New Year…New Approach to Business Development?
February 5, 2014 | The Whetstone Group

We’re a month into the new year — if you aren’t already, it’s probably time to start thinking about how to continue growing your business in an increasingly competitive environment. It’s not enough to work the same contacts you always have and continue to tell the same story. So how can you identify new contacts and update your story? One avenue is to compete as specialists in a niche market.  While some firms develop niche practices around service categories, we find industry-focused niches are most effective for business development purposes. Here’s why:

1. More targeted marketing opportunities

Prospects don’t gather in groups based on what service they need; there isn’t an association for companies who need audits! However, there are plenty of industry associations: associations who have meetings (networking opportunities), sponsor conferences (exhibiting and speaking opportunities), publish trade journals, e-newsletters and blogs (publishing and advertising opportunities) and hold special events (sponsorship opportunities).

2. Increased cross-selling opportunities

When firms organize business development efforts along functional practice areas, more often than not their professionals discuss one service area — their particular expertise — with a prospective client. But when they organize business development around industry, firms typically start to see a transition to cross-functional team selling. Those in the firm who provide a variety of services to a particular industry can talk to the prospect together about all the ways the firm can help because they know the industry issues and best practices.

3. Elimination of silos

Often traditional service can become problematic; cross-functional industry-focused teams typically help to break down those silos. Proposal teams look at the whole picture for a prospective client and develop a more effective proposal; sales teams present the wide range of expertise the firm can bring and make a better impression; cross-functional client service teams look at the client’s entire organization and ensure the firm is addressing all client needs.

4. Ability to differentiate

What gives a firm the competitive edge to win a proposal? Is it the process they use to deliver a service? Is it really that much better — or, for that matter, different — than a competitor’s? Prospects expect firms to be service experts — that’s a given.  What can really differentiate a firm, though, is when they can talk about a broad base of experience in a prospect’s specific industry. Recognizing red flags, knowing best practices, being aware of requirements, offering expertise outside of your core service area — these are all advantages that come from specializing a practice in an industry. These advantages translate to big benefits for clients and these benefits will provide differentiating marketing messages in proposals, on web sites and in other marketing materials.

5. Attention-getting marketing messages

Obviously, most of us are more comfortable speaking our native tongues. In the business world, that means speaking the language of the industry in which we operate. Talk to construction owners about bonding and relationships with surety agents; talk to manufacturers about the inventory issues and materials costs; talk to non-profits about increasing board-of-director confidence. Speaking the right language is what will get prospect’s attention and keep them engaged in content and marketing materials.

Come visit us here soon, as we’ll be following up by talking about the four phases of selecting and building a niche and offering tips for how to work the phases successfully.