Understanding Business Development

Here's my definition, and the main business development strategies consultants focus on.

If you want to become a rainmaker and consistently bring more clients and money to your consulting firm, you will need to master business development. The problem is, nobody really knows what it is.

Here I'll present my definition, and summarize the main business development strategies we focus on when working with founders and consulting partners.

What Is Business Development?

Just like there's no universal definition of consulting, there's not one for business development. It's not just sales. It's not just marketing. And it's not sales and marketing put together.

Business development for me is the set of initiatives, tasks, and processes whose goal is to develop and implement growth in a sustainable and profitable way.

It requires you to look at your business as a complex and integrated system, and avoiding two extremes. The first one is dividing responsibilities and activities in silos. The second one, bundling marketing and sales together.

When we adopt this definition as true, it's clear that what and how you do business development will change from one consulting business to another. The needs and goals of the founders will impact strategy. And the size and stage of the company will dictate which growth initiatives you should focus on.

Business Development Strategies

With such a broad definition, it can be difficult to understand the actual tasks you should perform and the ways a business development advisor can help.

To give you some structure, we can group these activities into four main strategies that are typically employed in business development:

  • Pipeline Development: This is how you generate more opportunities. If you already have a good number of leads coming from your marketing, your goal will be to get in touch with them and assess their needs. But oftentimes, you will need to take a more proactive stance and reach out to existing contacts or dream clients to identify or create demand.
  • Strategic Partnerships: This is how you drive growth by allying with another professional, company, or organization. These partnerships can be a long-lasting relationship or a one-off initiative, be more or less formal, and have different goals. Reaching an agreement might take long, but when done right it allows you to minimize your risks by sharing resources, deliver results fairly quickly, and improve your brand and reputation.
  • Market Entry: This is how you grow your top-line by going after clients in a new industry, vertical, or market segment. There are several approaches you can use to enter new markets, but what all of them have in common is the need to deeply understand the market and client. You will need to research your client and competition, and make changes to your positioning and marketing strategy to earn visibility and trust from this new audience.
  • Offering Development: This is how you drive growth by creating new services and products or improving your existing offerings. This helps you not only win new clients, but also increase your client lifetime value by upselling, downselling, and cross-selling to your existing ones. There are two key business development initiatives here. First, doing research to find challenges and needs that you can help clients solve. Second, learning how to communicate your new offering and bringing it to market.

If you just started your consulting practice, business development will consist of a lot of planning and strategy. You need to choose in which business you are in, find who your dream clients are, work on your positioning, identify what are the best channels to reach them, and so on. And then work on building a healthy pipeline.

On the other hand, if you manage a larger consulting firm and already have a solid client base, your challenge is to win more of those good clients. In this case, your business development strategy will mainly focus on developing new offerings or expanding to new verticals and market segments.

For each of these four strategies or groups of initiatives, you will have different ways and metrics to measure success. But the overarching goal of business development is almost the same: developing and implementing growth opportunities, no matter how you define it.

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