Business Development


Business Development Best Practices— Part II: Focus and Consistency

In the last article we discussed developing a plan, taking stock of your history and putting a road map in place for the future by considering what has worked and has not worked. This article is about the next step, the importance of a focused strategy and the consistency of execution.

Let’s start with your firm’s policy for working with outside advisors. Do you have one? What I mean by “having a policy” is putting into words what works best for your firm and sticking to it. An example will follow shortly, but first I would like to review some of the reasons why it is important to have a policy in place. You should start by identifying where and when you are most successful, for example:

  • You know that the plan design proposed is more accurate when your firm is part of the discovery process; when you speak directly with the prospective client to identify their needs prior to developing the proposal.
  • You know that your close ratio is higher when you or someone from your firm is involved in the proposal presentation to the client.
  • You know that it is more profitable when you are involved—it is costing you money to generate proposals that you just hand off for someone else to present because the close ratio on those proposals is lower than when you are involved.
  • You know that your best referral sources consider you to be part of their team (those that do not want you involved are those that are using your information simply for cost comparison purposes).
  • You also know that your client retention rates are higher for those for which your firm was part of the sales process (they know you, they know your role, they also now have a face to relate to … you were not just an “oh, by the way there is this TPA who takes care of the compliance work”).

Here is an example of a policy: Our firm will only generate proposals for which we are involved in the sales process, from start to close. We do not hand off our proposal and design work for someone else to present. We maintain this policy because we have found that our close ratio is much higher when we are involved, it is a more profitable approach, and this approach helps us develop closer and better relationships with our referral sources and our clients.

Once you develop your policy, you need to stick to it. Be consistent. You can communicate this to your referral sources, both existing and prospective. If someone resists and states they do not want you involved in the sales process, step away. This person is not interested in bringing you in as part of the team, and is really only interested in telling the prospect that they have done their “due diligence” because they have collected multiple service provider quotes. A red flag should go up when a referral source does not want to include someone that states they close at least 80 percent of the time when they participate at the final presentation. (The importance of knowing your close ratio was addressed in Part I of this series.) Your firm is better off not generating that proposal because you save time, money, and—most importantly—you do not erode your firm’s brand or value by letting someone else communicate for you or—even worse—use you as an example of why the prospect should contract with another firm. Good referral sources will understand and will respect your firm and its value in the sales process.

Consistency in practice is key, so after developing the policy (and sticking to it) you should document the procedure. You may be thinking, “Really?” Yes, really. Think about what happens immediately after your firm receives a proposal request. What are the steps involved, who does what, and how does it adhere to your policy statement? Document it! This will ensure that everyone at your firm understands their role and responsibility. Attach a time frame to each step and put together a timeline that can be shared with your referral sources so that they know exactly what will happen and when. This should include how quickly a referral source can expect to receive the finalized proposal. By setting expectations up front, you reduce the number of “I need this done by tomorrow because I have a meeting with the client” requests. This practice will lead to better partnerships and respect for your firm’s time and value in the process.

So what types of items should your process include?

  • Input the request into your proposal tracking system, including who generates it, what information is captured, and how quickly should the proposal be completed
  • Assign who in your firm will complete the plan design and proposal, work with the referral source, and present to the prospect
  • Conduct an outreach phone call to the referral source to discuss next steps
  • Schedule a discovery call or meeting with both the referral source and the prospective client
  • Schedule and meet with the referral source to discuss the plan design, the agenda for prospect presentation, and clearly identify those items for which each member of the team is responsible, both beforehand and at the meeting
  • Follow up schedule—this is something you should address with the referral source in advance and the client at the presentation. Clearly state that you would like to follow up in a reasonable time and expect to receive guidance on next steps. It is only fair that the client understand that they have a responsibility, as well, to not keep another professional waiting for an answer.

Once again, this is where consistency comes into play. No one should be authorized to circumvent your policy or process, except for you. You should do so only if there is a really good reason because you need to set the example. A good reason may be that you have known the referral source for years, can trust him or her to tell your story and present your plan design well, and know that they consider you to be part of the team. Another reason may be that the referral source is one of your best relationships and you know they do not waste your time, their leads are good, and do not ask on a regular basis for rush proposals.

The development of a solid business development policy and process that is consistently communicated and executed leads to success. “One offs” or exceptions create confusion of message and erosion of efficiencies and effectiveness. Focus and consistency will lead to a higher close ratio because no one outside of your firm can tell your story or present your plan design better than you can. Your firm will be more profitable, because you are no longer wasting valuable time and resources on generating proposals that have a low probability of closing. And equally as important, your firm’s brand and value will not be maligned because someone else is either “telling your story” or is using your proposal as part of demonstrating their “due diligence process.” Do not forget that this is your opportunity to begin a solid relationship with a future client who now understands your firm’s role, responsibilities, and value, which leads to a better and longer-term client.

In the next article we will discuss working with a referral network. This will include identifying your best relationships and the incorporation of service standards based upon segmentation with the goal to drive a more profitable and successful referral network.

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