Essential Elements of Business Development Success | Part 2

If business development is causing you sleepless nights, chances are the source of much of that angst is an anemic professional network, or the absence of strategic targets. Or both.

A healthy network connects you to opportunity flow. We discussed this, along with three ways to address challenges associated with “networking” in a post a few days ago.

Today let’s dive a little deeper, and explore how to identify strategic targets — the critical step when it comes to mounting productive proactive pursuits.

Leveraging Your Network

The time and energy you put into building and sustaining a network should never be done in a vacuum. In fact, the more strategic and mature your network, the easier it will be to identify and prioritize targets for purposes of planning a pursuit.

What are the keys to being smart with your business development resources? First, it is important to remember that there are at least three types of targets.

  • Individuals in a position to actually hire you
  • Those (individuals and groups) who will refer / recommend / introduce you
  • Coaches — individuals who can provide insight and intel relevant to the hiring targets you pursue.

The most effective plans — those with the potential to connect you to a consistent stream of work — include all three target types.

Get Organized

Many of us become adept at shying away from this part of the process; but as a practical matter, critical information about the individuals and groups that make up the network you’re building — should be maintained in organized fashion. Successful sales organizations take this seriously, and rely on a database or CRM solution. It’s not sexy or fun. But clean, accurate data is an asset.

Regardless of how you keep your database, you should be able to sort based on the three target-types noted above (or your own customized catagories).

The Targets of Your Attention

With a list of targets sorted by type, you can begin to create an action plan — how and where to invest the time, energy and financial resources necessary for effective pursuit. Here are a few of the criteria that can help you prioritize, and build a target list that maximizes your efforts.

  • Subject matter expertise — targets whose business, issues, and concerns overlap with your area of experience / expertise (or that of someone in your firm);
  • Decision-maker relationship — all other things being equal, investing where you have a direct relationship with an individual empowered to hire you/your firm should take high priority;
  • Consider the arithmetic — do enough homework to know that cost will not end up being an issue when your pursuit is successful;
  • Connect Dots — draft a relationship map that shows all known connections between you/your firm, others in your network, your target’s organization, and the decision maker;
  • Personal Affinity — work that touches on areas you care about will almost always help make a pursuit more organic;

Your best targets should spring from the network you’re consistently nurturing. Being smart here helps establish priorities, and provides a structure for action plans — what events to attend, what to write about where to seek speaking engagements, and even when to say no to “opportunities.”

Strategic targeting is essential to business development success because it helps map the shortest distance between where you are today, and a pipeline of the kind of work you seek.

When It Comes To What We Value Most, What We Do Speaks Louder Than Anything We Say

It is not difficult to determine what one cares about most.

Listen to the language used. Factor the tone.

Observe associations (who do I hang with). We almost always invest time doing what we most want to do with individuals whose values we share.

And, in the event there’s still doubt, observe how I talk about, relate to, and treat others when I don’t think you’re watching.

Key Performance Indicators

If we’re wondering about indicators of personal values and trustworthiness (are we really wondering?), here’s a bit of fodder for conversation.

  • If I willfully disrespect a person, whatever the reason, chances are I will disrespect anyone if the circumstance is right. What constitutes disrespect? See the rest of this list.
  • Any time I use a label to characterize an individual, I diminish the value of that human being.
  • When self interest defines behavior (versus acting in the interest of others) — at home, at work, or in any setting — my actions speak louder than any words…and I’ve just told you what is most important to me.
  • If my reason for not helping someone is they won’t appreciate it, or they’re where they are because they’re lazy, or somehow deserve their lot — I have conveniently forgotten the countless helping hands, cups of cold water,  and unconditional gifts I have received — many undeserved.
  • The instant I suggest I am self sufficient — in that moment I belie the fact that my world view is unthinkably narrow. And shallow.
  • If I am willing to betray the trust of one — to my personal benefit, or simply as a matter of convenience — I will betray the trust of anyonefor 30-pieces of silver, or less.

There is no doubt that when one chooses to operate in the interests of others one runs the risk of being taken advantage of. But for anyone who suggests they believe in the power of giving, this misses the point. Reward accrues to the individual extending the hand.

