Business Development for Professionals . . . Art or Science?

Part I: Marketing

Don LinderWe can all agree that selling a professional service is quite different than selling a product. To start with, you can't demonstrate your "product" and your "product" (i.e. your professional staff) must directly participate in the sales campaign.

But this is actually good news! Without the temptation to let your product "sell itself" in a demonstration, your professional staff can focus on both your client's real needs and wants and on how you can help your client.

Most professional firms are poor at developing business. That's because the topics of "Marketing" and "Selling" are very uncomfortable for professionals. However, some of the positive outcomes of a professional business development program will include:

  • Expanded revenues and profits.
  • A better fit between contracts and the firm's true strengths.
  • Less stress.

The essential elements of a professional business development program can be divided into Marketing and Selling. Marketing in turn can be divided into Strategic Marketing and Marketing Communications. Let's look at the six fundamental steps for success in selling a professional service:


1. Strategic Marketing - Understand your distinctive value.

The essence of Strategic Marketing is deciding what your firm's greatest strengths are and what type of clients will really value those strengths. Sounds pretty straightforward until you start challenging your strength statements with the "So What" and "Who Cares" tests.

Make a list of what makes your service distinctive. Don't be vague... "the best people" ... "proven expertise". Be specific... "we can complete project ABC in 20% less time due to our proven experience on project XYZ".

Then be very critical. For each distinctive value, ask "so what?" and "who cares?" Challenge every vague statement, and if you can't make it specific... discard it!


2. Target Clients who appreciate your value.

You want to find great clients that mesh well with your capabilities and style. Start by thinking about your present clients. Some you love. Some you don't. What are common characteristics of each?

Think of a good client. Pretend you're that client. Look at your list of distinctive values from that client's perspective. Then ask, "What's in it for me? What benefit does my company get? What benefit do I get personally?"


3. Communicating your message to your market.

Marketing Communications begins with the definition of a message about your strengths in terms that matter to your targeted clients. Once you have decided on a message, test the message by pretending you are a client and asking "What's in it for me?" If it passes your own test, ask a friendly client for their opinion. Then you're ready to start a straightforward communications campaign that keeps your message in front of your targeted clients.

Continual reinforcement of your message is critical. Regardless of how well crafted your message is, your clients will not remember your message until you've delivered the message to them many times.


In Part II of Business Development for Professionals ...Art or Science?, we'll discuss how to hold a highly successful business development meeting with a client. We'll also address how to create a critical activity plan.


Don Linder, the founder of Major Client Selling, uses structured tools and creative strategies to solve the complex puzzle of selling to big customers. He's the author of "The Seven Deadly Mistakes that Cause You to Lose Large Sales." You can reach Don at


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