Your business development strategy is broken – fix it

Oh. My. God. Look at his boat. 


I was interested in what advice the competition could offer about growing a company, so I did a little investigation. My search for “business development strategy media” (pro tip: don’t google the acronym) turned up several results – uninspiring, every one.


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There’s Inc.’s guide to moving into new markets, but that’s more of a high-level, ‘how to win when you’re already winning’ style piece; this piece recommending charitable works, which is nice and everything, but only really useful from a brand-building POV; a business development sample plan, which is…not a business development strategy; and a SlideShare presentation which just highlights the importance of updating your website, with its references to branded CDs (hey, not even Google is immune to the odd mistake).  
Fact of the matter is, if you’re searching for ‘business development strategy’, it’s probably not because you’re running a FTSE 500 company and want to know how you can grind the competition into a fine paste. The simple truth (probably) is that your organisation is smaller than you’d like it to be, and you want to do something about it.

Well, nature abhors a vacuum, and so do I. As CEO of an organisation that’s worked with over a hundred companies looking to increase their market share, I’ve got some experience in business development strategy – and, with a little help from former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell (my latest literary crush), I’ve got a pretty good idea of how smaller entities can get started.

Your first move: Set objectives

Campbell takes pains to point out (in his excellent book Winners: And How They Succeed) that strategy and tactics are very different things – and that far too much weight is given to the latter. Every business development strategy should be organised around SMART objectives (and if you don’t know what those are, you probably want to do a bit more background reading before proceeding). These can take a number of forms. Maybe you want to…

·         Generate more leads

·         Generate better leads

·         Make your leads convert to customers

·         Decrease customer churn

·         Get your current customers to buy more services

For example, TopLine’s current objective is to increase monthly leads generated by 100% by September 2016. This is an objective that supports our company goal of hitting a £1.8m run-rate by the end of 2016. 

It’s a trap!

Multitasking is, unfortunately, the name of the game when it comes to running a smaller organisation, but to achieve your goals you’re going to want to suppress this tendency and focus.  My advice is to start with the objective that holds the most potential before moving on to the next, rather than starting them all at once – that’s setting yourself up for a fall. You might find you want to set another objective in motion before the first one is complete, and as some might run for a year or longer, that’s totally normal. Just remember: don’t take on more than you can handle at one time.

Next move: Define the strategy

A good strategy is very closely tied to an objective. I like to think of strategy as your chosen route to your objective. For example, if your objective is to get to Paris from London, there are a number of strategies or routes that might enable it. You could fly, catch the Eurostar, hitch-hike, walk, cycle or drive. You can’t do two of those strategies simultaneously. You have to commit to one.

Likewise, if the objective is to generate more leads, there are many routes you could take. Content marketing, PR, cold calling, inbound marketing – these are all potential strategies. You might think some are likely to be more effective than others (and you’re probably right). You might think you can do all of them at once (but it’s unlikely you’ll excel at all simultaneously). So you would choose one. At TopLine, we have chosen inbound marketing as our lead gen strategy because:

·         our experience shows it works

·         we can do it really well

·         it’ll make us a great case study to help us win new clients

So, if you want to generate more leads, a content marketing or web optimisation strategy could be potentially rewarding; if you want better quality leads, you’ll need to think about reorganising your company’s landing pages or analysing lead sources and figuring out where your best prospects are arriving from. Whatever you’re working on, it’s advisable to get in touch with a good integrated specialist.

Still with us? Then: Develop the tactics

Your tactics are then the individual actions you’ll take to make your strategy happen. So if your get-to-Paris strategy is to drive, you will need to get your hands on a car, choose the Channel Tunnel or the ferry, and then plot your route and your timing.

As an example, we’ll let you in on some of our inbound marketing: our tactics are this blog post, the amazing ‘Which B2B lead generation techniques are right for your company?’ ebook that you can download here, some incredible lead gen case studies that are only available to prospects who download the ebook, and a host of other secrets (that we might tell you some other time).

The individual actions needed to bring your business development strategy to life are vital, and you need to be able to schedule them out in a coherent order that will achieve results – and then delegate them to the appropriate team members.

Paris ahoy! Find the discipline to get things done

What do bestselling novelists, kung fu masters and tennis champions have in common? Discipline. They get up at 5am to write and don’t move until they’ve banged out 1000 words; they hit the same block of wood until it breaks; they develop a flawless backhand over hours, days, weeks and years of practice.

You’ll need to implement the same level of commitment to your strategy. Once you’ve set a course, stay on it, make it sound like a priority even when it isn’t, and hold every member of your team accountable for it.

At TopLine, we have a culture of accountability backed by great software (like asana) that enables us to ensure we get things done (and celebrate when we do). I also repeat myself to the point of being mocked by my team, but I read somewhere once (probably in that Winners book – did I mention I liked it?) that this is the only way to make sure people get it!

But first: Collect the data

Your business development strategy is next to useless if it can’t be measured. SMART goals are defined chiefly by data: being able to feel positive change in the wind isn’t going to do it.

Ultimately, you won’t know if you’ve achieved your goal or fallen short unless you’ve collected the right data. And you won’t know if you’ve collected the right data unless you’ve defined at the objective-setting stage what metrics you want to move. Don’t even start with your strategy until you know what success will look like, and how that will be measured. And once you’ve collected it, you need to…

Don your beret and Breton shirt in order to: Adapt

Adaptation: it’s the hallmark of all effective predators. And if you want to attract more delicious gazelles (if only lions knew about inbound marketing), you’ll need to hone your business development strategy over time. This doesn't mean throwing in the towel when the results don’t come pouring in. It means analysing the data to see where you’re succeeding and failing, and thinking about what you can do to do more of the former and less of the latter.

In short: optimise continuously and intelligently (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an executive say, “We don’t do x because it doesn't work for us”, only to find out later that they did x once and they did it badly which is why it didn't work for them). Once you’ve hammered it into a decent shape, this is mostly a matter of making the necessary short- and long-term tweaks needed to keep your campaigns working for you.

A business development strategy needs time to percolate – and proper execution. It is definitely not the sort of thing where you can just throw an intern at it and hope for the best. You need to learn to create a solid business development strategy, and the best way to do that is to download our ebook!

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