Business development. It’s usually confused with sales, often overlooked, and only sometimes given the strategic focus it deserves. Having a business development strategy, however, is crucial to long term success and ensuring that everyone in your company is working toward a common goal.

But how do you develop a business development plan? Pull up a chair and stay awhile, I’m diving into that and more below.

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It’s not unusual to mistake business development with sales, but there’s an important distinction between the two. Business development refers to many activities and functions inside and outside the traditional sales team structure. In some companies, business development is part of the larger sales operations team. In others, it’s part of the marketing team or sits on its own team altogether.

Ready to dive in? Here are the key business development strategies you’ll want to implement.

1. Understand your competitive landscape.

Before you can develop a strategic plan to drive business growth, you must have a solid understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry. When you know who your ideal customer is and what problem they are looking to solve with your product or service, research who else is providing a viable solution in your industry.

Identify other companies operating in your space. What features do their products have? How competitive is their pricing? Do their systems integrate with other third-party solutions? Get crystal-clear on what the competition is offering so you know how to differentiate your product to your customers.

2. Choose effective KPIs.

How will you know if your business development efforts are successful? Ensure you can measure your goals with relevant, meaningful key process indicators (KPIs) that reflect the health of your business. The result of these metrics should give you a strong indication of how effective your business development efforts are. 

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3. Develop long-term customer relationships.

Do you engage with your customers even after the deal has been closed? If not, it’s time to develop a plan to keep your buyers engaged. Building long-term relationships with your customers pays off. For businesses in the US, 40% of revenue comes from repeat customers, and returning customers are cheaper to convert. In fact, it costs five times more to convert new customers than it does to sell to returning customers.  

Not only are repeat customers easier to sell to, they can also provide valuable feedback and insights to help you improve your business. Additionally, customer testimonials can be used for valuable content that can attract your next buyer. 

4. Implement customer feedback.

If and when you have customers who are willing to provide feedback on your sales process and offering, make sure you hear them out and implement it. Your customers offer a unique, valuable perspective because they chose your product over the competition — their insights can help shape your strategy to keep your business ahead of the curve. 

5. Keep your website content and user interface fresh.

When was the last time your company had a website refresh? Can you ensure all links are working, that your site is easy to navigate, and that it is laid out and intuitive for those who want to buy from you?

Keeping your website up-to-date and easy to use can make or break the sale for customers who know they are ready to buy. Don’t make it too difficult for potential customers to get in touch with you or purchase your product directly (if that suits your business model). 

6. Speed up your response time.

How fast your sales team responds to your leads can make or break your ability to close the deal — in fact, after sending an inquiry 78% of customers buy from the company that responds first. If you notice your sales process has some lag time that prevents you from responding to prospects as soon as possible, these could be areas to prioritize improvement. 

Now that you understand what business development entails, it's time to create a plan to set your strategy in motion. When we refer to a business development strategic plan, we’re referring to a roadmap that guides the whole company and requires everyone’s assistance to execute successfully and move your customer through your flywheel and close deals.

Strategic Plan Template

Let's review the elements you need to create a rock-solid strategic plan.

1. Craft your elevator pitch

What is your company’s mission and how do you explain it to potential clients in 30 seconds or less? Keeping your elevator pitch at the forefront of all strategic planning will remind everyone what you’re working toward and why.

Some people believe the best pitch isn’t a pitch at all, but a story. Recent studies show 5% of meeting attendees remember statistics and 63% remember stories. Others have their favorite types of pitches, from a one-word pitch to a Twitter pitch that forces you to boil down your elevator pitch to just 140 characters.

Find the elevator pitch that works best for your reps, company, and offer, and document it in your business development strategy.

2. Include an executive summary

You’ll share your strategic plan with executives and maybe even board members, so it’s important they have a high-level overview to skim. Pick the most salient points from your strategic plan and list or summarize them here.

You might already have an executive summary for your company if you’ve written a business proposal or value proposition. Use this as a jumping off point but create one that’s unique to your business development goals and priorities.

Once your executives have read your summary, they should have a pretty good idea of your direction for growing the business — without having to read the rest of your strategy.

3. Set SMART goals

What are your goals for this strategy? If you don’t know, it will be difficult for your company and team to align behind your plan. So, set SMART goals. Remember, SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

If one of your goals is for 5% of monthly revenue to come from upsells or cross-sells, make this goal specific by identifying what types of clients you’ll target.

Identify how you’ll measure success. Is success when reps conduct upsell outreach to 30 clients every month, or is it when they successful upsell a customer and close the business? To make your goal assignable, ensure everyone on your team understands who is responsible for this goal: in this case, sales or business development reps.

This goal is relevant because it will help your company grow, and likely contributes to larger company-wide goals. To make it time-based, set a timeline for success and action. In this case, your sales team must achieve that 5% upsell/cross-sell number by the end of the quarter.

4. Conduct SWOT analysis

SWOT is a strategic planning technique used to identify a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Before conducting a SWOT, identify what your goal is. For example, “We’d like to use SWOT to learn how best to conduct outreach to prospective buyers.

Once you’ve identified what you’re working toward, conduct market research by talking with your staff, business partners, and customers.

Next, identify your business’ strengths. Perhaps you have low employee turnover, a central location that makes it easy to visit with prospects in person, or an in-demand feature your competitors haven’t been able to mimic.

Your business’ weaknesses are next. Has your product recently glitched? Have you been unable to successfully build out a customer service team that can meet the demands of your customers?

Then, switch to opportunities. For example, have you made a new business partnership that will transition you into a previously untapped market segment?

What are the threats? Is your physical space getting crowded? What about your market space? Is increasing competition an issue?