In what I found to be a powerful TED Talk, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said this:

We the people’…says we share collective responsibility for our collective future…and when we move from the politics of ‘me’ to the politics of all of ‘us’ together, we rediscover those beautiful counter-intuitive truths: that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak; that it becomes rich when it cares for the poor; that it becomes invulnerable when it cares for the vulnerable. THAT is what makes great nations.”

The Proverb is often quoted; but is it convenient poetry? Or do we believe it? …It is in giving that we receive.

Two Essential Elements of Business Development Success

We’ve said it before — business development will never be mistaken for rocket science. It isn’t even Algebra I…unless you employ the most basic of formulas — Success = X + Y.

But this isn’t to suggest it is easy.

Strategic business development requires a combination of factors: focus; tasks and activities that are difficult for some; tenacity; and time. And this combination — the “X and Y” if you want to be scientific about it — can prove problematic in many professional service environments, particularly when intense attention is given to the issue only when business is slow — and there is an expectation for results now.

Even so, consultant-speak notwithstanding, business development is not complex. Yet, aside from exceptions that tend to prove the point, many in the professional services sector struggle mightily to formalize a strategy that generates organic growth.

To clarify, this is not a conversation about growth by way of M&A activity; much less, the manipulation of pricing. While these can mask the absence of organic progress (as well as other issues) for a season, that is a separate conversation.

This is about actually generating new work for a practice or a firm that aligns with present capabilities. Strategic organic growth delivers increased revenue, an improved profit margin, and often a measure of cultural stability.

So what does it take to achieve organic business development success?

Let’s stipulate that there are no cookie-cutters. One size never fits every situation, challenge or opportunity; but with that said, it has been my experience that anyone wrestling with where to begin when it comes to developing a practice suffers from at least one of two issues.

  • A network that is too small or anemic;
  • A shortage (or absence) of strategic targets.

Addressing The Network Dilemma

If you have a distaste for what you believe networking means, try to suspend preconceived notions for a moment. Consider that a network is essential because this is your connection to the marketplace, and the mechanism that pushes work your way. The more strategic and robust your network, the more consistent the flow of work.

A professional network can be put together in a number of ways. Good ones consist of multiple types of connections, and are both diverse, and large enough to put you in touch with numerous sectors of a market. The right connections create a pipeline of referrals, recommendations, market intelligence, and of course, contact with individuals making hiring decisions.

Translation — your network is what actually puts you in the right place at the right time to take full advantage of opportunities.

The problem is that networks are about relationships. This is where we bump head-first into the challenge.

While none of us are afraid of the requisite work, it is a rare strategy that defines an investment of time. Pesky realities like hourly quotas, quarterly reports and annual budgets tend to take precedent over the time necessary for organic greowth — nevermind having to juggle work you may already have on your desk. And business development initiatives tend to get buried under other priorities.

Without exception, successful business development plans meet this challenge by doing three things:

  1. Leverage time and business development resources by identifying the right relationships in which to invest. This means knowing where your target market hangs out, what they read, what they care about, and what they invest time in — and this knowledge becomes your roadmap for where to speak, what to write about, what organizations to join, and where to lend your support.
  2. Create sustained visibilitiy in pursuit of dialogue. The oft overlooked focus here is the word sustained — one-off or infrequent visibility is of little value. And if your efforts don’t point toward dialogue, you’re not on the path to relationship.
  3. Find multiple ways to deliver value (as defined by the target). The richer the dialogue (see #2), the easier you’ll find it to identify what your target values. Delivering real value is the single surest way to differentiate your efforts from those of the competition, and expedite the creation of a relationship.

Where To From Here?

Step one is to take stock of your network — your contact database, those business cards scattered in your desk drawer, the roster of attendees at that last association meeting you attended.

To what degree do the business development activities in which you’re investing actually connect you to a cross section of your target market?

If anemic, the task is to invest in growth. (You should always have an eye on opportunities to expand your connections to your market.) If large and diverse, the first phase of your plan is to identify the specific ways you can create visibility, deliver value, and instigate dialogue.

The relationships that spring from a healthy network are going to help you identify a handful of strategic pursuit targets. And we’ll focus on this second essential element next week.

3 Keys To Business Development Conversations That Don’t Sound Like The Same Old Bull

Honest dialogue can change things fast. It creates connections, seeds ideas, and is the critical thread in the fabric of relationship. It is about seeking to understand.

