Business development: Which strategy is right for your company?

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You most likely don't need/want someone like this to develop your AEC business. There are better ways,

Matt Handal of has written an informative article outlining what he says are eight business development strategies. These are:

  • The Expert/Inbound Strategy
  • The Client List Strategy
  • The Network Strategy
  • The Old Client Strategy
  • The Existing Client Strategy
  • The Referral Strategy
  • The Partnering Strategy
  • The Advertising Strategy

He goes into details about each of the approaches, suggesting pluses and minuses for each.

I have some personal favourites in this list, including the “Expert/Inbound Strategy” and “The Existing Client Strategy” because both approaches help avoid the nasty problems of sales fear/avoidance.

Sales fear/avoidance — the aversion that most people have to be “sold” anything, especially cold — and the aversion of most people to do the type of hard rock selling that causes the negative “please don’t sell me anything” attitude, underlies most business development problems.

The Expert Inbound Strategy suggests that you achieve true recognition as the leading authority/expert on a topic matter, largely through speeches, presentations, written reviews, publicity, and client word-of-mouth. Obviously it is a hard strategy to achieve unless you master your field, and it can be a slow road to success.

Meanwhile, of course, the existing client option — selling new services/products as you maintain your client base, is both easy and effective (as most successful architects, engineers and contractors report that they get the majority of new business from existing clients) but has obvious built-in limitations. While you can add/up sell and introduce new services to existing clients, what happens when they need to downsize or disappear?

So we go to the other options, and while Handal suggests you focus on only a few of them, you presumably will need at least one of the other choices to achieve a sustainable business development strategy.

Why don’t I include “advertising” in my must-do list, when (gulp) 95 per cent of our business revenue arises from advertising?

The reason: Why advertising can be truly effective if you are patient and build Return-on-Investment measurement systems into your strategy, it can be highly expensive and it can take quite a bit of time to assess its effectiveness. Also, frankly, advertising is far less effective for very large-scale ICI projects, than for smaller scale business-to-business and residential opportunities. The challenge is that with larger projects, the universe of decision-makers and the time-to-decision precludes even specialized media advertising purchases.

Of course, as publishers, we don’t need to pay cash to advertise in our own media. And we can often negotiate non-cash trade outs with other organizations such as trade show operators for advertising/promotional opportunities. Notably, quite a bit of our advertising revenue arises when we bat away the public/media relations specialists trying to plant news releases to establish the expert/leadership status of their clients’ organizations. We tell them we’ll be happy to give them the editorial publicity if they support us with a bit of business. And that sounds like inbound expert marketing to me.

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