up on any and all client inquiries within 24-48 hours. Responsiveness is a proxy for project management.

15. Clients and prospects respect honesty. If you don’t know the answer to a question they’ve posed, tell them so. Promise them that you or a colleague will contact them with the answer.

16. Stick to your word! If you tell someone you'll call them or e-mail an article on a particular day, then do so— this is the most basic litmus test for whether you'll be trustworthy during a project.

17. Don’t assume that just because a prospective client hasn’t gotten back to you, you should avoid future contact. While it’s easy to want to retract back into your shell, persistence is a differentiator in business development.

18. Make sure your client-focused newsletters and other direct mail pieces contain useful content (e.g., advice, case studies, resources, regulatory updates, trends), not self-serving material. Few people have time to or want to read about some firm tooting its own horn.

19. Don’t turn client-focused newsletters into a science project! Be easy on yourself— interview key target clients and prospects to help generate content. Eliciting their thoughts, needs, and opinions in a disarming way solidifies existing relationships and builds new ones.

Doing so also boosts readership, as peer organizations like to benchmark by reading about their competitors in print. (Be sure to boldface the name of each organization interviewed).

20. Conduct a debrief after your firm has won a project. Most firms only conduct debriefs after project losses. If you’re lucky to even get a response, the feedback is often measured and general in nature. In contrast, you’ve got greater leverage when debriefing a client that has just selected you.

Conducting these debriefs (1) sends a strong message that you don’t take them for granted; (2) enables you to learn why they selected you (i.e., what you did right and your differentiators), as well as what you could have done better; (3) allows you to determine what your competitors did well and not so well; (4) helps identify your client’s hot-button issues; and (5) how your client will measure success on this project (this data should be fed back to your PM and the team to recalibrate their project approach).

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