For Business Development Clarity, Begin With A Focus On Target Identification

CrosshairsWhen it comes to business development, few things bring the clarity that comes with a focus on targeting.

But for who-knows-how-many-reasons, few things are more difficult for many professional service providers.

It is a heck of a lot easier to discuss getting our name out there. Or, building a list of all the XYZ type companies in a given geography.

And — if neither time or budget is an issue, and assuming your visibility campaign differentiates you from everyone else vying for market attention — this might work. But chances are also good you’ll over spend, waste valuable time, and produce little when it comes to building a solid practice.

Don’t misunderstand. Broad based visibility campaigns can serve a critical purpose in professional service marketing…especially when it comes to seeding an expanding network. But for most lawyers, accountants, consultants and the like, this is rarely a cornerstone of strategic business development.

So is there practical help when it comes to how to approach target identification? Here are 4 ideas for your consideration.

1. Test your definition of Strategic.

The “S” word may be one of the most over-used in our planning vocabulary. All targets are not created equal. Strategic business development targeting does (at least) three things:

  • it defines more than a universe. Targeting requires the kind of specificity that provides the crosshairs for laser-like focus for all efforts. Lists, markets, even an industry will need to be narrowed (more on this in #2).
  • it is based on an identified need or opportunity. Beware the hammer-seeking-a-nail trap.
  • it factors the realities of the market, so that you’re not investing in the pursuit of unprofitable targets;

2. Think names

Identifying an industry is a little better than having no target at all; a company can be a bit more helpful; but when it comes to growing a practice, a person almost always makes the hiring decision. This individual should be your target. People hire people. While it may be necessary to start at a macro level, success hinges on the identification of individuals. Identify the right individuals and your plab takes shape — do whatever it takes to get face-to-face. This is where to invest in visibility.

3. Remember the 3 types of targets

The smart target list is made up of three different types of individuals:

  • those able to hire you
  • those who, based on relationship to one making hiring decisions, will refer or recommend you;
  • those who will advise (coach) you and/or provide the business intelligence necessary for a winning pursuit.

4. Suspend disbelief and cultivate tenacity

Building professional equity with the right individual(s) requires time, tenacity and vision. If you’ve done the strategic work upfront, don’t talk yourself out of a pursuit prematurely. Stick with it long enough for a relationship to take root. And resist the temptation of shiny new opportunities that will inevitably come along. Distraction is deadly.

Incorporate these 4 ideas, and efforts will be much more focused…and productive.

In Search of Leadership With An Authentic Voice

PrintWay more often than not, the individuals I most want to hear from — those whose thoughts and opinions influence me the most — are doing less talking than everyone around them.

Those from whom I have learned the most almost always teach more by way of what they do than what they say.

The most effective leaders I know have mastered the art of listening. Yetthey seem to know precisely when to speak.

Indeed, those who inspire important and consequential change are rarely the loud ones . . . seldom those demanding to own the stage, and using up all the oxygen in the room.

And those to whom almost all of us listen most intently possess a unique charisma that manifests itself in a resonant and authentic voice.

The Link Between Listening and Authenticity

It is not terribly difficult to find individuals skilled at managing process, directing activity or navigating crisis. Individuals with a point-of-view and a megaphone are a dime-a-dozen.

But when it comes to extending trust and awarding loyalty, tribes, organizations and communities value authenticity above almost everything.

And authenticity — the empathy that makes it possible to connect at a level that rings true — is born in the quiet hours of intentional listening.

In the short term, maybe even for a season, the loudest voice can capture attention and own a room.

But when stalemate is the order of the day . . . where leadership seems lacking . . . perhaps what is missing is an authentic voice.

Leaders who engender trust and inspire loyalty — those for whom we would walk across burning coals — these are the few who consistently speak at the right time, with a voice that resonates.

4 Cornerstones of Strategic Business Development

Cornerstone editAny discussion of business development should be required to begin with this disclaimer:

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions or formulas. Silver bullets and cookie-cutters might work elsewhere; but not here.

With that stipulation, there are a number of solid cornerstones that will ensure the resources invested in your plan for the coming year aren’t experimental in nature, leaving you to hope the market finds you.

In fact, a volatile market, a distaste (or outright dislike) for “selling”, even personality type notwithstanding, it is possible to create an approach to business development that works — if you possess the will and discipline to build a plan on these four cornerstones.

Cornerstone #1: Target Identification

Strategic business development begins with the identification of a specific target(s).  The more specific the better. The more general, the less successful an effort will be. The best target? The individual able to hire you. But don’t overlook sources able to connect, refer, recommend and/or “coach” you regarding the target able to do the hiring.

Absent this cornerstone, a plan is built on hope — the hope that the market will find you.

