Selling and marketing professional services is different from marketing and selling a more tangible product like shoes, shampoo, or automobiles. Marketing, and ultimately selling professional services, consists of higher involvement and a longer sales cycle.
Depending on what research you believe, that cycle can be anywhere from 9-24 months. More often than not it’s usually somewhere between 15 and 18 months from when you first interacted with that prospect. Unfortunately, professional services firms often use the terms marketing and business development synonymously, most often not really knowing the difference. However, there is an obvious difference between the two.
What’s considered marketing and what’s considered business development?
According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is defined as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
Nowhere does that definition talk about the creation of relationships or alliances, the development of a strong referral network, involvement in trade or industry associations, researching and identifying potential prospects, or the management of moving prospects through the sales process; which is called business development.
The key component in the business development process, as it relates to professional services, is the relationship a prospect develops with an individual within the firm. This individual can be a business development professional or a partner or senior manager, a lot depends on the size and structure of the firm. Usually, marketing within the professional services doesn’t entail that marketing professional to be directly interacting with an individual prospect unless it is to gather leads for later follow-up.
Where does marketing stop and business development start?
In its simplest form, marketing’s role is to generate a certain number of leads (potential prospects), tell the firm’s story, build awareness of the brand, differentiate the brand, and provide key messaging points that support the brands position in the marketplace. These are all parts of a good strategic marketing plan that every firm should have.
Marketing is usually responsible for supplying the business development function with the tools they need to convert that prospect into a client. These tools include proposal language and templates, printed collateral, key talking points, presentation slide decks, websites and other content, and even thank you cards/gifts and event giveaways.
Business development takes over from marketing when there is an opportunity for personal interaction: trade shows, networking events, lunches, in-person appointments, etc. It is the role of business development to qualify a lead as one that makes sense to pursue based on key metrics, nurture that relationship and move it through the sales process to closing.
Additionally, business development is responsible for providing additional information on the firm and its services as follow up in order to help educate the prospect and differentiate the firm from its competitors.
A word about client development
The third section of the revenue growth tool is client development. Client development is the managing of the relationship with current clients whereby you are attempting to: earn their loyalty as clients, keep them satisfied and happy about the services you provide, expand the number of services they engage you to perform, and growing your annual revenue from that client.
The tactics you would employ as part of a client development strategy are often times similar to what you would do in the business development and sales process. Most successful client development strategies include: an ongoing awareness program about all the different services the firm provides, an educational component to help build the awareness of stronger and deeper expertise in a given area and an appreciation component that provides opportunities for the client to get to know more individuals within the firm and strengthen existing relationships.
A successful growth strategy must include all 3 components that are working together and in-sync with each other. It’s not impossible to grow by ignoring one or more of the components, but to really supercharge your growth you will need all three functions performing at a high level.