So you’re busily putting together your 2011 plan to grow your professional services firm (just like we are). What do you put in there that can make a real difference in new business development? More networking events? Time to ramp up social media?

Well, I want to add my top five picks for a successful 2011. To make the list, each had to (A) be supported by data and (B) be an approach that has worked for us. So without further ado I give you my five favs.

  1. Narrow your target.
    Even if you feel that you have a well focused target audience, consider narrowing it further. I know that this may feel counter-intuitive and risky. It is counter-intuitive but it is not risky. In fact, our research shows that high grow professional services firms have narrow, well defined target audiences. Another big benefit is that a narrow target group will allow you to have a much greater impact with fewer marketing dollars. Fewer targets means more spending per target. Worried about diversification? The next point will help.
  2. Spend resources to formally research your target audience.
    This was something of a surprise — we found that firms that formally research their target audiences were more profitable and grew faster. What kind of research are we talking about here? Well it’s not an informal “sure we know our customers well” kind of thing. Nor is it just customer satisfaction warmed over. Rather it’s taking an objective look at target clients, their problems, concerns, issues, priorities and plans. Here’s the big benefit: It allows you to understand their situation and tailor your service offerings and pitches far better than a competitor who has not made the investment. It will allow you to anticipate rather than react. That also allows you to adjust your plans if a market is heading south.
  3. Invest in your website.
    Every piece of data points to the overwhelming importance of your website as your key marketing and business development tool. Every prospect goes there to check you out. That alone is probably reason enough to invest. But that’s yesterday’s news. The other big benefit is that a well presented, well focused website will bring you new business. This focus includes attention to SEO (search engine optimization). Professional services buyers are changing. One big change is that time strapped executive use search to find their short list of firms to solve their problem. It is working for us, big time.
  4. Marketing partnerships work. Use them.
    Teaming up with another firm that offers a complimentary service makes a heap of sense. For starters, it allows you to put on marketing events such as webinars or workshops for half the cost, while adding interesting content. You also double up on list size (two house lists are better than one) and can share the workload. It’s important to pick the right partner, though. They should talk to the same position within your target firm about similar topics. If not you are diluting efforts and are unlikely to enjoy the full benefits of partnering. This often means that you will have some overlap in your service offerings. You can usually work around potential conflicts if you put them on the table up front and approach them with cooperation in mind.
  5. Sale training for non-sales staff.
    Now, you might make the case that in the professional services arena everyone is involved in “sales” at some level. And there is some truth there. Your staff is often interacting directly with your client and is in the best position to identify opportunities. Problem is, that’s not how they think of it. As a matter of fact, more than a few professionals have a mild sense of revulsion to the term “sales.” What we find in our research is that the fastest growing firms offer some form of sales training to non-sales staff. This can help break down some of the bias and actually identify and develop the next generation of business developers. If nothing else, make sure your front-line people know how to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself and what to do with it. This alone can make a big difference.

There you have it. No pie in the sky here. These are proven approaches to adding some impact to your business development efforts. Good planning!