Tips for effective business development right now

Oct 18, 2020

Bringing work to your firm right now could be the difference between coming out of the pandemic stronger on the other side or getting left behind.

2020, especially the period from March on, has been rough on everyone. By now most of us have, or at least know someone who has, lost current/former colleagues, friends, or even family members. This in addition to unpredictable school re-opening schedules, self-quarantines, and catastrophic weather striking the Southeast. It is difficult to even wrap your mind around the challenges your business is facing some days.

With that being said, it is nearly impossible (and unwise) to lose sight of your business or career completely, especially if you are a shareholder within your firm. Perhaps now more than ever, the ability to compartmentalize your priorities and focus on the task at hand is critical in order to steer the ship. Being able to bring work to your firm right now could be the difference between the firms that come out of the pandemic stronger on the other side and the firms that eventually get left behind.

Ninety percent of AEC industry firms say COVID-19 will affect overall business development activities in the next 12 months, according to Zweig Group’s Impact of COVID-19 on the AEC Industry Report. The restrictions on travel, inability to hold meetings face-to-face, low RFP inquiries, and other factors have been primary drivers of these difficulties that a vast majority of firms are experiencing. In this new environment that we are all growing more accustomed to by the day, here are a few ideas to help you create new business development opportunities for your firm:

  • Call people just to check in without trying to sell them anything. Current co-workers who you don’t get to see in the office every day anymore, former colleagues, clients, former clients, your lawyer or accountant, the list goes on. Many people are still working from home on a regular basis, and that likely won’t change in the near future. Take advantage of this opportunity. We are all making adjustments right now as well, so not only will they appreciate your interest in their well-being, but they may give you an idea that sparks something special at your firm. You’ll never know unless you call them.
  • Make more proactive efforts now than you did before. In the past, some of us used to be able to get away with mediocre contact efforts and lack of thoughtful follow-up. This may be because you wear many hats and don’t have the time to perform outreach very often, or even because you were so involved in local community organizations and events that those leads could fill your pipeline. To see success in this new virtually-driven environment, you may need to sharpen your contact processes and follow-up more often to get your point across.
  • Be flexible. The products and services that customers want are different now, in addition to the methods by which they receive them. Do not be a company that is resistant to change right now – adapt to your clients’ changing needs and be able to offer them what they want, or they’ll find it from someone else.
  • Be persistent. As noted above, it may require more contact “touches” to have an impact than you were accustomed to before. Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s “Rule of Seven” states that you must contact your buyers a minimum of seven times in an 18-month period for them to remember you, and it can often require more than 10 touches just to get a response.
  • Make a list of new people/companies that you would like to work with and reach out to them. What companies do you admire? Where do you have existing connections that could help you gain a foot in the door? Any local companies you’ve always wanted to partner with? Who are the decision-makers within those companies? Make a list, make contacts, and keep following up until you get a chance to show them why you deserve an opportunity to work with them.
  • Work with your marketing department to develop new messaging and materials. At the very least, these need to be updated for your company’s latest policies regarding COVID-19 and safety, as appearing tone-deaf will certainly hinder your chances of being effective at winning work. It is also important for you to be able to effectively market and explain your firm’s new products/services, approach, and outlook to people externally, oftentimes without being able to speak to them face-to-face.
  • Ask for referrals/introductions from your existing contacts. Far too many people are tentative or even downright afraid to do this for some reason, but it can be one of the most effective ways of building new relationships (and business). If you enjoy working with someone and you know they enjoy working with you, why wouldn’t they want to introduce you to someone in their network that you could also work with? It won’t turn into a contract after the first conversation, but you will never know what that relationship could turn into unless you ask for the referral.
  • Make introductions for your co-workers to create new connections and possible cross-selling opportunities. Do you have a good relationship with someone who could benefit from knowing one of your co-workers, or vice versa? Make the introduction, and follow up until it happens. It sounds so simple but I cannot tell you how often we see these opportunities lost within AEC firms, especially right now when everyone is “so busy.” Making these connections will allow your connections to see firsthand how great other areas and people at your firm are. This will present opportunities for you to expand services with a client, participate in speaking/thought leadership engagements, make further connections, and a number of other benefits that can only take place if you make the introduction.

John Bray is an advisor with Zweig Group’s M&A and executive search teams. Contact him 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.