The fact that dialogue doesn’t come easy is one reason relationships are so difficult. Self-interest, posturing, and the need to be certain we make our case tend to frame much of what masquerades as conversation — in both the personal and professional context.

Then there is the fact that many pitch/presentation/proposal/business development conversations sound just like the one presented yesterday…and the one that will come tomorrow — seeming interchanble — deep experience, proven capability, blah, blah, blah.

And changing nothing.

But when it comes to business development, better conversations and on-going dialogue are differentiators.

So here are 3 ideas that, if implemented, will change the tone of any conversation.

1. Practice an “Intentional Listening” mindset.

This is listening with the intent to learn, versus an approach rooted in convincing, converting, selling or winning.

Some might argue that this is at odds with the process of business development and sales. Not so. The shortest path to new business is to connect with the concerns of your target. And the quickest way to identify these concerns is to listen far more than you talk. Think 4 or 5 to 1 if you need a benchmark. (This is why client interviews are so valuable — it’s an opportunity for the client to be heard.)

2. Know your Target’s story.

This is closely aligned with intentional listening. It encompasses listening to the data, diving into the research, understanding the industry and having an idea of the challenges of the specific business. The conversation (or pitch) that focuses on your qualifications and capabilities sounds like the pitch of every other provider in the marketplace.

On the other hand, ask the right questions — instigate a deep dive into the issues that matter most to your Target — and you’re on the road to productive dialogue. There are no cookie-cutters; but here are three ideas around questions that touch on what might be top-of-mind for your prospect.

  • What are the greatest roadblocks to success in the near term?
  • What does success over the next three to five years look like?
  • What one or two issues would you most like to see disappear?

3. Build a bridge to the next conversation.

In a quality relationship the next conversation can seem to pick up right where the last one ended. The best conversations are part of an on-going dialogue. Almost everyone experiences this at a personal level.

When it comes to business relationships, try approaching every conversation with the goal of building a bridge to the next.

The best business you develop — the business that is most rewarding and most likely to endure — will come in the context of great relationships. And quality relationships are the by-product of better conversations.

How Rainmakers End Up In The Right Place At The Right Time

Confused Businessman Looking At Arrows Pointing In Different DirectionsRainmakers 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.

Don’t Look Now, But Things May Be About To Change

Changing for ideaFew will argue the inevitability of change. But there is plenty of debate about the degree to which it might land at our front door and impact our reality.

We proclaim intellectual acceptance with lines like the only constant is change. Or the poignant if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.

But the longer the cornerstones of our personal status quo seem unaffected, the easier it is to believe that our reality is secure, and the disruptive aspects of a changing market will not touch what we do or how we do it in material ways.

Meanwhile the list of cautionary tales is familiar.

Typesetters were confident that software could never replicate the precision necessary to make the printed page a readable work of art.

Eastman Kodak, among other things, refused to accept the idea that digital technology might turn the world of film on its head.

And it is not like we’re talking the shift from horse-and-buggy to the motorcar. The US automobile industry, retail shopping, public transportation, and the entertainment arena are full of recent case studies that speak to the consequences of failing to change — nevermind, innovate.

Yet, until foundation-shaking momens encroach on our space — usually manifest in an undeniable dent in the bottom line — we seem to be able to see shifting sands all around while dismissing the possibility that the cornerstones of our house might be showing cracks.

In the mid-1990’s I was engaged in film and video production. As digital video was gaining footing in the industry, I had multiple conversations with sales and marketing folks connected to Kodak and other major film companies. While there was grudging acknowledgement of the existence of video, the deeply held conviction was that the cold and flat imagery made instantly possible by digital engineering would never replace the quality and rich warmth of processed film.

The brick-and-mortar retail industry watched (and provided plenty of commentary) as an upstart called Netflix began to change the way we accessed entertainment. Case studies point to the mistakes made by Blockbuster, punctuated by shrugging off an acquisition attempt from Netflix. Yet shopping centers, malls and giant retail outlets seem to be caught completely off-guard by the disruption of Amazon.

The blind spots must be human nature. In the past the change was often so slow that we don’t think of it a that disruptive brand of change — like the way we go about many of the tasks we’ll tackle today. A half-dozen years ago most of us would never have thought of using software to hail a ride to the airport.

It is pretty obvious that introducing and accepting change will always come with pain. Perhaps this should serve as an early warning sign if we’re rocking along relatively pain free today. History seems to suggest that it will be easy to ignore the degree to which change will impact us. Probably sooner rather than later.