Cornerstone #2: Understand Your Target’s Drivers

This is about knowing what is of utmost importance to the individual with whom you are attempting to establish a working relationship. In the parlance of consultants, what keeps your target up at night? What threatens profitability or sustainability? What puts your target at risk?

One note on understanding drivers: what your target cares about most may not be in your sweet spot. Don’t be fooled into believing it is irrelevant to your efforts. More on this in a moment.

Pursue a target without an understanding of drivers, and you risk looking and sounding like everyone else hawking a better mousetrap. Or a similar service.

Cornerstone #3: Strategic Visibility

Write a big enough check, and creating visibility isn’t an issue. The challenge, of course, is that most of us don’t have the budget of Apple. Or, more to the point, few can spend enough on visibility plays to really tip the scales of awareness. But understand the drivers of a specified target, and you’ve moved from a numbers game to the basics of strategic pursuit.

This is the science part of being in the right place, at the right time. Accomplishing this involves three things:

  • Knowing that one-offs won’t get the job done — so consistency over time must be part of the plan (once or twice a year doesn’t cut it);
  • Effective visibility delivers value — so your efforts aren’t built around a message that is all about you;
  • The more your visibility connects to what your target cares about the more strategic it becomes — so, for example, this might be a clue about where you invest incremental leisure, social, civic and/or industry related resources.

Be visibly engaged in things that connect to what your target cares about, and you’re putting the third cornerstone in place.

Cornerstone #4: Deliver A Solution

Look long enough, listen hard enough — understand the business of your target — and you’ll have an outline for the design and presentation of a solution to those sleepless nights.

We mentioned above that the solution to drivers might not be in your sweet spot. The caveat here is that in an ever-changing market, trusted advisors are increasingly called on to connect the dots and collaborate in the creation of solutions.

A Solid Foundation for Business Development

You’re probably way ahead of me. This approach to business development is really about pursuing and nurturing relationships.

This is what strong practices have always been built upon.

This is the stuff of a practice that can grow, even in today’s volatile market. While business drivers and service offerings might evolve over time, relationships based on listening and delivering value have what it takes to endure.

It comes back to this: relationships trump everything. And these four cornerstones are central to a business development effort built on strategic relationships.

A Few Thoughts on Thankfulness

imageThankfulness is a decision.

It is borne of perspective that transcends personal experience, and resists seeing life through a built-in-ever-present corrective lens.

Thankfulness has no agenda. It is poured out in response to an awareness of what constitutes true richness.

It is not a day. Or a season. It cannot be measured, and it does not keep score.

It is a choice — to reject a frame of reference shaped by fear…to resist the tendency to focus on all so obviously askew around us.

Thankfulness makes our hearts bigger and more aware. It fine-tunes vision, inspiring creativity and innovation.

This is why our world is a little better when we pause for a moment, hour or day of thanksgiving.

What might be the result of a simple decision to move into each day with a thankful perspective?

Is That A Marketing Opportunity or Distraction Knocking At Your Door?

imageThese days, anyone with something to market has unprecedented opportunity.

And that’s the problem.

More specifically, better opportunities are one of the major reasons your marketing efforts flounder and fail.

Mobile capability, competitive intelligence, data analysis, up-to-the-minute tendencies and trends — never have we had so much at our fingertips. An array of message distribution possibilities put every corner of the globe within reach of anyone with a mousetrap to sell.

Yet, when it comes to connecting with the right audience at the right time in a meaningful way, local, regional and global brands miss the mark in dramatic fashion every day. Once proud brands in virtually every industry fight tooth and nail to hold to a viable sliver of the pie — never mind move the needle and actually increase market share.

More data. More tools. Certainly no less creativity. And minimal progress. What gives?

Opportunity or Distraction?

In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Walter Isaacson wrote a seminal article on the keys to the successes of Steve Jobs’ leadership tenure at Apple. First on the list? Focus. Despise or admire him, it is tough to argue the point. Once a course was set, Jobs was single-minded. To a fault.

If only things were as clear-cut and simple for us as in those back-from-the-edge-of-extinction days at Apple. Right?

These days we must sift through a constant stream of new apps, technologies and enterprise solutions, all hawking a better silver bullet. Just about the time we have our ducks in a row, a sexier opportunity appears.

New markets. Improved strategies. Better jumpstarts. Keener insights. Process shortcuts. And that’s just the promises made in this morning’s emails.

If you market you are surrounded by opportunities promising to turn the tide, get you to the finish line faster, and point you in the direction of the next race.

And here’s the tough part. Today might actually present you with a great opportunity.

Or are they really just grand distractions?

Certainly, as rapidly as things evolve, we must be open to game-changing ideas and tools. The well-worn ruts tracing how we’ve always done it are dangerous the deeper they become.

But let’s be real. Each time we fall prey to the newest flavor of the month or the latest shiny tech solution, we risk taking the preverbal two-steps-back. More to the point, we reveal that, for whatever reason, we weren’t terribly committed to that plan we adopted.

