Virtual business development

Feb 07, 2021

This is our opportunity to get creative and bring in new ideas for our firms to get work.

Business development looks much different today than it did a year ago. The acts of dropping by prospects’ offices or meeting them at a networking event are now few and far between. Our industry is struggling to figure out what the next steps should be as business developers. In my experience, there are a few things we can do to continue to drive business and make connections during these uniquely challenging times.

  • Utilize LinkedIn. This is a powerful business tool that has been underutilized for years. Overall, the business community doesn’t understand the true value in the platform and how to harness its networking potential. Having a strong profile, which is completely filled out and contains good keywords throughout, is instrumental in helping people find you. Regularly share information (through articles or videos) about how you help clients, along with trends in the design and construction industry to stay visible among your existing connections; don’t discount their importance and their ability to get work for you. Comment and share information on LinkedIn, too. The more engaged you are, the more your connections will see you in their news feed. Nothing has changed in marketing as far as wanting to be top of mind. This is your digital top of mind! LinkedIn also has a new featured called LinkedIn ProFinder. You can enroll as a service provider and submit short proposals (usually answering five to 10 questions) about the service being requested. LinkedIn will match your profile with the requested services. It’s free for the first 10 proposals, but then you must upgrade to a LinkedIn Premium account after 10 proposals.
  • Send a delivery system coupon. Before COVID-19 affected how we interact, you’d just pick up the phone or send an email inviting someone to coffee, lunch, or cocktails. Face-to-face interactions are much more limited now, and when they do happen it’s typically on a necessity basis. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have meaningful interactions! How about inviting your prospect or customer to a virtual coffee, lunch, or happy hour? Send them a delivery system coupon (DoorDash, Uber Eats, Instacart, etc.) so they can order something while you have your meeting. I would also suggest supporting local businesses by purchasing gift cards and sending those to your clients and prospects. It’s a win-win-win for everyone! In the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown, I heard a business developer set up a virtual whiskey tasting event with eight to 10 customers and prospects. He had the whiskey delivered to everyone and invited a whiskey connoisseur to talk about each one. The group then networked while they were trying out the whiskeys. Networking during these challenging times is still possible – it just takes some extra creativity and thinking outside the box.
  • Ask the right questions. Even with almost everything going virtual now, it can be difficult to connect virtually with people if you’ve never met them before. Asking the right questions is key to getting your prospect and customer engaged. These days, people appreciate being asked “How’s it going?” or “What are you currently being challenged with?” or “How can I help?” The importance of empathy hasn’t gone away (in fact, it’s more important than ever), so we still must be genuine in the way we seek information. That’s why it’s good to ask people about things outside the workplace too – it helps build that relationship. Make sure to ask open-ended questions, too, so the other person doesn’t feel like you’re interrogating them.
  • Virtual selling. Virtual selling is the presentation or interview you are conducting for an existing client or prospect. This can be challenging when trying to communicate over a computer screen. Your energy level must be 20 percent higher when you are presenting virtually compared to in person. But in many ways, presenting now is no different than before. Be prepared and practice your presentation. Know what the client’s hot buttons are and address them. Make sure they can see and hear what you are saying. Your presentation visuals should be strong and support your message. Set the expectation for everyone to have their camera turned on during the presentation, so you are able to receive some visual cues. This will be very helpful in reading your audience. As always, be genuine and engaged.

Virtual business development and selling is going to continue to evolve over the next 12 months. As marketers and business developers, this is our opportunity to be creative and bring in new ideas for our firms to get work. I’d love to hear what your firm is doing when it comes to business development and selling.

Lindsay Young is president and founder of nu marketing. She can be reached at

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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.