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9 Tips for Effective Business Development

Business development can be one of the fastest ways to grow your business. Here are 9 ways to help you take your company to the next level.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
September 22, 2015

Business development can be one of the fastest ways to grow your business. It can also be one of the most time intensive. It typically requires focus, planning, stamina and doggedness. Doing it right may pay big dividends; doing it wrong can be demoralizing.

Here are a few tips for effective business development that can help you hit the ground running.

Know Your Competition

It may not be enough to know the names of your competitors. Evaluate what they offer so you can help differentiate yourself from the pack. As the old adage goes, don't define yourself by your competition. Analyze what makes you stand out in a crowd. You should obsessively work on this differentiation. This may be your most powerful business development tool. 

Add Value and Build Trust

Rather than going after people's wallets, consider going after their hearts. Business growth can come from adding value to every relationship, with prospective customers and existing customers. We can add value by providing information and knowledge, by being an advisor, by obsessing over treating customers right, both before and after the sale, and by having a reputation for great execution and white glove service.

This mindset and approach build trust and goodwill which are your calling card for business development. But building trust takes time. As Seth Godin put it, "People don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them ... They always believe what they tell themselves."  It's your public persona and your actions over time that will likely influence what people tell themselves about you.

Use Testimonials Wisely

Testimonials can be a crucial part of establishing credibility in the initial stages when you court a new prospect. It can help to know a few tips in this area. For example, it may not be effective to use "one-size-fits-all" testimonials. Rather, you should tailor your testimonials to your prospective target. If you're dealing with a mid-sized company, for example, you should use testimonials from other mid-sized companies you've done business with, rather than from your largest customer. This taps into a fundamental principle of human behavior referred to as the Consensus Principle or Social Proof:  We feel more comfortable in making a decision when the source of the information comes from people similar to us.

Also, beware of inundating your prospects with a large number of testimonials. It could look as though you're protesting too much. Only use testimonials that are authentic and have the ring of truth. Sometimes, when asking for a testimonial, the person writing it does so reluctantly to please you, but their heart is not in it. You can end up with a perfunctory, factory-style testimonial that savvy clients will quickly see through.

Keep an Eye on Online Reviews

Increasingly, consumers may turn to online reviews to decide whether or not to do business with a local company. A 2015 survey by BrightLocal shows that 92 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses (up from 88 percent in 2014). And 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Set up a Google Alert for your company so you can monitor and respond to these reviews when necessary. It can help show that you care about your business and about the people who use your services or products. A caring attitude may engender goodwill and attract new business.

Ask for the Business

After you've met with your prospect, submitted the proposal, done all the due diligence and followed up, consider closing that phase by unabashedly asking for the business. Try a simple: "I would very much like to provide this service for your company. What will it take to get started?" This "let's do business together" approach is direct and honest, and can signal your confidence in the value of your service or product. It's refreshing. What's more, it can give your prospective client the opportunity to decline. It may be better to know this so you can refocus your energy and attention on the next potential customer.

Pay Attention to Your Website

Have you let your website slip? Does it look like it was designed a decade ago? In this visual world, design matters. It's fair to say that most of your customers may start with your website. Recent research shows 84 percent of business customers check business websites. A tired looking website will most certainly result in missed opportunities. At a minimum, you can add a video to showcase what you do.

As for your content, your website may not thrive if it just provides information about who you are and lists your products and services. Consider rewarding visitors who land on your site with ample free resources, information, knowledge and tools to help them succeed. Make it easy for them to share the resources with others without having to fill out forms, deal with constant pop up windows and other annoying interruptions. This is passive business development that will possibly pay dividends and doesn't cost you anything.

Don't Let Relationships Go Cold

A study by Manta and BIA/Kelsey reveals that a repeat customer spends 67 percent more than a new customer. More than 60 percent of small-business owners generate the majority (51 percent-plus) of their annual revenue from repeat customers rather than new customers. It may pay to focus the bulk of your business development efforts on strengthening relationships with existing customers. Value the relationships and keep your loyal customers engaged.

There are many ways to engage with customers periodically. Set up a Google Alert for your clients so you can know what's happening in their world and react as you see fit. Share useful content on a regular basis. Send a note on special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. Connect with your clients on LinkedIn and keep in touch with them through the LinkedIn feature that allows you to "comment" or click "like" when they have a work anniversary or other change to their profile. There's no exact science on how often you should connect with a client, but one rule of thumb for maintaining top of mind awareness with your clients is to show up on their radar once a quarter. You can also engage with clients peripherally by establishing an engaging social media presence.

Beat Your Competitors to the Punch

Research from Insidesales.com reveals that 50 percent of buyers choose the vendor that's the first to respond to them. Inertia is not your ally. Share this information with everyone in your company. Make them aware that business development is everyone's business so that a prospective client is quickly funneled through to the right person in the company. You should have implemented measures for rapid and efficient customer handling. Speed can make the difference between winning and losing.

Sharpen Your Business Development Skills

Hone your skills in business development. Today, there are many convenient options for busy leaders or business owners to develop their skills in this crucial area of business success. For example, you can join an online class offered by Udemy, download some business development apps or register with a business development association in your area.

Read more articles about growth opportunities.

Photo: iStock
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.