When 7Summits, a firm that helps customers digitally transform their business using Salesforce, tried to land a substantial deal with a global media conglomerate, they didn’t hop on a plane to wine and dine decision makers as many professional services firms have done in the past.
Instead, they turned to their existing private Salesforce community known within the company as The Peak.
“These potential clients opened up the content right away and started posting questions about our proposal on The Peak,” said Paul Stillmank, CEO of 7Summits. “That virtual collaboration automatically provided data and insights that aren’t available in more traditional media and in-person meetings.”
For example, Stillmank could see who downloaded a document and posted questions on a forum attached to that document. Those actions signaled an engaged buyer, which informed how they prioritized their next steps and further customized the proposal.
7Summits was ahead of the curve with its virtual business development, but since the pandemic hit in March, other firms have pivoted in this direction. Seventy-eight percent of those working in business development at professional services firms say they’ve had to adapt quickly to new ways of selling, according to data from the recent State of Sales research, which surveyed nearly 6,000 sales and business development professionals worldwide.
That finding was among several major trends transforming business development in the professional services industry uncovered in the research.
Trend #1: The majority of professional services leaders prioritize digital transformation
Professional services firms are more likely than other industries to speed up their technology adoption in response to the pandemic. A majority, 87%, of professional services leaders say their digital transformation has sped up since 2019 compared to an average of 79% across other industries. This comes as no surprise, as many of these firms are in charge of optimizing their clients’ business processes.
Professional services firms have had higher adoption rates for a variety of technologies, including sales process automation, video conferencing tools, and opportunity management.
“Companies are pouring more gas on digital transformation, because they know they can then separate themselves from their competitors during this turbulent time and take market share,” Stillmank said.
One of his clients was preparing a supply chain optimization program, but decided to shift its capital to other digital transformation efforts because “they needed to get their partner and customer networks optimized first,” Stillmank added. Moving these key audiences to a digital experience helped sustain business momentum while they worked remotely during the pandemic.
60% of Survey respondents in professional services say their relationships with clients are actually stronger than they were in 2019.
Trend #2: Professional services firms find new ways to connect with clients
While in-person dinners or meet-and-greets at conferences aren’t happening this year, professional services firms connect with clients in other ways. In fact, 60% of our survey respondents in professional services say their relationships with clients are actually stronger than they were in 2019. Eight-four percent say they serve as a trusted advisor to clients. Sixty percent of survey respondents in professional services say their relationships with clients are actually stronger than they were in 2019.
7Summits uses virtual sit-downs with large clients and partners to position themselves in that advisor role. Pre-pandemic, they conducted these quarterly business reviews in person, but now they do them over video. They meet with client executives to find out what challenges the business faces, and then bring in an expert who can help in that area.
“One of our core values is working socially, so extending our day-to-day virtual nature to these deeper reviews just made sense,” Stillmank said. “We’re finding that this is a great way to introduce executive management to digital collaboration, which is quite frankly generating a lot of business opportunities for us.”
Stillmank’s company also helped an insurance company pivot to virtual meetings with prospective clients. In the past, the insurance company would send an agent to sit down with each employee to discuss their insurance needs. Now, they do that online.
“We’re building a Salesforce community for our client that optimizes their prospects’ intake process ahead of time, leaving more time to connect and sell,” Stillmank added.
Trend #3: Managing relationships will be key to growth
The challenges and unpredictability of this year have many professional services firms focusing anew on building and sustaining key relationships to drive growth.
7Summits plans on exceeding 40% growth this year. One way they approach that growth is through client surveys to understand how they can serve clients even better. “We’re asking customers what else that they would like,” Stillmank said.
79% of professional services respondents say expanding inside key accounts is critically or very important to driving company growth over the next 12 months.
Stillmank feels some virtual interactions can be even richer and more engaging than in-person ones. “What’s really amazing is when you’re remote like this, they actually stay engaged a little bit longer [than at a conference],” Stillmank added. “Having somebody grab a dinner or pop by the booth can be pretty effective. But when we get a customer to sign up for an agenda and spend some time in a briefing, it actually ends up being a deeper and richer conversation than it was with those more serendipitous catch-ups.”
Seventy-nine percent of professional services respondents say expanding inside key accounts is critically or very important to driving company growth over the next 12 months. Other professional services firms are also working to expand existing accounts. Seventy-nine percent of professional services respondents say expanding inside key accounts is critically or very important to driving company growth over the next 12 months.
More insights and trends
While business development for professional service firms may look very different than a year ago, our research shows these firms are adapting and thriving.
To learn how professional services firms can grow their business and serve as a trusted advisor, check out our webinar with top 25 CPA and advisory firm Eide Bailly.