An A to Z of Professional Services Marketing: Business Development Professional services | Nigel Clark | 19 March 2019

If you look across the professional services sector today Marketing and Business Development – or MBD for short – is now the moniker or title of choice for teams and departments that champion the process of growing and developing the client base of the firm.



I originally planned to write on Brand as my B in the A to Z of professional services marketing, but following suggestions I have switched to Business Development. I have previously written on BD for the PSMG magazine (you can find that article here) but it is such an important topic that I am happy to give it another go. I’ll try not to repeat myself (too much)!

When I took on my first such in-house role – 1996 if you’re interested – the BD term was nowhere to be seen. And although I wasn’t there right at the birth of the Professional Services Marketing Group (PSMG), I am pretty sure no one thought to call it PSMBDG! 

Some will argue, and probably quite rightly, that the true concept and processes of BD were absent from professional firms back then, or if they existed at all it was just in the normal practice and habits of partners and others in the firm. The Marketing department was there to help position and promote the firm, but had no roll when it came to attracting and retaining specific clients.

Leaving aside terminology and titles for a moment, I have always argued that firms need to think about an end-to-end pipeline of client development from identifying the markets you want to compete in to retaining and renewing client relationships. I use a simple 5P process to illustrate this approach.

 


In practice, I recognise it’s probably better to present this as a virtuous circle, rather than a straight pipeline, so that the importance of ongoing client relationship management moves to the fore. A virtuous circle also highlights how client insights can and should influence ongoing planning and positioning.

In terms of activities, Marketing (and Communications) teams probably identify most closely with the planning and positioning phases and BD professionals will work more frequently on prospects and proposals, but in my eyes the key point is that all these phases are connected and continuous. It’s that end-to-end (or virtuous circle) approach that is important rather than defining precisely what to call each phase or where to divide responsibilities. 

So the addition of BD skills and attention to the client development process are really important, but when I’m talking about this from the client’s perspective I try not to use the terms ‘marketing’ or ‘business development’ at all. 

The risk in debating the distinct definitions, similarities, overlaps and/or differences between Marketing and BD is that this process becomes disjointed and carved up into small fiefdoms. I accept that people need and display different skills and talents at different points, but that is something to manage, not resolve by putting people into ever smaller distinct boxes and saying marketing and BD are completely separate activities.

If you manage this process well, whether you call it Marketing, Business Development, MBD or any other term you choose to pick on, then your clients will reward you by buying more from you than your competitors. Now that is something to celebrate more than a successful definition of terminology.

Find previous articles in this series on an A to Z of professional services marketing at https://www.marketingcollege.com/insight/an-a-to-z-of-professional-services-marketing-advertising