Constantly changing plans may be indicative of no real strategy at all.

On the other hand, beware the few who somehow tune-out the siren call of every opportunity. Their focus (some might call it commitment) is at least part of what is shared by the handful of brands, causes and campaigns that reshape markets.

Do all the homework. Chart a course aligned with long term strategy. Then stick with it long enough to win. Or at least learn from the experience.

When everything looks and sounds like a great opportunity, a solid strategy may be what’s missing from the marketing plan.

3 Keys to Better Conversations and the Strategic Innovation of Your Business Development Plan

3 KeysThere is a reason so many of the issues we face today are the same ones we faced last week. Or last year. Or three years ago. Or . . . you get the idea.

From individual relationships to global politics…personal finance to marketing a business, often the solution on which we land is little more than a reordering of the same old talking points. A mashup of things tried, but unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, real improvement is negligible. And experience tells us we’ll be back at the table to rehash the same issue again. Soon.

The difficulty doesn’t stem from a shortage of time or resources, though the latest silver bullet usually calls for more of both.

Most of the time it isn’t because the issues are unresolvable.

It is, at least in part, because we are doing the same things we’ve always done. Even as we strategize and plan initiatives labeled new, we are pioritizing and addressing moments, challenges and opportunities in the same way we’ve always addressed them.

And wondering why very little changes.

Why aren’t my relationships in better shape? Why am I not in better shape. Why does it appear to be business-as-usual in so many places where we pursue change? 

Why doesn’t my practice grow?

It should be noted that what we’re repeating today may have once been a state-of-the-art path to progress. And if what you’ve been doing is delivering the results you desire, stick with the strategy and methodology that are serving you.

But if you feel an uncomfortable shift as you struggle for traction — the market may be sending you a not-too-subtle signal that it is time to change things up a bit.

Sure…there are timeless principles — cornerstones on which we can build.

But we’ve always known two things about business development: relationship trumps everything; and they are dynamic — constantly changing.

Ignore the change, and you’re putting the future at risk.

Strategic Innovation

Wherever we wonder at the fact that, despite all the talk and attention, we see little to no progress, it might be time for a different conversation.

If this rings true even a little, try framing a new conversation around three principles:

  1. Develop a new vocabulary. To the degree we are saying what we’ve always said — doing what we’ve always done — we likely sound like everyone else in the room. A different conversation differentiates.
  2. Listen to new voices. There is enormous value in continuity. But listen to the same things over and over and perspective shrinks, and our inventory of ideas becomes limited.
  3. Start with Why. (If you haven’t, I highly recommend you check out Simon Sinek’s book.) Forget what you’ve always done, and how you’ve always done it. Begin at the heart of the matter — why you’re going down this path.

This is not about just changing things up. It is about the dynamics of new and better conversations This is a formula for strategic innovation.


5 Traits of the True Professional

Portrait of successful businesswoman looking at camera with her workteam at background

Portrait of successful businesswoman looking at camera with her workteam at background

We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, speak on it, and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice, in some circles we might even be able to insist we be called one.

But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, titles, labels, and all manner of branding gymnastics have little to do with making one a true professional.

As is always the case, what we do speaks much more eloquently than anything we say. (Or what our business card says.)

Professionalism is about wht one decides to be. It is the sum of a set of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments.

When And Where Professionalism Is Defined

The only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to professionalism.

It is easy to come to believe that defining moments come with high visibility. But most of us know in our gut that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public — when few observe, and there is little fanfare.

Simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.

Five Traits

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here are five of the traits present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals take responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in difficult moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
  2. The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to identify personal limitations. This is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
  3. Professionals don’t engage in meaningless turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
  4. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what. The true professional is dependable.
  5. The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for anyone aspiring to professionalism? Please contribute.

What Real Leadership Sounds Like

View From The TopIf I were to heed mom’s advice — if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all — I would do a lot less talking. For some of us (I won’t speak for you), it is easy to go negative. Quickly.

From the half-empty glass to service that is far too slow; from the inconsiderate neighbor to every other driver in rush hour traffic; from nothing but bad news to political rhetoric — it is easy to see the downside.

On one hand, this is great news for the naysayer, who will never be at a loss for material. Call names. Point to flaws. The truth is there is always something wrong.

Perceiving the glass as half full requires a perspective that discerns possibility — a view of what might be, unlimited by the moment. Not framed by devils known. And simply put, sometimes that is hard work.

Such a perspective strikes a different and harmonious chord . . . perhaps because it is so rare. But we know it when we hear it.

Choosing To Do What Is Hard

In 1962 — barely four years after the invention of the integrated microchip and at least thirteen years before the personal computer — the President of the United States stood up at Rice University in Houston, Texas and announced that the United States space program would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

It is impossible to remember or imagine how that sounded. The space initiative was fledgling. The U.S. program was perceived by many to be lagging. It had been less than a year-and-a-half since a USSR cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin had become the first human being in space.

