Change is on the horizon. Some of us have seen signs of improvement in our search practices, while others are still waiting for some positives signs before re-engaging at full speed in their business. And there is another camp still hunkered down, not sure if it’s safe enough to stick their head out of the foxhole and look around just yet. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, the real key to getting your business back on track is to get busy developing existing relationships and building new ones.
This is the time. Now!
Building a comprehensive business development plan (a topic I’ll be talking about in detail at the Fordyce Forum in June in Las Vegas) requires some work and effort on your part — but it’s essential to ensure you set your business up for a very healthy recovery.
The competitive landscape has changed in our business and there is a definite time-based advantage you have right now to either build or rebuild your practice. It starts with a plan. Determine the end-game up front and then work backwards to build a business development plan week by week, month by month, and quarter by quarter that will help you knock the cover off the ball in 2010. Doing nothing and simply riding out the storm is simply another way of just “hoping” that things improve. We all know that in this business like many others, hope is not a strategy.
For me it always starts by defining your Ideal Customer Profile. Where can you deliver the highest value to customers in a specific segment, vertical or functional niche or geography? The market is telling us all that this is the time to become an “expert” in whatever segment you plan to cultivate. Once you either confirm you have decided to stay in your current segment or have decided to develop a new market niche, you must be prepared to do a “deep dive” into that space and become a sponge. Read and learn any and all information you can about that market. Sign up for daily RSS feeds that give you a steady diet of information and news about your market. Subscribe to periodicals and newsletters that help you understand every nuance about your space and the key companies that serve that market. That’s what experts do. You need to decide if you are going to be a surface swimmer or be an extremely knowledgeable expert when speaking to a customer or a prospective new customer. Trust me: they will quickly be able to determine which camp you fall into.
Next, build or validate the data you have about customers that meet the Ideal Customer Profile criteria and develop a target list of several hundred customers that you will be targeting (250-400 is a good number). Use a multi-faceted marketing program that will yield the results you are looking for. If you have recent reference letters in the segment or geography you are targeting, even better! Determine your “touch points” for each account and your market message. You need to touch each account every 6-8 weeks as the demand for talent can change at a moment’s notice. Literally! What medium are you using? Again, if you are “dialing for dollars” (like a penny stockbroker does all day) it becomes much more difficult to build a meaningful executive-level relationship with an account that could yield multiple search opportunities over the course of several months or years. That’s how I want to build my business. Plenty of deep meaningful relationships. Calling an account to “get a search,” while somewhat effective for some, usually builds more of a transactional relationship that becomes less strategic the next time the market takes a dose-dive (and it will).
Where and who are you calling on in the target organization? Have you been sponsored by a key executive or are you simply calling the HR department just after “trolling” the company’s website to see which jobs you think you can fill? Guess what: lots of search firms are doing the same thing. Why would the company engage your firm to conduct a search? What makes your firm stand out? How do you differentiate your brand and your services in the sea of competitors? How can you rise above the noise?
Having a sustainable competitive advantage is much more than words. It should define why your firm is unique and able to serve the needs of your market niche better that your competition. So whether you are billing $200K, $500K, or more, having a detailed business development plan is essential to maintaining and growing your search practice. While it has been extremely tough for many in the search business, remember that it does not matter where you’ve been –- only where you are going. So get ready!
We are once again entering a growth market in search. It could be really good for a number of years as the recovery can be felt by most of us already. Will you be ready? You will if you have a plan! Make a commitment today to build a detailed business development plan for the remainder of this year. The more detailed, the better. Keep yourself in check by honestly monitoring and tracking metrics on your plan. What gets measured gets done.
This is it. Now is the time. Now go make it happen!