Entrepreneurs are lauded for their ability to see a need that the rest of us didn’t even know we had. People like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Anne Wojcicki and Elon Musk developed visions that were nothing less than revolutionary. While few can reflect on our career and know that we changed the world in such a dramatic way, the “entrepreneurial mindset” is a business development skill that all firms need to cultivate within their teams to propel their businesses forward.
I first came across the concept of entrepreneurial selling through Waverly Deutsch and Craig Wortmann of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In their model, Deutsch and Wortmann share that professional business developers tend to have more structure and resources to support them — think defined territories and verticals, operations teams, product development teams, customer service, and enterprise administrative resources.
Entrepreneurs, by contrast, are dealing with a completely different type of selling environment. Their resources more constrained, and their choices have much greater impact. The sale rests on the entrepreneur’s shoulders.
Why This Matters
Entrepreneurs need to sell themselves as much as their solution, and much in the same way, anyone in your firm can be an entrepreneurial business developer.
Even as someone who is part of a big firm with lots of support, you can must still own your business development results. This new sales economy is influencing the way our prospects and clients are buying from us, and it’s changing their expectations of us.
Here are a few of the trends affecting business development today:
1. Your Competitors Aren’t Who You Think They Are
Today, your competition is fuzzier and more loosely defined than ever.
While I still believe inertia will always be your top competitor, your greatest competitor five years from now may currently be a tiny startup in an incubator somewhere, led by someone who is a passionate entrepreneurial seller. Next time you assess your competitors, be sure to think outside the box. Is there a company in a related field that is primed to create a disruption in terms of your firm’s services or people?
2. Clients Expect More
Your clients want more creativity, better insights, and stronger business value than ever before — and that’s just table stakes.
It’s up to you to connect with them as early as possible. If you’re going to stay on their journey, you must bring more creativity, insights, and business value in early interactions. Creativity becomes even more important as the relationship matures. It will help you stay relevant, so the customer doesn’t see diminishing value from your insights over time.
But that takes a shift in your thinking. You can’t retro-fit your prospects into a one-size-fits-all selling process. You need to customize the experience for them, adding value at every stage.
3. An Ownership Stance Changes the Game
Professional services business developers who think like owners take more accountability for their outcomes and success, no matter what’s going on around them. They find a way, every time, to make their number. In doing so, they usually create higher value for their clients, higher margins for their firm, and maximize their commission checks.
It all boils down to this one mental shift — taking ownership and becoming an entrepreneurial business developer.
3 Steps to Becoming Entrepreneurial Business Developer
Ready to get started? Here’s how to apply an entrepreneurial mindset to your firm’s business development process.
1. Look for the Diamonds in the Rough
Entrepreneurs always look for the gap where they can stand out. Where are there pockets of opportunity that your competitors aren’t pursuing? There are likely untouched segments that haven’t been uncovered, or new ways of approaching existing segments that no one is thinking about.
Analyzing other successful ventures might be the spark of an idea needed to uncover the diamonds in your own territory. Look at the unaddressed need it solved. Look at how demand was created. Look at the go-to-market strategies that worked and didn’t work.
2. Majors and Minors
This is also known as verticalization. Many professionals, including yours truly, struggle with wanting to be all things to all people. But I found through the years that I can be more successful by being selective about the verticals I want to pursue. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally entertain inbound opportunities that are not in my verticals. But in terms of outbound business development and marketing, I stick to my verticals. There are many benefits to establishing your majors and minors. One or two cornerstone clients in a major vertical can accelerate client acquisition because it creates momentum. You’ll also lower your opportunity costs and better balance requirements of business development and client service. Getting runway in one vertical provides the runway into other verticals. In moving forward, look at your client set. Where do you see patterns and which majors and minors do you already have expertise in? And which offer opportunities for growth.
3. Thought Leadership
When we do thought leadership well, it’s meaningful in business development because we’re selling our expertise. It helps earn credibility and trust for us, as we sell our service. Whether it’s your own network or your firm’s platform, becoming a thought leader helps you be of better service and make lasting change for your clients. One strategy for developing thought leadership is to specialize and develop a niche for your thought leadership. It could be by product set or service, geographic territory or type of client. Find a niche within a larger area, and it can line up within a vertical. If you want to dive more into this strategy, I recommend the book Ready to Be a Thought Leader by Denise Brosseau.
By using an entrepreneur’s vision and insight, you and your firm can elevate your profiles to become valued, strategic business partners to your clients.
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