Cost. Risk. Timing. The distraction from pressing matters.

You know there must have been a chorus reciting the negatives. A man on the moon in less than eight years? Really?

But a new course is rarely charted by a naysayer.

Consequential change is borne of  an often audacious vision of what could be.

Name the venue, endeavor or adventure — from the profound to mundane — it is always easier to point to what is wrong than envision, articulate and motivate toward solution.

Certainly, the ability to analyze situations, identify problems, and recalibrate direction are immensely valuable skill sets. But solutions (and that is what we’re about, right?) and constructive dialogue rarely break out on a plank of negative insight.

Sure . . . we all have days when the service sucks or forces conspire to accentuate incompetence. And yes, there are days when fear motivates and negative voices prevail. Those days notwithstanding, the danger in  focusing on what is wrong is how easily that morphs into anemic vision.

Perhaps leadership is less defined by how good we are at pointing out all that is wrong, and more by a perspective that seeks out and can build on what is right.

Whatever the venue, professional, social or personal, charting a better course — one that moves the needle, repairs what is broken and mends what is torn — hinges on clearly articulating a vision.

What might happen if we were to tap into the fabric of our most noble aspirations, and employ a vocabulary of solution?

Rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Easy? Not for some of us, that’s certain.

But I’m imagining what tomorrow might look like if I am able to rise to the occaesion, and resist the easy road.

At the very least, it will sound a lot different.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” — President John F. Kennedy

The Perils of the Comfort Zone

Comfort ZoneThe comfort zone is a dangerous place to hang out.

One can rock along day-to-day with little to no disruption. Sure, once-in-a-while there might be a hiccup or two; but for the most part life is pretty good. The figurative trains run on time, Performance seems as good or better than last year. The climate / culture is pleasant enough.

When the comfort zone is good, every day is like a day at the beach.

But doesn’t something inevitably interrupt life as we come to expect it? It might be a competitor infringing on once-sacred territory. Or an unforeseen turn by the market. Or a client reorganizing.

Not to worry. We’re still plenty comfortable.

Then something else happens. What seemed nothing more than a hiccup turns into an issue. Or a crisis.

It rarely happens overnight. It creeps. And seeps. It is hardly noticed at first. Then it is the subject of analysis.

By the time we huddle, dissect and debate solutions, things aren’t so comfortable anymore. We find ourselves smack-dab-in-the-middle of an uncomfortable new normal.

This is what the comfort zone does. It distorts perspective. At its most insidious it messes with my view of my reality. Rise and shine in the comfort zone day after day, and soon one begins to think this is the only reality that exists.

The comfort zone is insulated. The idea that cornerstones might be shifting, or that structural change might be necessary is impossible to fathom. What we do has always worked.

The reasoning is often that the topsy-turvy of disruption won’t last forever. The pendulum will swing. Things will return to the way they were.

The comfort zone can stifle innovation.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the longer everything rocks along at an acceptable level — though disruption abounds — the more perilous conditions can become.

When It Becomes Uncomfortable, It’s Too Late

If you’re reading this, chances are you have some first hand experience with the comfort zone. And let’s be clear — its amenities are to be enjoyed. But fail to respond to consequential change until things are uncomfortable, and we’re susceptible to  the peril of knee-jerk attempts to fix things overnight.

And quick-fixes rarely fix anything.

So how does an organization, a team, or for that matter, an individual avoid the perils of the comfort zone?

Whatever might be said about Steve Jobs, it is doubtful he spent much time in the blind spots of a comfort zone. In his famous and oft quoted 2005 Stanford commencement address, Jobs spoke to the challenges that often accompany achievement. His advice?

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

And while (at least from where I sit) his daily walk hardly seems a model for exuberant living, Jobs’ admonition is taken from the title of a book by entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal. It is about maintaining the spirit and vision that characterize the early hours of new adventure.

We can debate the use of terms like “foolish.” But while we’re debating, we know the reality — everything changes. Empires fall. Once revered companies disappear. Even what seem to be the best personal relationships can fail.

At least one antidote to the perils of the comfort zone is the appetite that characterizes new adventure.

Perhaps what we need — individually and institutionally, personally and professionally — is a youthful vision that sees beyond successes and challenges of the moment, and perceives the new beginnings that accompany each day.

Thoughts On The Lawyer / Marketer Dichotomy

Corporate rivalryThere are exceptions; but the fact is that for many lawyers, marketing is an annoyance, if not anathema. And there is good reason. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

(This week’s post is a guest shot at Managing Law Firm Transition, the blog authored by my friends Roger Hayse and Andy Jillson of Hayse LLC.  Thanks to Roger and Andy for the invitation.)