Rainmakers seem to have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. How do they pull this off?
In fact, it is far from happenstance. The epitome of strategic business development and marketing is increasingly about executing a plan that connects with those most likely to influence or execute a buying decision.
What is the makeup of such a strategy? What are those individuals and teams doing that repeatedly creates a timely intersection with opportunity?
Here are five keys to a strategy that eliminates the guesswork around where to go, when to be there, and what to do or say when the opportunity is presented.
1. Identify A Target
Consistently being in the right place begins with smart targeting — knowing specifically with whom you want to connect, and the role each target plays in the development of your professional network.
Strategic targets fall into four categories.
- Individuals (or carefully selected groups) in a position to serve as a referral source. Consider former clients, other professional advisors, and those in a position to know or be connected to those likely to seek the service you provide.
- Individuals ready to recommend you as a source for the professional service you provide. This should certainly cover past clients; but it may also include a broader group of colleagues in a position to attest to your trustworthiness.
- Individuals who can provide business intelligence and/or “coaching” insights with respect to those who might hire you.
- And those in a position to actually make the hiring decision.
One additional note about target identification — it is about naming names. Industry segments, companies and broad general descriptions don’t count. A strategic target is an individual with whom you can build a professional relationship. And that individual has a name. If you’re having difficulty with target identification, this is a signal that your network needs some attention.
2. Learn What Your Target Cares About
Once a target has been identified, those who make business development seem natural invest the time and energy necessary to learn what is important to the target.
Put simply — great business developers listen before they speak (or pitch).
What concerns your targets most? What will determined success? What hinders productivity? What keeps them up at night?
An understanding of the industry or sub-industry coupled with business intelligence that identifies the challenges and opportunities being faced by your target will help shape efforts to connect and communicate.
3. Plan Strategic Visibility
This is the being in the right place part of the equation. Forget guessing about what networking events to attend or sponsor. Take the mystery out of when and where (or whether) to invest in an ad, or what role social media should play in your strategy. Should you be blogging? Speaking more?
The options for creating and maintaining visibility are many, and each can be seductive. Strategic visibility is about connecting with the targets you’ve named — as opposed to scatter shooting at the broad side of a barn.
Make visibility more than the dispensing of content by incorporating collaborative opportunities. Sharing the podium, participating on a panel, or even white-board brainstorming. Interviews and focus groups offer opportunities to listen carefully…and communicate volumes about what it is like to work with you.
4. Build Equity
Simply being visible — the fact that the marketplace might know who you are and what you offer — doesn’t constitute relationship. And it is no guarantee a path will be beaten to your door. In a competitive marketplace the professional services practice grows and is sustained by professional relationship equity.
This equity comes from the value you bring to the table. And while work product must certainly measure up, the definition of equity-building value is much broader.
It is not unlike what is required in the context of personal relationship: intentional listening; the absence of an agenda (a focus on the interests of the other); and on-going dialogue. Use this as the formula, and your efforts will transcend the average business development effort, and generate the kind of equity that builds a practice and engenders loyalty.
5. Give It Time
Rewarding relationships are not built with a single act, in the context of an anecdote or the process of a pitch. If you’re looking for bottomline impact in the near term, here’s hoping you’ve been maintaining visibility and delivering value to qualified targets for some time now.
As for the plan you’re developing today, count on investing some time. Plenty of potentially effective efforts are doomed thanks to the expectation that a vibrant and relevant network can be created out of thin air.
Productive networks do not materialize overnight. And the kind of relationships that a stable practice is built upon do not typically fall into your lap. Bring your best creative energies and resources to the strategic identification of targets, and the creation of experiences that deliver value. Then stick with it long enough to let the seeds of relationship take hold.
These five ideas are the foundational principles of a business development plan that will put you in the right place at the right time with the right message. It is far from a matter of luck.