Traditional marketing and relationship-building activities are challenging at a time when the professional services market is buoyant and busy. A natural reaction for many is to wait for the pandemic to pass and postpone ‘usual’ activities until we are 'back to normal'.
The reality, however, is that we are in the new normal and now is the time to act. Bold and forward-looking professionals consider this an opportunity to prepare their pipeline for the economic cliff that may be around the corner when we see the Australian and New Zealand markets begin to contract.
In a recent beaton CMO forum in Brisbane, several heads of marketing and business development professed to challenges in their teams adapting to proactive prospecting in a virtual world. Indeed, one firm's internal survey found that the most challenging aspect of moving to working from home was that they were unable to undertake traditional marketing and BD activity. This is no surprise as traditional channels close and evolve, quite possibly permanently.
At the forum, there was consensus this will affect future pipelines because the pre-positioning and need-identification meetings, often casually over a coffee, are not occurring. COVID has also demonstrated that in times of crisis where the challenges for business are substantial and immediate, clients are increasingly turning to trusted advisors - rather than going to the market - with a selection or tender process. This situation is ripe for firms to rekindle long-standing relationships. There is also a risk that firms are losing out on warm and growing connections that are not yet at the trusted advisor level.
For some industries, this is more of a challenge than for others. Built and natural environment consultants, for example, may see even lumpier workflow as the essential brand and proactive relationship-building stage in advance of a significant project tender is missing. This may well put a firm on the back foot and poorly positioned for a client to take the risk of a less well-known firm for a significant project. The long duration and scarcity of these 'bet the house projects' may cause substantial difficulties for the unsuccessful firms.
What this means for future BD activity
One CMO commented on the need for and benefits of purposeful connection. Connecting purposefully contrasts with the often aimless BD approach of networking: it involves needs discovery and relationship building, being focused, transparently seeking outcomes and offering significant value through prospecting activity.
For example, instead of bumping into someone at an event and chatting clumsily over a beer, the current landscape calls for a considered approach, scheduled connection, e.g. Zoom or phone call, in a capped timeframe with a deliberately directed outcome. No more coffees to complain about the weather and discuss current affairs with an indeterminate conclusion and no clear advance.
In practice, this means that it may be time to consider BD training and a framework to support your teams in developing confidence and competence in planning and undertaking valuable conversations. In-person is one method, but with increasingly flexible workplaces, adapting these skills to manage conversations and smoothly build rapport online is no longer a nice to have. Purposeful online networking is happening now and will be a vital part of the future of professional services BD.
Here’s a straightforward method to encourage your teams:
Create a network map, i.e. a shortlist of:
Current and immediate past clients to keep in touch with,
Referrer relationships (often forgotten about but key to the workflow for many), and
Prospective clients and those contacts who are critical to those relationships.
Next to each contact, outline an opportunity or challenge. This should point to what to provide as a value-add in the conversation.
Decide who else in your firm should be involved.
Call or reach out to ask for a meeting to discuss 'X'. Be clear about the purpose of your meeting: "Over and above catching up, it would be great if we could discuss X, Y, Z."
Be prepared for the call. Know what you are aiming to achieve from the call.
Agree on a next step before you leave the call or Zoom.
Follow up and do what you said you would do.
Valuable conversations are an essential part of prospecting and effective BD activity. Managing the transition to a more virtual and now 'hybrid' working style shouldn't mean putting off BD activity. Valuable conversations ensure BD activity is helpful for your prospect and purposeful for your firm.
If you would like to discuss your team's BD skill development or understand more about industry trends, contact a beaton partner to discuss our range of insights and programs to support your firm.
Kim Wiegand is a Partner at beaton and brings close to 20 years’ experience within the professional services industry and 10+ years in senior marketing and business development leadership roles, managing teams and stakeholders. Kim now works with firms’ leadership and marketing and business development teams to implement projects to improve client experience, grow revenue streams, develop networks, and have valuable client conversations.
David Goener, Partner at beaton, is an experienced leader of professional services firms and advises regularly on strategic growth plans. David led the national operations as Chief Operating Officer at both BDO and McCullough Robertson for close to 15 years. David brings a practical and pragmatic view to firms' sustainability and operational challenges; including strategic repositioning, leadership succession and transition and practice and service line profitability.