Hoping The Market Will Knock On Your Door in the Coming Year?

If you find yourself wondering where work will come from in 2017, two things may be true about your marketing and business development efforts.

Your professional network needs some attention; and you have a shortage of strategic targets.

Many have been led to believe that a quality work product combined with excellent client service will result in a successful practice. Capable and willing on both counts, optimistic professionals shop for the best place to plant a practice and hang a shingle.

But left to build a practice in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t take long to realize that the possession of the greatest mousetrap in the world is no guarantee the market will beat a path to your door.

Combine competition and volatility with a market that presumes expertise and quality, and an increasing number of professional service providers are left to wonder what it takes to differentiate. And hoping the market will somehow find them.

Too bad we’re not marketing a mousetrap.

We could shoot a video, create a slick brochure, and add some copy that focuses on effectiveness and efficiency. We could build a cool website, add some state-of-the-art SEO, write a blog and take to Twitter . . . and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

Even if one assumes that is a workable strategy, the professional service we offer doesn’t come in a box. It can be difficult to quantify, and much of the time there’s not much tangible until a matter closes, a contract is contested or a case won.

Stop Waiting For The Market To Find You

For everyone tired of waiting for the phone to ring, there is a much more productive and proven approach to business and practice development.

It begins with a proactive focus on your network. Before you tune out, consider this. The care and feeding of a strategic network is the key to developing a pipeline of biz dev opportunities.

How large does your network need to be? Ideally, large enough so that there will always be someone in your network in need of the service your provide.

A robust network — one you faithfully nurture — is key to minimizing those periods where the silence of the market can be deafening.

If this seems like a reach to you, think about the rainmakers you know. That thing you think of as an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time is, more likely than not, reflective of a robust network.

Where to begin if you don’t have this kind of pipeline? What to do next if you haven’t been working on your network?

There are no cookie-cutters; and specifics will depend in part on the stage of your career. But here are two ideas to consider.

1. Begin with a focus on groups you’re already plugged into — alumni associations, civic clubs, servicei groups, professional affiliations, and churches are a few of the most common. Get involved. Volunteer. Be visible. Contribute.

2. Become strategic. Begin to identify specific targets. Listen and learn — about concerns, needs and critical business drivers. Seek ways to deliver value in response to what you learn. (If you’re not clear how to contribute value, chances are you still have some listening to do.)

These two ideas encompass the nuts and bolts of a strategic business development pursuit. And they are the alternative to sitting back and hoping the next phone call or email brings an opportunity that will make your new year.

5 Guiding Principles For When, Why and How to Use Social Media as a Business Development Tool

Social IconsIf you’re considering a deeper dive into social media for business development punposes, are attempting to evaluate your current investment in social, or are among those just now waking to the reality that social media is actually out there changing the market, this post is for you.

And it is a response to the fact that I continue to hear professionals wonder whether there is any value in blogging, whether Twitter has a place, and whether we should mess with Linked In.

Full disclosure — I am biased. I regularly reap what I believe to be the rewards of participating in social media. It comes in the form of professional conversations and relationships. On the other hand, many professional service providers enter the arena with unrealistic expectations, and asking the wrong questions.

With that caveat, here are five principles for your consideration.

Principle #1

When it comes to business development, Social networks — Twitter, Linked In, Facebook and the like — are above all else, connection tools. While the market at large sees them as content distribution channels, you had better have a market-shaking message if you hope to enter the social-sphere and have immediate impact.

Unless you’re a rock star or have celebrity status, the value to be derived from social media is realized in the creation of conversations. And relationships.

So the question at the outset is not who can we get to follow us? or what do we say?.

Instead, begin by asking with whom do we want to connect? Who should we be following?

Principle #2

Worry less about being heard and invest disproportionately in listening. This isn’t sexy, but assuming you’re connecting to individuals and companies for strategic reasons (versus just padding the followers count or grasping for any distribution channel you can find), an ear on dialogue in the social marketplace will pay off with an opportunity to tap into conversations that reveal topics of interest and issues of concern to your targets.

