Business Development, or BD. What springs to mind when you hear those words? Most people will think marketing, networking, building your business’s reputation, engaging the client’s interest, winning work, selling. All these concepts are relevant and should be a part of your BD strategy, but not the last one, selling. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes selling is effective in generating sales and generally this applies more to the sale of tangible goods or products. However in the services industry, using selling as your BD strategy is a poor way to go if you want to have a sustainable business in the long-term.

Let me explain why. Put yourself in your client’s shoes for a moment. A service provider invites you for a coffee to talk business. Over coffee he spends the whole time telling you about everything his firm can do, how experienced and talented his colleagues are, how many awards they’ve won. You walk away feeling as though you’ve gained nothing except for listen to a guy tell you how awesome he is for an hour. What any value did it add to you or any of the challenges you’re currently facing? Very little to none. Do you feel more informed about the cause of these problems? How do you know that the service provider can actually deliver an effective solution that meets you are looking for? You don’t, because he didn’t spend any time finding out about your business, the challenges you’re facing, what you’re looking for or what you need, or informing you of anything that can help your business. Instead, he spent the time selling to you, you just wasted an hour over coffee, and the service provider just lost a potential opportunity.

The problem with a service provider selling services is that it does not encourage the client to instil trust in the service provider. Selling does little to establish the relationship, the engagement, the rapport or value creation between both parties. However, what does create all these things is informing and educating the client in a way that is relevant to their needs and useful to their cause.

Let’s take the above situation again, but with a different take. You are invited out for coffee by a service provider to talk business. Over coffee, he is interested to know what your business is about and what it offers, your role in the organisation and of those around you, and the challenges you are currently experiencing. Once you have answered his questions he offers some tips of advice and simple solutions that he recommends that you try in order to tackle some of these issues. You walk away feeling inspired, informed and as though you have an answer to tackling some of the problems you’re currently facing. You feel keen to talk to the service provider again to find out more. A win/win situation has been built where the client has walked away with a solution to his problems and an opportunity for work has been created for the service provider through educating his potential client. Value has been created and an element of trust has been established between the service provider and the client – the foundation of a great business relationship.

I wish to stress that the above are only narrow examples of what I mean in terms of educating your clients. There are many other ways other than over coffee that you can educate, inspire and inform however that’s another blog!

So next time you focus on BD, think about your strategy. Are you trying to sell or are you trying to educate, inform and create value?