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3 Essential business development tips for professional & engineering firms post-pandemic
How can professional services firms best transition from survival to growth mode?
The past 18 months has seen many professional and engineering services firms batten down the hatches as the pandemic took a grip on our lives and the economy. Thankfully, many of these organisations are now moving from survival mode into growth mode. And, while this is hugely encouraging, there are a few essential things to consider to ensure you maximise opportunities so that the growth is as effective as possible.
So, how can professional and engineering services firms maximise business development opportunities in this post-pandemic era?
A recent McKinsey article tells us that growth comes from both short and long-term initiatives – quick wins and strategic transformation. It also asserts that execution triumphs over analysing and that measurement is a source of competitive advantage. Working with professional services and engineering firms since 2004, I have seen the economy rollercoaster in action and the impact that upturns and downturns have on organisations.
Put people first – nurture client-facing staff
Professional service based businesses have two fundamental assets: people and time. Sure, the people are providing expertise, and it’s true that more companies are now offering technology-based innovations, but at their core these businesses measure their income in terms of the numbers of hours their people invoice. What this means is that in strong markets the biggest problem is resourcing, and when times are tough the biggest problem is too much overhead. The response? Reduce the overhead. But the first to go are usually those who are lower down on the utilisation spreadsheet. Unfortunately this can (and in my experience often does) include work winners.
I have been in the world of business development and client relationship management for my entire career so inevitably I see this through a particular lens. I accept that when market conditions dictate that the flow of work is reduced to a trickle, clients are in their own ‘lockdown’ and it is difficult to keep paying expensive salaries because the return on that investment can’t be realised any time soon. However, we have now reached an economic turning point. This means it is time to put the foot down on the accelerator. And I’ve seen first-hand that the best way to move from survival mode to growth mode is to nurture client facing people and actively engage them in a three-part strategy:
Client-facing people are often the work winners and connectors in engineering firms
- Get focussed on where the opportunities are
- Have more face to face BD meetings
- Measure the effectiveness
Lets have a look at each of these steps:
Whilst we don’t want to be struck down with ‘analysis paralysis’ we also don’t want to waste useful time, effort and energy. This is not the time to be going after the wrong type of work. Here three quick questions to help get you focussed:
- Is the market strong for this kind of work?
- What is our reputation like for this type of work?
- Do we already have relationships with decision makers?
If you can answer a solid YES to each of these it is probably worth putting a business development plan together. These plans needn’t be overly complicated but should focus on getting in front of target clients through referral, or valuable content marketing.
Face to face BD meetings
Even when selling into the public sector – who almost always buy through a tender process – nothing beats getting in front of clients, both existing and new. People (still) buy from people and so your people need to be better than the people from other organisations. And by ‘better’ I don’t mean better technically, I mean better at motivating clients to buy!
These meetings provide fantastic opportunities, if not immediately then often at some point in the future. For more information on how to ensure these meetings will maximise the opportunity please see our Effective BD Meetings guide.
Measure the effectiveness of business development activity
It has been said that it is difficult to measure selling activity. Certainly it’s challenging to look at the numbers and work out what income was due to what particular marketing/BD activity, as well as considering if it was simply down to market conditions. However, that approach is trying to measure the output. I have found that it is much easier and more effective to measure the inputs. For example count:
- Number of meetings with decision makers
- Introductions made to colleagues with other expertise (see our valuable Cross Selling post here)
- Referrals from clients to others in their network
- Opportunities identified at meetings
- Follow up meetings with other stakeholders
Want to maximise opportunities for your business to grow, and your team to thrive? Please get in touch, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’d like to see more growth ideas for professional & engineering firms we’d recommend ‘Selling to the public sector’ here, and definitely look into our 30 minute trainings on ‘Getting to the client’s table’ here.