Use SWOT results to identify a better way forward for your company.

5. Determine how you’ll measure success

You’ve identified strengths and weaknesses and set SMART goals, but how will you measure it all? It’s important for your team to know just how they will be measured, goaled, and rewarded. Common key performance indicators (KPIs) for business development include:

  • Company growth
  • Revenue
  • Lead conversion rate
  • Leads generated per month
  • Client satisfaction
  • Pipeline value
  • Reach

6. Set a budget

What will your budget be for achieving your goals? Review financial documents, historical budgets, and operational estimates to set a budget that’s realistic.

Once you have a “draft” budget, check it against other businesses in your industry and region to make sure you’re not overlooking or misjudging any numbers. Don’t forget to factor in payroll, facilities costs, insurance, and other operational line items that tend to add up.

7. Identify your target customer

Who will your business development team pursue? Your target market is the group of customers your product/service was built for. For example, if you sell a suite of products for facilities teams at enterprise-level companies, your target market might be facilities or janitorial coordinators at companies with 1000+ employees. To identify your target market:

  1. Analyze your product or service
  2. Check out the competition
  3. Choose criteria to segment by
  4. Perform research

Your target customer is the person most likely to buy your product. Do your homework and make sure your business development plan addresses the right people. Only then will you be able to grow your business.

8. Choose an outreach strategy

What tactics will you use to attract new business for your sales team to close? You might focus on a single tactic or a blend of a few. Once you know who your target market is and where they “hang out,” then you can choose an appropriate outreach strategy.

1. Networking

Will your business development plan rely heavily on thought leadership such as speaking at or attending conferences? Will you host a local meetup for others in your industry? Or will your reps network heavily on LinkedIn and social media?

2. Referrals

If referrals will be pivotal to your business’ growth, consider at which stage of the buying process your BDRs will ask for referrals. Will you ask for a referral even if a prospect decides they like your product/service but aren’t a good fit? Or will you wait until a customer has been using your solution for a few months? Define these parameters in your strategy.

3. Upselling and cross-selling

Upselling and cross-selling are a cost-effective way of growing your business. But it’s important this tactic comes with guardrails. Only upsell clients on features that will benefit them as well as your bottom line. Don’t bloat client accounts with features or services they really don’t need — that’s when turnover and churn start to happen.

4. Sponsorship and advertising

Will your BDR work with or on the marketing team to develop paid advertising campaigns? If so, how will your BDRs support these campaigns? And which channels will your strategy include? If you sell a product, you might want to feature heavily on Instagram or Facebook. If you’re selling a SaaS platform, LinkedIn or Twitter might be more appropriate.

5. Outreach

What’s your outreach strategy? Will your BDRs be held to a quota to make 25 calls a week and send 15 emails? Will your outreach strategy be inbound, outbound, or a healthy combination of both? Identify the outreach guardrails that best match your company values for doing business.

Need help getting started? Download our sales plan template.

Strategic-Plan-1

Strategic Plan Example

Let’s put all of these moving parts in action with a strategic plan example featuring good ol’ Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

Elevator pitch

Dunder Mifflin is a local paper company dedicated to providing excellent customer support and the paper your business needs to excel today and grow tomorrow.

Executive summary

At Dunder Mifflin, our strengths are our customer service, speed of delivery, and our local appeal. Our weakness is that our sales cycle is too long.

To shorten the sales cycle 5% by the end of Q4, we need to ask for more referrals (which already enjoy a 15% faster sales cycle), sponsor local professional events, and outreach to big box store customers who suffer from poor customer support and are more likely to exit their contract. These tactics should allow us to meet our goal in the agreed upon timeline.

SMART goals

Dunder Mifflin’s 2019 goal is to decrease our sales cycle 5% by the end of Q4. We will do this by more proactively scheduling follow-up meetings, sourcing more qualified, ready-to-buy leads, and asking for 25% more referrals (which have a 15% shorter sales cycle already). We will measure success by looking at the sales pipeline and calculating the average length of time it takes a prospect to become closed won or closed lost.

SWOT analysis

Strengths: Our strengths are our reputation in the greater Scranton area, our customer service team (led by Kelly Kapoor), and our warehouse team, who ship same day reams to our customers — something the big box stores cannot offer.

Weaknesses: Our greatest weakness is that our sales team has been unable to successfully counter prospects who choose big box stores for their paper supply. This results in a longer than average sales cycle, which costs money and time.

Opportunities: Our greatest business opportunity is to conduct better targeted outreach to prospects who are ready to buy, ask for more referrals from existing customers, and follow-up with closed lost business that’s likely coming up on the end of an annual contract with the big box store.

Threats: Our biggest threat is large box stores offering lower prices to our prospects and customers and a sales cycle that is too long resulting in low revenue and slow growth.

Measurement of success

We will measure success by looking at the sales pipeline and calculating the average length of time it takes a prospect to become closed won or closed lost.

Budget

[Insert budget breakdown]

Target customer

Our target customer is office managers at small- to medium-sized companies in the greater Scranton, PA area. They are buying paper for the entire office, primarily for use in office printers, custom letterhead, fax machines. They are busy managing the office and value good customer service and a fast solution for their paper needs.

Outreach strategy

Networking, sponsorships, and referrals will be our primary mode of outreach. We will focus on networking at regional paper conferences, HR conferences, and local office manager meetups. We will sponsor local professional events. And we will increase the volume of referrals we request from existing customers.

A strategic plan for business development is crucial to have your team aligned and working toward the greater good of your company. Not tapped out on planning? Check out this sales plan template, or this free template for building a successful business plan.

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Originally published Jan 29, 2020 1:00:00 PM, updated April 28 2020

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