Principle #3

Business development is still all about relationship. Viewing soctal media as an avenue for broadcasting is to miss its dynamism. Sure — if your message/content is explosive, has broad appeal or impact, or is the latest and greatest pet video, you might get lucky and create a viral splash. But as a tool for building a professional services practice, social is only worth the investment if it plays an important role in the relationship equation.

Principle #4

Closely related to #3, if you’re basing success on the numbers game — well, you’re missing the point. If you want instant followers, there are plenty of ways to buy them. Or write a salacious blog headline, and watch your “hits” skyrocket. But if you seek quality connections — the kind that can turn into relationships and clients, the strategy for gaining connections should begin with smart targeting — just like every other aspect of professional services business development.

Principle #5

Once you’ve thoroughly adopted 1 through 4, you’re ready to consider messaging. What should your content be? It should:

  • Be relevant to your targets;
  • Help establish you as an important contributor to this conversation — a subject matter expert;
  • Deliver legitimate value;
  • Encourage dialogue;
  • Set the stage for the next conversation.

Consider these five principles as you develop a social media strategy. Be diligent, and allow the time necessary for meaningful conversations to emerge, and you’ll have a basis on which to measure ROI — are quality business development relationships forcing their way into your pipeline?

Entertaining The Ultimate Business Development Question

Several years ago Fred Reichheld, among others, began working on a conversation and a system that would prompt organizations to rethink clients / customer relationships.

In his book, The Ultimate Question (now available in an updated 2.0 version), the discussion zeroes in on what the author defines as the ultimate measure of loyalty — whether a client would recommend you / your work to a friend.

The discussion of how to quantify loyalty outlined in these volumes precipitated important conversations. Satisfaction, while critical, should not be mistaken for enduring relationship. Appreciation and allegiance do not necessarily equate to advocacy or evangelism.

Reichheld’s work is a must-read for anyone serious about gauging customer engagement and the client experience.

But for any service enterprise intent on conspiring to create or deepen relationships, there is another question. The answer cannot be scaled one-to-ten. It doesn’t elicit a simple “yes” or “no.”

The ultimate business development question is rooted in a different value system – the economics of listening – or, as Bob Garfield termed it, Listenomics.

The question has consequences. And enormous potential.

The Question

Specific articulation will vary depending on the situation; but here is the essence.

What do you wish a firm / a company (like ours) would do that we’re not currently doing? What should we be focusing on? If you could design it, what would our working relationship look like?

It is a simple question; but the response can be disruptive. Eliminating the nonsensical – “cut your rates by 70%” or “give away your product, portfolio or expertise” – and suggestions will likely center on the need to innovate…to meet the realities of a volatile market with new thinking. New solutions.

There are plenty of reasons to resist: the market doesn’t understand the realities of our business model…clients don’t always know what best serves them…and what about unforeseen risks.

On the upside, there are the rewards. Like the differentiation and loyalty afforded a business partner.

If you wrestle with how to engage your targets or clients, ask the question. But be prepared. Asking implies an interest in the ensuing conversation.

The Pursuit of Better Conversations: A Thanksgiving Perspective

There are a few things that are either black or white. But very few.

Most of the time almost everything is defined based on perspective.

Thursday many  in the United States will enjoy a holiday tradition that has come to combine turkey and the National Football League. We’ll argue the blurry line between solid defense and pass interference. Or the one that separates a legal hit from a suspension-worthy blow. Even with the multiple camera perspectives and the benefit of instant replay, there will be a handful of plays that are far from black and white.

This is the problematic nature of lines in the sand. Or absolutes. It is next to impossible for our view to transcend our perspective.

But these days it seems the rhetoric is laden with the belief that things are black or white — that virtually everything is about red or blue.

Collegial debates have deteriorated into strident contests with one goal – to win. At all costs. And in the process, the exploration of aspirations – once the stuff from which shared and dynamic vision was born — has morphed into positions adopted solely based on the color of the jersey we wear. Or the appropriate positions of red versus blue.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good debate. Ours was a home where mom and dad would articulate positions they did not believe in — partially to teach youngsters in the room to think; and partially because we all enjoyed the sport of debate.

But the debates these days aren’t fun. They’re venomous, rife with name-calling. Short on listening. And too much of the time everyone walks away angry.

