You Can't Be All Things to All People - Truths of Business Development

Posted by Megan Miller on January 8, 2019


Have you ever watched one of those wildlife shows where they show a lioness single-handedly trying to take down an elephant? Or one where a snake tries to eat an alligator, but ends up being killed by the alligator instead?  For both of these predators, the elephant or the alligator surely would have made for a great meal, but at what cost? The lioness shouldn’t have attempted to take down the elephant on her own, and the snake should have known the limits of what it could handle once it caught the alligator.

Now take that image and apply it to your business development strategy. If you’re like most small businesses, you’ve certainly attempted this more than once. We focus on a huge target that is too tempting to pass up, or a project that we have no experience in, but it seems so easy, and is right in front of us ready for the taking. We spend so much energy chasing it when the odds of getting it are quite slim. Even if you do win the project, can you deliver it successfully? And if you lose it, what could you have won if the same energy and effort had been invested in other pursuits?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the top three types of projects your firm delivers best?
  • How much of your focus is dedicated to these top three?
  • Are we spending too much time finding work for number nine on our list?
  • What if our number nine is someone else’s top priority?

The 5 Basic Truths of Successful Business Development


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In a recent conversation with a client, they told me about the large variety of projects they engage in. They had a hand in every type of project you can imagine, from golf course design and hotel remodels, to work with churches and not-for-profits.

I asked them, “Out of all of these different projects, which ones are your teams most passionate about? Which ones do you deliver the best and which ones are you most known for?” They couldn’t answer.

So then I asked:  “Of all of these different projects, which type is the most profitable for your firm?” Again, they couldn’t answer, so we decided to dive a little deeper to find out.

Look at your past projects by project type, client industry, and profitability. What are the patterns? It can tell you a lot.  For example, you may realize you are losing all of your profits on golf course projects, yet you still have five of them in the proposal phase. Similarly you may find your most profitable projects to be hotels, specifically one hotel chain. So why not focus your efforts on winning more work from that hotel chain?

If you focus on everything, you specialize in nothing. In our Annual Deltek Clarity A&E Industry Study, we find time and again that the high performing firms are those that can tell you immediately where their best and most profitable work comes from. These firms put strategic business development plans in place that focus on opportunities with the highest probability and highest past success so they can win more projects.

So, if you haven’t already, find out how to answer these key questions:

  • Where does the majority of our work come from?
  • What types of projects are best for our firm?
  • What industries do we currently work in?
  • Which ones are most profitable for our business?
  • Of the types of projects that give us the best profit, how many are currently in our pipeline?
  • How can we find and win more of these types of projects?

With a firm-wide CRM, or client relationship management system, you can answer these questions with the click of a button for smarter and faster decision making. You can have visibility into your pipeline strength across the firm, across different types of projects and markets, and ultimately can identify the types of projects you should pursue. This information is powerful as it will guide you to invest in the pursuits where you have the best chance of being successful.

Leave the elephant and the alligator for someone else to hunt, and focus on hunting what you hunt best.



About the Author

Megan Miller is a product marketing manager with Deltek and works with architecture & engineering firms around the world to help them improve their business processes through technology and thought leadership with resources like Deltek Clarity and Deltek’s leading project-based software solutions. Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.