I was talking to the partner of a professional services firm some time ago. He was a bit phased by the business growth targets his managing partner had set for his practice area. It seemed like a big mountain to climb. Overwhelming.
That is especially true now, when priorities for many businesses are keeping in contact with existing clients and keeping visible in their marketplace. For others, just surviving these next few months is their focus.
For those who have seen some growth in the last year or at least busy-ness in certain practice areas and thinking about opportunities in the 12 months, this is for you.
The starting point is seeking opportunities with existing clients and relationships.
During the course of 2020, we found that reaching out and keeping in close touch with clients and contacts, even though there might not have been immediate work forthcoming, has started to pay off.
Going back to my conversation with this partner, I asked him 2 questions:
- What’s a typical spend from your clients?
He answered about £50,000. So, that meant he needed five new clients in the next 12 months. Now of course, he might need to have 10, 15, 20 conversations with good prospects to win those new clients, but immediately it felt more manageable.
- Which clients of the firm who you don’t currently work with might find your services very relevant?
He could think of two off the top of his head who he could be introduced to and with whom it was worth chatting to about potential work.
After the conversation, I devised a way of describing the different biz dev strategies you could use to chunk down those targets, which can often seem unobtainable, too much of stretch. A map you can follow to end the stress and overwhelm of business growth.
Here are the five ways to look at business growth (in this order). Start with the first route, and if this meets your aims, no need to go further.
If there’s still a gap between where you are and where you want to get to, go on to the next step.
Keeping existing clients happy
First of all, obviously, you need to make sure your clients stay your clients. There’s a whole (key) account management piece that is the topic of another blog. Technically not growth, it’s really about ensuring your existing business doesn’t walk out of the door because you’re more focused on winning new clients.
- Identify key clients, valued clients and all others and create a communications and service plan for each group.
- Assign team leaders for each of your top 10 key clients who will be responsible for proactively managing, protecting and developing relationships with people in these organisations.
- Create client teams and set up regular meetings for them.
Growth from existing clients
There is often more work you can win from existing clients. Either more of the same, or introducing other products or services to existing clients, commonly called cross-selling. The key here is to recognise it’s all about the client. Working out what’s relevant to that client, what they might valuable at what point. And keeping on their radar so that when the time is right, they think of you.
In conversation with a client only last week, she mentioned that her firm had recently conducted some research. One key piece of information they gathered was that many of their clients didn’t understand the whole of what they did. They used them for one area – the first one they’d worked with – and just hadn’t been introduced to any other service the firm provided. They were making assumptions about this firm’s capabilities, the size of companies they worked with, the sectors they knew about. Despite the cross-selling gap having been around for many, many years, it remains a key opportunity for professional services firms.
- Ensure that all staff know the full range of what you do
- If you can, find the right data that will help with a ‘gap analysis’
- Talk with top 20 clients first about their world to uncover opportunities
- Introduce colleagues to clients to take things forward
Same products or services to similar clients
This is all about deciding which companies are the right prospects for you and seeking to build relationships with them. This extends your existing market to companies you don’t currently work with, but still within the bounds of the kind of businesses which will motivate your people. The first way to extend is to look for more of the same businesses in the geographical area in which you work, before looking to other geographies.
For example, your sweet spot could be working with technology companies. You’ve worked out the characteristics of your ideal client and would like more of them. With a bit of research, you find out that there are 500 other companies like this in the UK that you could offer your services to.
- Revisit you customer profile so that you are crystal clear of the type of person and business you want to work with.
- Revisit your marketing plan, taking into account changes in the sector, business and buying decision.
- Identify specific people in organisations in the same segment you’d like to work with and find out where they hang out so that you can start making them aware who you are, what you do and the value you provide.
Same products and services to new groups of clients
Another route to business growth is to take what you sell to audiences who do not currently know you. You might work mainly in one sector but realise that another sector has similar challenges you can solve. It will entail some research, chatting to companies in those sectors to get a handle on how to take your services or product to that new audience and tweaking either the product/service or the messages you use to engage with them.
- Create detailed customer characteristics for these new audiences so that you know where to find them and how to approach them.
- Develop a new marketing plan, re-purposing any existing content.
- Identify specific people in organisations in this new segment you’d like to work with and build relationships with them so that they see you and then like what you’re talking about.
New products or services
New product/service development is what we’re talking about here. It might entail re-framing what you do to deliver in a new way. A good example of this would be face to face training that now needs to be delivered online. Or you might create brand new products or services for existing clients. Your starting point here is products linked to your area of expertise but a different way of accessing what you sell.
An accountancy firm has historically offered end of year accounts and bookkeeping services. They feel they have the knowledge and expertise to offer business advice and outsourced finance director services to their clients. So, they develop the offering, package these services up and talk to existing clients about what they’d like in the package, what they would find useful. This results in a product they can then take to the whole of their client base.
Similarly, you might offer a new service to existing clients that is outside your area of expertise. A law firm offering HR services would be an example of this. To deliver, they’d need to recruit people or partner with a firm offering these services.
Alternatively, you might develop a very different product or service, in an area you’ve never operated in before. This is diversification and is the riskiest example of this fifth route. One example of this you will have seen in the last year are beer or whisky companies making hand-sanitiser. It does fulfil an immediate need, so that mitigates the risk. It’s unlikely to be something they’ll do long-term – but hey, who knows?
In ‘normal’ times, extending your products or services outside of what you currently do and offering them to a completely different audience takes thought. There needs to be a business case for doing this. You might need to scope the market. There would usually be some researched product development.
For each of these growth strategies there is a marketing plan that can be mapped out to support the BD, to ensure you have everything in place to find, win and keep the right clients.