Looking for Business in All the Wrong Places

Jerry’s web marketing business swung between super for two or three weeks to strangely quiet with new business the next month… or longer. Because the clients signed on for six-to-twelve month contracts, there was work to do with optimizing site structures, competitive research, building and configuring special search engine-friendly site maps, and all the rest. However, the growth of the business was a serious concern for Jerry and his loyal project managers, as well as cash flow, as new clients brought in the most new revenue.

When I sat down to talk with Jerry about his growth plan, he started to tell me how with only a few hundred thousand dollars, he could open additional sales offices in the suburbs of major cities, where many white collar businesses operate. “Great,” I said after he had gone into more details and further away from his day to day concerns. “Just tell me what you would train your sales force to say and who you would have them say it to as a first step in building your sales pipeline.”

Jerry looked at me with a flash of sternness in his eyes. That was enough to let me know the four word challenge would be coming up soon enough. Then he launched into what I call the “inevitability sales pitch.”

“Well, it used to be that a business would buy a phone book ad or a newspaper ad and customers would find them by flipped through the pages. But now, things are different. People are online and businesses need to get their web sites found. Buyers are surfing the web these days. Too many businesses have web sites that are outdated, hard to find, and poorly designed. They’ve got to get out of the shadows and be found in Google and Yahoo and Bing. We have special ways of getting our client web sites found by people looking for local businesses to do business with.”

“All true,” I stipulated. “Now tell me, how are you finding prospects and once you do, what do you do to win them over to becoming a client? Tell me about the last few clients you signed on.”

Jerry began to explain that his cousin, who ran a hair salon, had sent him a few prospects. After all, she was a satisfied customer. With Jerry’s techs running the hair salon web site, his cousin had gotten more calls, more appointments, and more customers than she had in the last two years combined. She was thrilled with her decision to work with Jerry and his team and she enthusiastically told customers, whenever the subject came up. She was a perfect success story.

“Ok, great. What else?” I prompted with my business coach “hat” on.

“Well, I go to a lot of networking meetings. In fact I met the car dealer two months ago, and he signed up last week.”

“Ok, great. Referrals and networking. What else?” I prompted again.

“Don’t you get it?” Jerry raised his voice. “Businesses have to get on the web with better sites in order to get more business. And we can help them do that.”

And there was the famous challenge – “Don’t you get it” – that signaled his argument had come to an end and he was now ready to listen to new ideas.

Unfortunately, not all business owners have the opportunity to “lay it all out” and assess whether the business development plan is as solid as Swiss cheese or granite. You’ve got to start with where you are because it’s hard to make progress without taking a hard, honest look at where you are now and the results your current processes are delivering.

Too many companies are like Jerry’s was — and some of them are pretty good sized businesses with payrolls and offices and perks — that have grown and plateaued because they rely on what got them to where they are now instead of what they need to do to get to the next level of stability, predictability, growth, and so on.

In Jerry’s case, his top three priorities needed to become addressing the weaknesses of a poorly formed set of criteria for good prospects, the need for a series of messages to educate a qualified prospect to make them feel the need and urgency to do business with Jerry’s company, and a lack of a pipeline process to prevent people from slipping between the cracks.

In a strong economy where business is flowing easily, it’s easier to grow without good tools, training, and systems. However, in tight (i.e. scared) economies, you really need to raise the level of your business development in order to grow.

Advanced lessons to extract:

1. Take stock of your business development activities and rank their effectiveness.

2. Ask yourself if the methods you’re using are truly scalable. In other words, if you invested 5x or 10x the resources, would they yield a proportionate response or a less favorable response?

3. A business development pipeline is a system, not just a series of tactics or activities. With a system, you can analyze which parts are performing on par and which need attention to make sure you are getting the best results.