My best clients have learned to accept that volatility is part of doing business in most industries. They don’t like the constant changes that come more by imposition than invitation any better than their predecessors did, but they have learned to tolerate them, and truly successful leaders have learned to leverage them.
For more than forty years, I have asked my clients what obstacles impede growth and profitability in their markets. I consistently hear these answers:
- Too many cheap competitors
- Fewer in-bound queries
- Low profit margins
- Unavailability of experienced talent
- Customers making decisions based solely on price
These answers suggest leaders can improve their strategic growth efforts in 2020 when they think about business development in three ways: building relationships, differentiating, and leveraging your strategic principle.
Relationships are the coinage of the realm. Acquiring new business has less to do with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and more to do with truly knowing clients, however. When leaders stop thinking of themselves as being business and start thinking of themselves as being in the relationship business, change will occur more quickly and steadily. New relationships and new business rely on you remaining completely focused on generating leads, making connections, and getting in front of qualified buyers, but nothing happens until prospective clients trust you and understand your distinctions.
Differentiation distinguishes your business from your competitors. It is an approach that a company takes to develop a unique product or service that customers will find better than, or in another way distinctive, from products or services offered by competitors. To find your differentiation, ask these questions:
- What separates you from the pack?
- What’s unique or at least different about your company?
- How can you help your clients in ways that your competitors don’t or can’t?
You have, or should have, a unique value proposition that addresses needs and solves problems. Therefore, to acquire new business, being in constant contact with qualified prospects who will benefit from hearing about what you can do for them is critical. But how do you execute this pivotal function in a way that is organized, hard-hitting, and cost-effective?
It begins with understanding the history, goals and driving forces of the clients you want to do business with. How did that business get to where it is? What makes it special? What makes it win? What is their value proposition?
How long has it been since you thought about what makes your organization special? Or thought about your pitch to grab people’s attention? Your message needs to be clear, concise, and impactful. It should move people to say, “I want to learn more” and “I’d like to schedule a meeting.”
Your biggest differentiator will always be your talent. Encourage your leaders to build their personal brands in the industry. Join, and ask them to join, trade associations and business organizations in your area to meet more people who have projects or know of someone who needs services. (This goes a long way in recruiting talent, too).
Be seen at the best industry events, preventing “out of sight, out of mind” from your current and future customers. Host educational events in your area and invite current happy clients who can evangelize for you with prospective customers. Leverage social media and encourage managers to post on LinkedIn about their major accomplishments. Have them post, not your PR or marketing person.
Any discussion of business development should begin with an analysis of why you haven’t grown the business as much or as fast as you’d like up until now. Therefore, start by identifying the external and internal obstacles you face:
- What is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of you achieving your goals?
- What major change would it take to remove it?
- Why haven’t you removed it yet?
- What do you gain if you make the necessary changes?
- What is your worst-case scenario if you do not make any changes?
Building a business depends on strong people skills, distinction, and a clear strategic focus. This sort of organizational intelligence and laser focus will allow you to streamline your business development efforts to pinpoint exactly the right jobs for your company and to avoid throwing darts at a board.
It’s about getting the work, doing better work than your competitors can, and staying connected to happy clients who will refer you to others who will become happy customers.