COVID-19 and business development

Jul 27, 2020

Uncertainty in the marketplace will be with us as we move forward, but you can be successful if you adjust your game plan and expectations.

As we wade through the uncertainty that COVID-19 has caused in our industry and many others, business development efforts are as important as ever before. Business development isn’t just about bringing in revenue to our firms, though that is ultimately the goal. Genuine business development efforts create a relationship between the firm and the client that involves trust and respect. During difficult times, this relationship is more important than ever.

How do you leverage your business development efforts during and following the pandemic?

  1. Busy before COVID? Be prepared for more. Be prepared to adjust your business development approaches to:
    1. Change/shift BD plans: Redefine your projected leads, wins, and time allocations appropriately and be prepared to justify your numbers.
    2. Scale back travel and events: Since these are likely to be cut for some time, don’t rely on them to provide prospects and opportunities
  2. The world has changed, existing client relationships are still critical. Your clients still value the relationships you have with them, so talk to them! Clients will be relying on you to help them solve their problems, whether they might be financial, logistical, or technical in nature, and to understand their issues. Solving problems solidifies your relationship even further, especially when economic times are tough.
  3. You don’t need face-to-face meetings to win work from new clients. The approach to winning work has now changed dramatically. Get used to opening/closing on opportunities remotely even as entities reopen, and plan on addressing:
    1. Available operations capacity: Many firms have lost or will lose staff, leading to slow responsiveness and/or lack of quality, and offering them additional capacity will win work.
    2. Cost savings opportunities: Measures and technologies that improve the “bottom line” for your clients will open some eyes going forward, in a difficult economy.
  4. Working remotely and developing daily game plans. Speaking of remotely, business development staff is often not used to a “working from home” culture. So, what adjustments should you make?
    1. Change your approach: Have a daily “game plan,” particularly when working remotely. Children, pets, and relatives can steal your focus, so adjust accordingly.
    2. Always be professional: Treat every call and opportunity to talk to your clients as a “face-to-face” meeting. Dress and act appropriately, even if you’re working from your dining room.

There are three types of clients that often emerge during difficult times and economic downturns.

  • “Rock Solid.” Clients that pick up the phone when you call and immediately accept meeting invitations from you.
  • “Good Friend.” These clients provide you and your company opportunities on a consistent basis. They are always in your corner, but you need to regularly maintain the relationship.
  • “Duck/Dodge.” These folks may be new or infrequent clients, but lately they are approachable. Approach these clients (reasonably) and you may be surprised with your results.

Uncertainty in the marketplace will be with us as we move forward, but you can be successful if you adjust your game plan and expectations for success. Remember, we’ve been through difficult times before, and we’ve gotten better as a result. So, what’s your game plan for today, and how will you be successful?

Jonathan Savage serves as vice president at Pennoni. He can be reached at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.