It will always be easy to dismiss predictions about a future yet to unfold.

There are (probably) cogent arguments as to the limits to how much change will really impact us. There are, after all, things that technology will never be able to accomplish — right? (Say, for example, a self-driving car…) But the market will change. Perhaps it will come with a slight shift here, and an almost unnoticeable dent there. In some corners it will almost certainly come with a bang. And as has always been the case, the future will belong to those who instigate and embrace the ideas of adaptation and movement . . . and construct new cornerstones before the ones on which we rely crumble around us.

Farewell To A True Professional

IMG_0450When I met Henry Gilchrist he was in his mid-seventies. Those of us that came along in those days weren’t around when he was doing deals for Texas oil man Clint Murchison; or as he conceived and structured a unique funding deal to create Texas Stadium; or while he was point person on high profile issues for the Dallas Cowboys.

But no matter the time or place, anyone privileged to work with Mr. Gilchrist knew they were dealing with a consummate professional.

His reputation as a corporate lawyer preceded him. But the characteristic that made him a rare breed of professional was the way he treated a person. Any person. Partner. First year associate. Secretary. Or member of the staff.

Henry Gilchrist passed away Saturday, May 6 at the age of 92…just eight months after he finally retired.

There are scores of stories that underscore the humanity of this gentle lion. One of my favorites was told to me during an interview with Roger Hayse, who worked with Mr. Gilchrist for more than 25 years at the law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist.

As the business manager and financial officer of the firm, Roger was made aware that the firm’s honor-system approach to a snack closet was, in short, getting ripped off — falling short of collecting the appropriate sum for chips, candy and the like. Upon closer examination, Roger detected that enormous amounts of chewing gum were being scarfed up at an impossible pace.

In order to put a stop to the gum-thief, Roger planned to lock the heretofore unlocked closet, forcing anyone wanting a snack to request the key and handle payment with an assistant.

It was during a meeting with Mr. Gilchrist, as Roger proudly outlined his plan to put an end to this chewing gum expense, that he came face-to-face with the priorities of Henry Gilchrist.

“Roger, that sounds as it it will solve the issue of employees taking snacks without paying. But I want you to let me know the day the lock is on that closet; that will be my last day with this law firm. I will not be part of a firm that tells its employees they are not trusted.”

People were drawn to Henry Gilchrist — corporate giants, entrepreneurs, and your average run-of-the-mill guy in marketing. Being a great lawyer was part of the equation, for sure. Having his name on the letterhead opened doors, no doubt.

But Henry Gilchrist never lost sight of the value of an individual. He quietly helped and encouraged wherever he saw the opportunity. In victory as well as in difficult hours his humility was palpable. And he treated everyone he met with respect and dignity.

This is the stuff of the consummate professional.

Rest In Peace, Henry. Your influence lives on.

Waiting (And Hoping) For A Silver Bullet

Large Silver BulletTo the degree that it is human nature, it is understandable. On the other hand, to the degree that it is a distracting resource drain, it significantly limits effective business development.

“It” is the search for a Silver Bullet.

From social media to the newest technology, from what’s hot in creative execution to the flavor-of-the-month strategy or consultant, the hope that something new holds the key to what ails us may be the reason we always seem to be starting over. Needed focus gives way to fits and restarts with every new “opportunity.”

Sure…there are times when being athletic enough to shift direction in order to pursue a new opportunity can be an asset. But we shouldn’t mistake it for a strategy.

In a recent spot-on post Kathryn Whitaker speaks to a preoccupation with the next big thing…at the expense of doing the right thing as it relates to current tasks and opportunties.

Notwithstanding the value of innovation, often what is at play here is the hope for a faster, less painful approach to the difficult (not to mention, time consuming) work of connecting, listening, and building productive relationships.

In moments when you wonder at the advances made by competitors, or are mystified by an inability to leverage your investments in business development, consider these two simple tenets:

  1. Focus wins.
  2. An important measure of strategy is how often you resist the siren song, and say No.

Few organizations are flexible enough to make any progress while reacting to every great opportunity. Before we alter course in order to take advantage of the next big thing, consider that while we might refer to it as opportunistic, we may have a business development strategy that is little more than waiting (and hoping) for a shiny new silver bullet.

