building firm

Business development, specifically winning business to grow a client portfolio, has changed hugely in the last 10 years. The established rainmakers in your firm, the older partners, will tell you that it hasn’t changed and that tried and tested methods are the way to go today, but they are wrong in thinking this way. The methods they used then may not be appropriate for consultants who are trying to win their own business today and here’s why.

Social media is changing the world (or at least business development)

The older partners aren’t completely wrong in saying that business development has stayed the same, but they aren’t taking into account how the widespread adoption of social media is changing how you play the game. Yes, you still need a high-quality referral network BUT how you effectively build and nurture this network has changed significantly. Yes, you still need to choose a niche and build a reputation for something BUT that specialism needs to be much, much narrower now. Yes, the easiest way to win work is still from existing clients BUT this isn’t going to work as a strategy if you need to go out and win your own clients, especially if you’re in the really early stages of winning clients. Business development is changing and it’s all because of social media.

What’s changed in business development?

So we’ve established that the core aim of business development has stayed the same – you need to leverage off the current relationships that you have – but it is the strategy that has changed. In today’s society:

  • People are much, much busier
  • This makes it much harder to get face time with people
  • People are spending more time than ever before online, consuming content

So what does this mean for our business development strategy? We need to invest much more time building an online presence to be seen. Now, you might hear the older partners of your firm saying “you’re never going to sign up a 10-million pound deal on the basis of a couple of tweets and a LinkedIn update” and you know what? They’re right. You’re never going to do that. The mistake they’re making, however, is thinking that social media doesn’t achieve anything. The aim of getting eyeball to eyeball with someone is still the same, but those couple of tweets or that LinkedIn post may achieve two major things:

  1. Initial contact being made
  2. Makes you memorable to potential clients so that they think of you when they need your service

Both of these are essential when winning clients in today’s society, So whilst, yes, older established partners are right in saying that you’re never going to win the big stuff on social media, they are old-fashioned in thinking that it is not going to help you do just that. It is one of those accelerators. It is one of those keeping in touch mechanisms that really makes a difference in a digitally noisy client pool.

The proof is in the pudding!

I want to give you two quick examples of how business development has changed and to show you just how powerful social media can be.

  1. A former colleague of mine had been responsible for building the business development curriculum for the firm we used to work in. He understood business development very much from its theoretical angle, he’d learned a lot from the suppliers, and because he’d worked very much with the marketing team, he had this amazing black book of business development people, marketing people, and professional services. So he had easy introductions to at least 10 to 15 potential clients and he used that. He went and he had a one to one but that’s all that happened. Because he had to invest in his own thoughts, his own IP, his own kind of this is what’s going to make a difference, because he was just parroting the same old, same old, and because he hadn’t built expertise in his own right, all he did was have cosy chats that went nowhere.
  2. I had a new member of my team join me at the Accountants Millionaire’s Club, and up until now, he’d been an account manager sales director for software. Now, he’s moving into a coach-facilitator, helping accountants grow their practice. The same audience, just a slightly different angle. He and I both put out a LinkedIn update saying “really pleased that Ashley’s joined the team” and that one post got so much engagement that it was considered a mini-viral update. Between the two of us, we got over 10,000 views in the news feed of it, at which point, a lead generated itself when a person commented: “Oh, Ashley, I’d like to talk to you about that.” (Build a LinkedIn profile that gets you found)

So there we go, the power of social media in all its glory. Again, getting face to face is still the aim, but you can’t do it in the same way anymore. Older partners will say that the advice that they were given when they were more junior was to just get out there, shake hands, meet people, and get your name heard. What they don’t realise is that social media is the way to do that now.

Summary: the modern world of business development

Nobody can deny that technology has changed the way we do everything, and the same goes for business development. Buyers are using technology to do their own research before they even approach a potential supplier, so your online footprint has never been so essential. Did you know that 80% of people will look at your website? Or that over 60 people will Google your name? Technology is making it so easy for buyers to weed out the time wasters and look to social media profiles to find the experts in the field, so you can’t just get face time with everyone anymore unless you’ve demonstrated a certain level of expertise first. It’s an old-fashioned way of thinking that everything is the same. Today, your online brand is just as important as your physical one and that’s what is different about business development.

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