The Three R's of an Effective Business Development Strategy

There have been multiple studies conducted by Harvard Business Review, Hubspot, and Nielson that show approximately 9-out-of-10 B-2-B buyers today rely on referrals to make a decision on who to do business with. This may, or may not come as a surprise to you, but the increase in use of online review sites, search tools and social media have shifted how buyers buy and how sellers sell. The buyers have all of the research power, and their minds are mostly made up before you even make contact with them.

The Dangers of Referral Business

Now if you read that first stat and assume that if 90% of sales are being generated through referrals and recommendations, then you should just devote 90% of your business development efforts into asking for referrals. I’d say you’re on the right track, but not entirely correct. Yes, referrals are typically faster and easier to close because the prospect has some awareness of your company and what it does prior to you connecting with them, however, referral business can be highly unpredictable. A negative online review, a change in search engine algorithms, and hiring/firings of key contacts can shut off your referral sources almost instantly. So, what do you do?

Creating “Self-Referrals”

In many cases, a professional services company is trying to sell a solution to a problem that has yet to exist in the prospect’s mind. By the time the prospect realizes it on their own, they’re already in the mode of searching for a referral or recommendation. To get ahead of this, your marketing and business development plan must be very deliberate in positioning you as the education source for your prospects. You must create “windows” of opportunity with your prospects to earn their time and become the first solutions provider. It’s like you are giving your prospects a referral to yourself.

To create “self-referrals” and windows of opportunity with your prospects, we have developed a business development strategy we call “The Three R’s.” These are traits and activities that if implemented on a regular basis, you will see a consistent stream of referral business.

The Three R's of an Effective Business Development Strategy


  • You are known for, and vocal about hiring the best people and treating them well

  • You are a strategic partner or chief problem solver for your clients

  • You maintain and display well-known brands as clients

  • Your team regularly speaks at conferences and events

  • Your company is regularly featured in local, business or industry publications

  • You display testimonials, certifications and industry designations

  • Your leadership team and company are involved in nonprofit or community work


  • You regularly create and display case studies of your work

  • You regularly talk about innovation

  • You test strategies on your own company to prove theories and outcomes

  • You consistently show value to your clients by sharing successes (in your own business and with other clients) in every meeting or report to them

  • You regularly submit for, and display industry, business, and community awards


  • Your company leaders and employees enthusiastically attend networking events

  • Your company leaders and employees actively serve on a non-profit board or organization that means something to your prospects and clients

  • You actively look for ways to entertain and recognize your prospects and clients

  • You find opportunities to leverage multiple clients for mutual benefit

  • You regularly engage with your network via social media and email

  • You look for ways to introduce your client’s or prospect’s business into new business opportunities – even if it’s unrelated to what you do

  • You are involved with economic development or community development that indirectly assists your clients or prospect’s businesses

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