We sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day details and minutiae of business development that we forget that the process is really pretty simple and straightforward.
I was reminded of this recently when a good friend of long-standing relocated from a smaller engineering firm to a mid-sized national firm. After giving him a couple of weeks to settle in, I met him for lunch recently.
I want to share with you the three fundamentals of business development that his new boss, the CEO of his new firm, listed for him. Incidentally, the three basic principles are not new to my friend, because he has used and honed them carefully over his 25-year career.
But first, let me give you the profile of the company. It is an 800-person firm with approximately 15 offices
distributed across the continental United States. This fact alone establishes the credibility of the CEO: A firm of this size and reach would not have an amateur at the helm.
Here are this CEO’s three basics:
• Business development should drive your entire operation. Now this CEO has his mind and heart in the right place. After all, unless you are a small firm with a dedicated private pipeline of work sufficient to meet your needs, you need to have a robust business development program. Without business development, you will shrink, wither, and die. The major problem with so many small and mid-sized A/E/C firms is that they ignore this fact. When times are lean, they do business development.
When times are flush, they don’t. As a result, the client prospect base knows that the frequency of contact with the A/E/C firm is directly proportional to the level of desperation of the firm to acquire more work. This is no way to build a long and successful relationship. Most owners of successful A/E/C firms say that about 90% of their problems disappear when there is sufficient work coming in the door.
• Face-to-face is always the best way to touch a client or prospect. In 2015, this is still a truth that you can take to the bank! By 2025, this truth may be obsolete. Young folks coming out of college now live much of their lives riveted to social media. As a result, 10 years from now much of the work of developing and strengthening personal and professional relationships in the A/E/C industry may involve more social media and less face-to-face meetings.
We still expect that face-to- face meetings—in the office, at conferences, at lunch, and in other venues—will still be a major and necessary component of relationship development.
• Do what you promise and communicate with the client along the way. This statement may sound trite and overused, but it is fundamental to your business success, not only in business development but in running your business as a whole. Doing what you’ve promised in the proposal establishes and strengthens your credibility and reliability to the client. Equally important, communicate what you’re doing at each step to the client and solicit feedback. Rarely, if ever, will a client or business development prospect actually want less communication rather than more. If you were to encounter the rare bird who says, “just do it and give me the final result,” at least establish ground rules for communicating in emergencies or during scope changes.
So there we have it! This is one smart and focused CEO. The essence of business development can be summarized in three key principles. If every A/E/C firm adopted these principles today, our hit rates would increase, our profits would soar, and our clients and prospects would be singing our praises. And after all, what more could we ask for?
You know your firm, but do your clients really understand what makes your firm the low-risk choice? You know who your prospects are, but do they know who you are? You know who your competitors are, but is the only way to compete based on undercutting their fees? This is exactly what was at the front of our minds when we created The Ultimate A/E/C Business Development Manual. Here, you get must-use strategies that get results in virtually every facet of business development.
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