Who Is Really The Smartest One In The Room?

three chimpanzees having a meetingEveryone has amazing insight.

It’s true. At some point, on some topic, almost everyone will have a moment of clarity worth sharing.

The challenge, at least as it relates to productive dialogue, is that many of us believe the frequency and scope of the insight we possess to be so grand as to warrant the lion’s share of attention in any given room.

But when was the last time any of us was engaged in an interaction — profound or not — where the objective of everyone in the room was to listen, intent on learning?

If you’ve been in that kind of room it probably left a mark. There is dynamism there. When gaining (versus sharing) insight is the goal, ideas flow easier. Solutions serm to emerge more quickly. But listening rooms are scarce. After all, territory must be staked. Turf marked.

An Idea

Pick the most stressful or contentious interaction you’ll face in coming days. What would change if the objective of everyone involved was to listen? No agendas. No winners or losers.

There are plenty of reasons not to go down this road. Where’s the practicality? Someone has to lead. And besides, I’m expected to come to the table with a point-of-view, experience and expertise.

But what might happen if I were to become a point of listening?

If you want to introduce a rare dynamic into difficult conversations, try making a point of listening rather than worrying about sharing your point of view. Unless you’re in unusual company, no one really hears — or gets — your point of view anyway. Not because it isn’t brilliant; but because while you’re talking we’re only half-listening as we formulate what we’ll say next.

(Double down on the above paragraph if the objective of the one doing most of the talking is to convince, convert, defend or defame.)

And if the fear is that listening displays weakness or affords unfair advantage to another’s point of view, consider the possibility that there’s not much listening going on in a room where the primary concern is winning.

Real listening is an intentional and difficult act. It stems from a commitment to learn, and a relentless search for a bridge that connects us…even over enormous chasms.

When I believe my insight is ultimate, and that the room is best served when I broadcast my point of view, I should not be surprised when the only ones paying attention are those who share my view…and nothing changes.

There is rarely a shortage of talk. But when the talk accomplishes little, there may be a shortage of intentional listening.

In relationships with family, co-workers, friend or foe, maybe the key to the change and progress we seek lies in having the courage and discipline to listen…to find the elements necessary to build a bridge to the next conversation.

The Most Important Conversation Yet

Yellow speech bubblesIf you want to test the viability of your approach to business development (or maybe even the quality of your most valued relationships), few questions will reveal more than this one: “Have I built a bridge to the next conversation?”.

When considering business development and marketing efforts in today’s environment, the temptation — in fact, the easy thing to do — is invest significantly in opportunities that create visibility. A big media push, a social media presence, email “blasts” at the drop of a hat, killer events, sponsorships, even charitable contributions — the tendency is to do whatever the checkbook will absorb. We need to “have our name out there.”

The issue is not that these channels aren’t viable, even valuable when it comes to growing a potential market. They are. But visibility alone rarely equates to effective business development.

The problem is the degree to which visibility efforts — advertising, social media posts, event sponsorships and the like —  exhaust the business development or marketing plan. Write the check. Get our name out there. Then sit back and wait.

And wait.

Here’s What Is Missing

Talk to any rainmaker, and (usually sooner rather than later) s/he will make the point that business development boils down to relationships. People hire those they know and trust. And unless you’re aware of a way to get to “know and trust” absent some interaction, then creating visibility and awareness is only the first step in the process.

Relationships (hence, successful business development efforts) revolve around a series of multi-faceted and on-going interactions. Some are professional. Some will almost certainly be personal.

If you’re not having ongoing conversations, you might want to take stock of the relationship.

Sure…not every piece of business you get will be connected to a great relationship. If you’re present in the marketplace, are building relationships and the reputation that accompanies excellence, you’ll increasingly find yourself in the right place at the right time.

But long-term clients — those that stick with you through thick and thin, and call you no matter what, do so because they trust you.

So make your visibility play as robust as you possibly can. Then be certain your plan maps the investment and action steps necessary to build a bridge to the next conversation. Otherwise you’re doing little more than hoping something prompts your target market to come to you. And this is increasingly rare in a competitive and volatile marketplace.

Strategic marketing — a smart investment in efforts to connect with carefully selected targets — includes a plan of action that facilitates on going dialogue. Conversation after conversation.

Because in the context of relationship, the next conversation is the most important one yet.