Business development is about using the relationships you have with partners and clients to create opportunities and do more business. So, sales, essentially, but with a longer-term view and more sophisticated approach.
It can cover anything from partnership arrangements to the creation of new products services, but is always driven by a desire to do more, better.
There are a few golden rules we’ve learned while building our own business – 20 years and counting! – and from working with accountancy firms hungry to break out and get ahead.
1. It’s not about you
It’s very easy to dive straight in talking about why you are special, why you are the best at what you do, why your firm is great… I’m sure you can list 10 things at which you believe you are the best. But the reality is that customers don’t want to be talked at – they want to be listened to, first, then engage in conversation.
Change your mindset from “me, me, me” to “What do you need?”
You’re in a crowded market, fighting for attention; demonstrating empathy and client focus from the start is a great way to stand out.
2. Address problems and fears
What’s the biggest headache for your clients and prospects? And how can you make life easier for them?
When we surveyed SMEs recently they told us that online competition, cashflow, financing, MTD and dealing with HMRC were among their biggest concerns.
On that last point, one SME said of their accountant:
“It’s like, their worries aren’t mine. They’re worried about the numbers adding up, but my worry is ‘am I in trouble with HMRC?’. And it’s being able to talk to my worries.”
To find out more about what keeps your clients awake at night, you need to talk to them – and, again, listen. Make some time, ask lots of questions, and resist the urge to be defensive if you hear things that challenge your assumptions.
3. Solve that problem
Once you know what your clients and prospects most need, you can shape a product or service that provides it.
That might mean creating something from scratch – undertaking professional development to learn new skills, or hiring someone with the necessary experience and expertise.
Or it could be about tearing down your product packages and putting them back together in a way that speaks more clearly to your clients.
Just keep coming back to that key principle: problem > solution > product.
4. Convey the message
When you’ve defined your target market, understood their problems and crafted a solution, the next step is to communicate and get the conversation started.
It is very common to hear people in professional services, including accountancy, say, “I give a personal, tailored service.” Once again, although this is meant to be about the client, it’s actually still about you.
Instead, you need to create what we’ll call a brand tagline – a single, snappy line that sums up the service you’re offering.
5. Grab attention
If somebody has the problem your service solves, how will they know you provide it? You need to pop up when somebody asks, say, ‘Is software development eligible for R&D tax credits?’ or ‘How do I comply with Making Tax Digital as a landlord?’
That means you need a website which clearly answers those questions and presents your services.
You need a social media presence that underlines your expertise and engagement in those sectors.
And you need effective SEO to make sure your firm leaps out of search results and demands to be clicked on.
Our results-focused websites for accountants are designed to attract your ideal clients, turn visitors into leads and enable your firm to measure your return on investment.
6. Differentiate yourself
Your message and proposition, if it’s right, will do the bulk of the work in creating an emotional connection.
But you still need to make clients think, “Yes – this is the firm for me.” In other words, you need to build a brand.
From visuals to tone of voice, it’s about conveying personality and culture.
7. Make it easy to get in touch
Once they’ve found you, you might get one chance and a few minutes of a potential client’s time to move things to the next stage. So, ask yourself: “How many steps does a client need to take to get through to me?”
If it’s more than two, it’s too many.
Your website should have contact details front and centre and calls to action encouraging them to pick up the phone, email or message you.
Similarly, your listings at Google my Business, LinkedIn and Facebook should all display clear contact information – and you need to monitor those inboxes closely.
8. Maintain the connection
I said right at the top that business development isn’t easy and that’s partly because you have to be direct, driven and determined.
You often hear people say, “My clients don’t want to hear from me too often, nobody likes getting sales emails, and nobody visits our blog.”
But the problem isn’t necessarily how often you reach out to your clients or the quality of your leads – it’s the value those contacts provide to the client.
Ask yourself if the email you’re sending or the blog post you’re sharing will really have an impact. Will it answer a question, meet a time-sensitive need or drive them to do something differently?
If they connect with you on social media, will your posts and interaction add real value to their feed?
When you start sending them high quality content and contacting them with the right information at the right time, your clients will thank you for it.
Our downloadable guides are an example of this approach and how we share our expertise with you, the client.
9. Gain a bigger share of the customer
Once you’ve got that connection with a client or prospect it’s about making it easy for them to buy more services or upgrade those they already receive.
Packaging services with clear tiers is one way to make sure they always know the next step along the path.
And when they see the service working for one segment of their client base, they’ll want to extend it to others.
PracticeWeb will build a picture of your ideal clients, map out how to engage with them and how best to package your firm to stand out from the crowd. Get in touch to find out more.