The Demise of Dialogue

When I did time in radio, conversations around sex, religion and politics (with a dose of rock-and-roll) were the staple for ratings. These topics were certain to engage listeners from opposite ends of a spectrum. And while this strategy insured lively conversation, there was little real dialogue. Everyone was out to convert.

Maybe it was entertaining; but not many of us are open to conversion.

So what are we to do? Fight each conversation to an angry draw? Are we doomed to never again share aspirations…pursine great dreams?

Lines drawn in the sand, however clear and deep they seemed when originally cast, are easily obscured. Even erased. A gust of wind or the shuffling of real life tends to blur things, alter perspectives, or even create new lines.

What becomes of our communities…if we refuse to explore, collaborate, and engage in real dialogue?

A Thankful Perespective

One of the things I value most about the season that is upon us in the United States is that it affords a moment conducive to realigning our perspective. For the next few weeks it seems easier to focus on the very few things that are, in my view, black and white. Here are two:

  • Nothing outlasts real relationship. Disproportionate investment of time, energy and emotion here is the mistake to make.
  • It is in giving that we receive.

I offer this not as a political, theological or social argument; it is born of personal experience. Call it what you will.

If you’re reading this post, chances are we have some things in common – not the least of which is we have much for which to be thankful. Conversations that spring from this perspective might just give rise to healthy, productive dialogue in coming days and weeks. Maybe even progress, and vision.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Formula For Business Development Success

Business development in the professional services sector is not rocket science. Anyone possessing the will and the discipline to follow a simple formula can, over time, build a thriving practice. (Okay — “over time” is the hard part. Much of the time we expect immediate results.)

What is this formula?

{Target Identification} + {Understanding of Drivers} + {Solution to Drivers} = BD Success

Cracking The Code

1. Strategic business development begins with the identification of a specific target. The more specific the better. The more general, the less successful the effort will be. The ultimate target? The individual able to hire you. But don’t overlook other individuals or groups — sources able to connect, refer, recommend and/or coach you regarding the target able to do the hiring.

2. The second part of the equation — understanding business drivers — is about investigating, researching and listening. The goal here — to coin a phrase — is to learn what keeps your target up at night. What does your target care about most? What is so top-of-mind that sleepless nights, not to mention profitability or sustainability are at stake?

Attempt to make a connection, nevermind walking in with a presentation or pitch without an understanding of drivers, and the formula falls apart. More often than not, when the formula falls apart, you begin to sound like everyone else in the marketplace.

3. On the other hand, look long enough, listen hard enough to understand the business of your target and you’ll have the information necessary for the next part of the equation — the design and presentation of a solution to those sleepless nights.

The Payoff On The TDS Formula

This simple approach to business development is about nurturing a series of strategic relationships. In a volatile marketplace, this is the stuff of a practice that can grow. While both business drivers and service offerings evolve or completely transform over time, relationships based on listening and delivering value have what it takes to endure.

And, at the risk of pointing to the obvious — this is why so-called “cross selling” is important. Work the formula right and the collaboration is broad-based — including colleagues and other service providers.

This is especially good news if you subscribe to the idea that relationship trumps everything.

With Your Permission, A Thought For The Day

imageI can’t control much; but I can determine to treat every individual I encounter with respect and dignity. I can be kind. I can monitor what comes out of my mouth, and strive to speak words that encourage.

I believe the way I treat a person is a direct reflection of who I am — the clearest, in fact.

I believe there is nothing more valuable than a human being. Nothing. Admittedly there are too many times when my attitude and/or actions do not square with this; nonetheless, this belief is at the core of the value system to which I subscribe.

We — me and my “neighbors” — are a diverse lot. We spend our days in different ways, invest our time and resources in varied pursuits. But most of us know that what we look like or sound like has nothing to do with who we are as human beings.

I believe no difference, however stark, diminishes the value of a human being.

I believe most of us reject any suggestion that the value of a person comes down to anything more than the fabric of ones heart — the content of our character.

If we are willing to begin here we can discuss any challenge…debate any issue…and emerge with respect for each other even when we differ.

