Molly Sargent

Business Development Bullís Eye

Three darts that deliver results.

August 3, 2009
by Molly Sargent

In darts, if you don’t have a target, someone could get hurt. The same holds true in business development. In the absence of a plan for attracting, maintaining and expanding client relationships, you, your people and your firm will be throwing your effort, time and resources at a lot of targets that don’t constitute a win. And everyone gets hurt.

Hitting that bull’s eye requires strategic and tactical planning. Most of us know this, but for a lot of reasons, many of us avoid effective planning: “It takes too much time,” “I have too many fires to put out,” “that’s someone else’s job,” “it’s too confusing and too hard,” “I can’t predict the future.” And while all of these excuses might be true, it’s also true that slowing down long enough to determine where you’re going will get you there a lot faster.

Three Darts That Hit Bull’s Eye

Here are three steps that will get you pointed in the right direction. Let’s begin with knowing how to differentiate yourself in a competitive field, move to knowing how to differentiate your best opportunities from less promising prospects and finish with front line tactics for winning, maintaining and expanding business.

High-level Strategy: Sharpening Your Dart

Is your brand in order? An effective plan starts with knowing what you’re selling, why and how it’s different. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer for yourself:

  • What problem are you solving? At the heart of this question is the reason that your clients are willing to spend their money. As markets shift, so do the needs of your clients. You’ll want to stay on top of the changes and regularly reassess your compelling business proposition. Your products and services don’t need to change with the changing tide, but the positioning of those products and services needs to be adjusted in order to sound fresh and to stay in-step with the client’s needs.
  • What are you good at? It helps to lead with your strong suit (to mix metaphors). If you happen to be a powerful full-service organization, you have two choices: put your best efforts behind your best product and service expertise. This will open doors, after which you can expand the scope of your business dealings with a particular client; or create more than one go-to-market strategy. Just be careful about spreading your people and your resources too thin. And be careful not to dilute your brand awareness by being all things to all people. Not unless you can position the full suite of your services in a way that still distinguishes you from all the competition (e.g.: we’re the convenient, one-stop-shopping firm).
  • How are you different from the competition (your competitive advantage)? See above. By putting a stake in the ground about who you are and what you stand for, you won’t win all the business out there, but you will have an easier time winning more business from among clients who really are motivated to act, and for clients where you really can make a difference. This combination helps you not only win business, but keep those over the long haul.
  • How will you measure success? Are you trying to grow your business, increase client satisfaction, maintain your current client base, expand your relationship with a client or increase profitability? This knowledge will help you determine which type of clients will get you closer to your goals. 

Mid-level Strategy: Finding the Target

Once you know the “what” and “why,” you need to determine who: Who would be the most appropriate prospect or client for you to pursue?

  • Where can you find your best prospective clients? At the intersection between “what do you do best” and “what problem are you solving” is where you’ll find your best prospects. And at the intersection of “what do you do best” and “how are you different from the competition” is where you’ll find your best market positioning. By assessing “how will you measure success,” you’ll know if you want to focus first on new business or current relationships.
  • What list should you work on first? It’s time to take names. Make a list. Who has a need that falls within your area of strength? Is there a geography that you’re most interested in? Are you focusing first on winning new business or do you see more immediate gains from expanding current client contracts?
  • Do you have enough information to get started? Research, research, research. It’s not enough to have company name or even a contact name. You’ll need to learn what you can about them professionally and even personally (Facebook is not off limits. Just be careful about sharing your knowledge of their personal information in your first meeting.) What’s going on in their industry? What’s going on in their business? What might be keeping them up at night? These questions and answers will not only help you to make a strong list; they’ll help you to begin your plan of attack.

Field-level Tactics: Making the Throw

Now that you know what you’re selling, why it’s good for your prospects and who those prospects are, you can get down to a plan of attack.

  • Is the opportunity real, worth your while and within your reach? Enough stories circulate about enormous efforts that go into unqualified leads. Before you take the bait, ask yourself some hard questions. Better to determine now that your time would be wasted than to waste your time because you’re too determined.
  • What’s your pitch? Line up your understanding of the client’s or prospect’s needs with what you’ll choose to talk about. Plan to start your discussion by verifying your assumptions about what their pressing issues are. For example, you might say, “Thank you for taking my call. I was reading about your recent merger in the paper today, and thought that you may be looking for ways to maximize your tax savings. How are you currently handling your tax savings opportunity?” Note several key points: you know something about them so they’ll be more likely to stay on the phone; you start with their issues, and not with your products and services, so they’ll be more interested to stay on the phone; and you pose an open-ended question, so they’ll be more inclined to respond with more than a yes/no answer.


With a little planning (or a lot), your chances of hitting your business goals are greatly increased. And no one needs to get hurt.

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Molly Sargent is the Principal of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Professional Impressions Consulting. She has trained and coached thousands of financial professionals and client-facing executives in professional image, presentation skills, business etiquette and sales effectiveness. Since 1985, Molly has helped major accounting firms and Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, American Express, AT&T, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Key Bank, MasterCard, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prudential achieve breakthrough results.