A business development plan is vital to the success of any business, and it provides a detailed framework of the things you need to consider as you progress. A clear approach to developing this strategy is crucial, and here are some of the major elements for you to consider:

1. Define your business goals

The first step to crafting a robust, well-defined business growth plan is to establish what the organization views as success. While it’s tempting to look at your business strategy in terms of immediate revenues, you must have a long-term approach to success too. What do you want the business to deliver for you and your team in the future? Is it a steady, lifestyle business or do you want a high-performing, high-growth company? Your plan will look very different in each case.

Once you’re clear on what you want, get clear on how you're going to get there.

2. First things first: listen to your customers

Jeff Bezos has showed us how important being Customer-focused is for any business, so ensure you’re building a customer-service orientation as part of your brand, as it will help inform where you go next. Your business development strategy should include a clear process of receiving customer feedback on the overall performance of your product/service, and suggestions for improvement.

3. Get clear on your markets

Don’t fall for every opportunity that comes knocking. Be strategic and check the credibility and reputation of any prospects. Getting clear on the clients you want to reach out to will play a big part in shaping your business growth. There is no use spending time investing in opportunities if they do not deliver on your goals.

To grow your company, be very clear on who you’re targeting, why and with what message. To do that, I suggest you evaluate them using the following criteria:

  • Local v Global – Makes a huge difference to your strategy
  • Industry segment – Where’s the best segment for your product or service and is it growing?
  • Competition level – do you have the field to yourself in certain areas?
  • The breadth of the market - How wide is your industry / segment?
  • Lifetime value – What will the customers in this segment be worth and how much can you allocate to acquiring them?
  • Segment growth – Is your chosen segment growing organically and can you rise with the tide?
  • Continuity – Is your area a new industry / segment, or is it coming to an end, requiring re-invention?
  • Your past experience – What can you bring to the party, ensuring quicker success?
  • Ease of getting past gatekeepers – How easy is it to get to the decision makers in this industry / segment? Solvency – Are the companies you’re targeting actually financially viable?
  • Margin – What margin can you expect to make when you serve them?

Once you’ve narrowed down your audience, the next thing is to do some research on their key characteristics. In order to have an informed business strategy, you need to find out how your desired audience can be incentivized to purchase or invest in what you have to offer.

Start with the following questions to see how well you know them:

  1. What challenges or issues do they identify with?
  2. Are there certain services they require?
  3. What means do they use to solve their problem?
  4. Does your product or service address their challenges?

Once you have the data, you can start to do your competitor analysis. Data collection and research can be done via informal surveys or focus groups, or even by reviewing established data sources.

4. Identify the best route to market

So you’ve agreed the industries, segments and customer types you need in order to grow your business. Now it’s time to reach those targets. Deciding on effective marketing channels plays a significant role in your success; take your pick from options like tapping into your networks, referrals, advertising outreach, and content distribution. Whether you're a B2B or B2C company will make a big difference in how you find customers, but here are a few options to consider:

  • Making your networks count

People buy people, so don't forget old school face to face networking, with engaging presentations and clear messaging with potential clients. Putting a face to the brand name can boost your connection with existing audiences, and make it memorable in the eyes of new customers. Today you can use Facebook and LinkedIn to find and connect with potential customers in ways you could only dream about 10 years ago!

  • Taking referrals forward

If you deliver a great product or service to your customers, they are likely to tell others about you. Referrals can save precious time and help you confirm the authenticity of a lead. However, this should not be your sole source of marketing strategies as it is not guaranteed at any point. And make sure you ask your customers for the type of referral you want. Make it easy for them.

  • Scaling up advertising

Business development needs help from strategic marketing activity to promotes  your product or service on multiple platforms. You’ll need a combination of brand building and direct sales messages, helping people understand who you are, what you do, and why they should be interested. Create ads for specific social channels and audiences. A lot of B2B buyers are on Linkedin, and you can target them directly with ads relevant to their needs. If you’re looking for a younger audience, look at Instagram or Snapchat - yes it still exists and matters! Facebook is great for brand building and awareness, but acquisition costs are beginning to increase, as the world wakes up to the massive opportunity in creates in reach.

  • Content marketing

Engaging content can accelerate success. Research shows it is considerably more effective when creating leads compared to other kinds of marketing, giving the audience the opportunity to explore what your brand stands for in a more organic fashion. The power is now in the hands of the buyer. The seller is no longer in control of the information flow. So make sure you’re helping your prospects with their problems through your content. This builds trust and credibility, and increases the chance of them coming to you when they're ready.

5. Ask for the business.

Ask for the sale. Too many people don’t ask for the business after having gone through a long sales cycle. They’re afraid to ask. Start with something neutral like “I think we can take this forward. How do we make it happen?” or “Would you be interested in doing business together?”. Being direct is not always perceived negatively; in fact, it brings a fresh perspective to an otherwise long-winded engagement process. It can also show confidence in your product or service and how it can make a difference for the client.

To sum up

Having a great business is what every entrepreneur aspires for, but success isn’t easy to achieve without a comprehensive plan for development. Creating one doesn’t have to be complex, when you follow a step-by-step process, coupled with hard work and dedication.