Creating a Process for Business Development
In the accounting profession, business development is undergoing a revolution. The traditional marketing methods, such as print advertising and event sponsorship, are taking a back seat to new opportunities, including search engine optimization, thought leadership and social media. But to really get value from these methods, firms need a process for business development.
Many firms invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software, thinking technology will make business development easier. New technology isn’t always the answer. If you have technology but don’t have a process for using it, you just have a more expensive problem. This is the point when many firms blame the technology for not working as promised when the real problem is that the firm doesn’t have a clearly defined process for using the technology, or is trying to squeeze outdated processes into new tech.
CRM systems don’t provide a sales process or pipeline out of the box. Some systems might have pipeline management tools, but they aren’t customized to your firm. Business development isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
So what if your process for business development? Here are five areas to consider.
Phases of your business development pipeline
Every new client goes through a sales pipeline in order to become a customer. So one of the most critical aspects of your business development process is identifying the phases of that pipeline. You need to know what those phases are and what needs to happen in each of those phases to improve your chances of successfully winning new business.
At Boomer Consulting, Inc., we have five phases:
Discovery. A potential client discovers our services when our marketing efforts generate interest in our services or communities, creating a lead for the sales team. Our initial call with the potential client is the Discovery Call.
Deep dive. We have a deeper conversation with the prospect about their pain and exactly what they need to solve. We pinpoint the problem and collaborately create a game plan that will solve their problems.
Decision-making. Once a prospect has all of the information they need, it’s up to them to make a decision on whether to engage with us. They might compare our offering to other vendors and solutions. Our team ensures we keep following up with prospects to answer additional questions that might arise.
Awaiting signature. The prospect has decided to engage with us, and we’ve sent a contract. We may need to follow up with the prospect to ensure we get a signed contract or engagement letter.
Won/closed. At the end of the pipeline, we’ve either won or lost.
Your firm’s sales pipeline may look different. However you structure it, if you haven’t defined the steps in your pipeline, your team may be incorrect in where you think the client is. You may send over a contract for signature when, in reality, you still need to have a deep dive conversation with the client to find out what they really need.
Better business development conversations
If you ask most firms why clients choose to continue working with them year after year, they’ll say it’s because of the relationships they have with clients.
Conversation is the fabric of any relationship, but many accountants don’t know how to have business development conversations. They don’t know how to ask the right questions and may respond to inquiries with canned sales pitches that leave potential clients with the impression that the firm doesn’t have insight into their problems.
You’ll make better progress toward your business development goals if you center conversations around understanding how you can make a meaningful difference to the client. You can do this by asking questions about their goals, what keeps them up at night, how they define success and the challenges they need help solving.
Asking better questions and practicing intentional listening will connect you to the concerns of your clients and potential clients far better than any sales pitch.
Leverage a quarterback
Someone in your firm needs to be responsible for overseeing every lead. The same person doesn’t need to monitor all leads, but each one needs to have someone in charge.
In business development, the quarterback isn’t always the one getting the touchdowns. They may call the play or hand it off to another member of the team. Instead, your quarterback is the person who makes sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, when they’re supposed to be doing it.
Effective pipeline meetings
Many firms meet regularly to discuss firm business, workloads, etc. but we recommend that the people in charge of business development meet regularly – either weekly or bi-weekly – to discuss prospects in the pipeline. At these meetings, the quarterback walks everyone through:
Where the “most important” leads are in the pipeline
Whether the firm is on track to meet revenue goals
Why the firm won or lost certain clients or prospects
Each meeting should conclude with clear action items for each member of the team. These meetings keep deals moving through the pipeline because they give everyone a better understanding of the performance and capabilities of the team and identify leaks in the pipeline before they become problems.