How to crack new business development and ride out the storm

New business development is an age old business challenge, one that’s occupied me for all my working life. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to help you finally get it cracked.

New business development ahead of the storm

“When the storm rages fierce,
Hoist the sail to the top.
Oh, how merry the Storm-King appears!
Let us rise, let her drive;
Better founder than strike,
For who strikes is a slave to his fears.”

 The Northmen: a Viking Saga

A time of uncertainty, certainly. No-one can predict the full impact of the recent referendum here in the UK. So how best to prepare your business for any turbulent waters ahead?

Will you batten down the hatches and await the oncoming storm or seize the opportunity, raise your best suit of sails and confidently drive ahead of the wind?

The choice is yours of course but if you opt for the push forward route then ‘getting better at new business development’ is sure to be a pressing area of focus.

How do we get smarter at generating leads from people who don’t yet know about us, and more exciting new projects from those who do?

Grappling with the sales and marketing challenge

New business development is an age old business problem. Like many good firms, what’s loosely termed as ‘sales and marketing’ may be one area you feel you’ve never totally cracked. You’re not alone. 72% of professional firms responding to a survey by US firm Hinge Marketing put ‘attracting and developing new business’ as their number one challenge.

What’s the best way to generate new business? Where should we invest and focus our marketing and sales efforts? How should we effectively structure our business development team? And where to start?

These questions have occupied me throughout my working life.

It’s over 25 years (eek!) since, fresh faced with a shiny sociology degree to my name, I landed my first role in sales. I’ve been in business development (on both sides of the sales/marketing fence) ever since. I didn’t plan this as a career but have never stopped being fascinated by it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way, with questions to help you move forward.

1. Start with the message – it’s never mattered more

You want to get the word out and attract the right clients/customers, so what is it you want to say? I’ve learned that getting clear on the message is the very best place to start.

The businesses that find it easiest to attract the right customers, generate good referrals and pull in the best talent are all carefully positioned with a heart-felt central message that galvanises all they do; an inspiring message that captures the spirit of the organisation and differentiates them from the competition; one that has meaning for both staff and customers alike.

It’s a matter of identity – not just what you do as a business but who you are – why you are in business, who you choose to serve and how you approach client challenges. This message will be unique – you just need to uncover it, looking from the outside in.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek

Nail your colours to the mast.

  • What do we stand for as a business? What’s the story underpinning all that we do; the message that staff and customers can get behind and everyone is proud to share?
  • Who do we really want to do business with; what do we want to be known for?
  • How do we describe what we do, how we do it and why we do what we do?
  • How do we communicate this in a customer-focused (not self-oriented) way, with emotion?

[Here’s how our clients Project One uncovered their message and put it to work.]

2. Align new business development with the way people want to buy

So you have a strong central message but how do you get the word out? It’s been fascinating watching how sales and marketing behaviour has evolved over the last 25 years (must be the sociologist in me still).

I’ve witnessed a growing intolerance to a sales message, a resistance that’s way stronger now than when I started out in the 1990s. We still want to buy of course, but we hate/fear being ‘sold’ to. Cold calling anyone?

The internet has empowered us and transformed the sales process. We can by-pass the salesperson and complete much of our research online before contacting a firm.

Go with the prevailing wind.

  • Put yourself in your buyers’ shoes. How do you find, research and buy products and services?
  • Which sales and marketing approaches do you respond to and which turn you right off?
  • Is your business development approach in tune with the way way people like to buy today?

 [See: Is outbound selling dead in the age of inbound marketing?]

4. Put content front and centre

The right content (valuable content) gives your business wings.

A focus on content taps into the way people buy today and brings your business development efforts to life. Make valuable content the beating heart of your development strategy and you’ll get into action with real purpose.

In its rawest sense, content-led marketing makes you get to grips with two key business development questions:

  1. ‘Who do you want as a customer?’
  2. ‘What do you want to say to them?’

It takes the answers off the white board, and out into the real world.

A focus on content forces you to get your website messaging spot on; it helps you write the story you’ll tell when people ask ‘and what do you do?’ ; it makes you wrestle those service pages into saying what your ideal customer wants to hear; it makes you think creatively to develop valuable content that will help your customers (and, in the process, it acts as a magnet for the right type of clients).

Getting your content right is transformational. The process inspires confidence and galvanises teams. It creates a buzz, making it easier to pull the right people towards you and to develop relationships that get off to a great start.

Raise your flag.

Focus on your message and share it with the world using content your customers will love.

  • Draw up your ideal customer persona. Who do you really want to do business with? What are their challenges? (Ask them)
  • Design your website and content with laser sharp customer focus.
  • Share your story in words and ways your ideal customer will love.
  • Create valuable content that answers their questions at every step of the journey.

[See: How to create better content]

5. Build the right team – marketing, sales and content

OK – this is a little controversial but it’s the only way I’ve seen it work well. Content shouldn’t sit with marketing. It’s a separate but aligned discipline (and there’s a need for close collaboration between the two). If you run a knowledge-based business then put someone senior at the helm with deep subject matter expertise in your field, plus strategic insight and business development nous.

  • Content – put someone in charge. Not the same as marketing person. Whoever is heading up your content efforts needs subject matter expertise and knowledge of the business and its goals inside out.
  • Marketing – has never mattered more. Marketing takes the role of getting your story out into the world, generating leads, building the brand through every touch point, building relationships. Works with experts from the business to make it easy for them to generate and share the content.
  • Sales – the balance of the role has changed but is still so important. Make the job of your sales team easier by equipping them with fantastic content that differentiates, shortens the sales cycle and makes sales conversations easier.

Captain the ship.

It’s tempting to abdicate responsibility when it comes to business development. Yes, it’s tiring, especially in uncertain times. But you – the founders and leaders are the best salespeople and content providers of all. There is no magic bullet – no superstar salesperson or weapons-grade marketer capable of solving the new business development problem by themselves.

Take charge, build a strong collaborative team to support the push and get everyone pulling together.

6. Prepare for the change ahead

The businesses that make real progress recognise ‘improving business development’ as a change, and tackle it accordingly. Before jumping down the usual, tactical route – hiring a succession of sales and marketing people who somehow always fail to deliver – they step back and do some hard thinking to prepare for the change ahead.

Set your compass.

  • What does ‘sorting business development’ mean to you? What are we trying to achieve for the business, and why?
  • What works now? What needs to change, and what stays the same?
  • How will we know if the change has been a success? What will be different?

“A change makes things different. There must be a From and a To.” Jane Northchote

Business development is THE challenge for our times. Get your message and content ship shape and you’ll find that selling becomes so much easier. It makes for a fascinating adventure too.

Onwards! The best of luck on the next leg of your journey.

Further reading for the curious:


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