I believe we share more than we tend to think about on a daily basis. And that even a sliver of common ground can give rise to a vision that can accomplish almost anything.

My personal challenge for each day is to seek that common ground.

Unlocking The (Not Too) Secret Combination For Marketing ROI

Finance Concept - ROIThe setting was a business development workshop, and a law firm leader was raising a question: what should we be doing to get the highest value from our marketing and business development investments?

The context was a familiar drill. Plans are drafted…and they gather dust. There is talk (hours of it at times) about websites, events, collateral materials, technology, and a platform that seems to perpetually shift.

Experience tells us there are no short-cuts to real business development; but we often act like we believe there might be a silver bullet. So we’re repeatedly teased by and invest in the latest flavor-of-the-month solution (and the supply of these is endless).

The law firm leader concluded with an exclamation. “We dissect analytics, reorganize groups shift support functions, and invest more. And most of the time progress is difficult to discern.”

Whence Cometh Value?

It should be noted that value can be an eye-of-the-beholder or a timing thing. But at least part of the answer to the law firm leader’s question has nothing to do with state-of-the-art technology, isn’t packaged in SEO, and doesn’t even require creative messaging (gasp).

It does require direction and discipline. And let’s be honest…we’re often too impatient for either.

There are plenty of necessary conversations about content, tools, PR, technology and grand events. And, while each may be important, none form the foundation for long-term success. Or failure.

Growth and practice development in a professional service arena begin with the identification of strategic relationships. Specifically, who do we want to work with, and how do we establish meaningful connections with the individual or team that can help us make this happen.

The logistics of this target identification are not glamorous, and may vary depending on the specific practice; but this is the foundation for realizing measurable and long-term value.

This is not to argue that the deliverables and various work products that are part of executing a plan, or the tangibles that are conventionally considered part of the marketing function do not represent value. Of course they do.

It is to suggest that, from time to time, our focus just might be misdirected.

On the other hand, when the focus is on the identification of targets, we have a framework for decisions about the tools and investments necessary for progress.

In the case of every extraordinary business developer I know, long term success hinges on relationships — direct contacts, referrals, recommendations — the connections that put you in the right place at the right time.

It isn’t easy. It takes time. But the simple answer to the law firm leader’s question is — when we invest in and stay focused on the pursuit of strategic targets, we’ll reap the long term rewards that come with professional relationships.

Want To Predict The Future? Follow The Vision

The mid-seventies motion picture All The President’s Men popularized the phrase follow the money. In the dramatization of the political scandal that became known as Watergate, the informant referred to as Deep Throat offered this phrase as the key to identifying those responsible for the dirty trick.

Questions about the events surrounding the 1972 U.S. Presidential election — who was behind the break-in at the Watergate…and why — made for compelling news coverage, and an entertaining motion picture. For months we investigated, probed, and prodded anyone that might provide insight into what had happened.

It has become a popular spectator sport. Whether anecdote or era, we believe in unearthing and examining what has happened. This is not to suggest that we ignore the lessons of history. But what if, in our focus on the past…on the implications of precedent and data…what if we have things turned around?

What if the real lesson of history is that leadership is about a distinct and articulated vision for the future? What if the existence and makeup of a view of what might be provides a window on what tomorrow will bring?

Consider three historical markers.

Even as he reflected on and drew context from history, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was about a vision. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

In the wake of challenging Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” President John F. Kennedy presented an almost unimaginable vision for a struggling space program — to put a man on the moon.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most memorable words to those assembled on the Mall in Washington, D.C. did not provide a ten-point analysis of a nation’s ills. Rather, they called us to a mountain top…to a perspective only accessible through eyes clear with bold aspiration. And his words resonate to this day — “I have a dream.”

Granted, boisterous tyrants have managed to build empires — from neighborhoods to nations — with clenched fists and seeds of fear. But this is the easy road. There will always be something to fear. Manipulators who tap into it can easily precipitate reaction.

But fear seldom gives rise to lasting change. And history’s most compelling visions are rarely rooted in the negative.

Whether small tribe, global enterprise or world power, the venture driven by fear perceives danger at every turn. This is not the stuff of progress. Much less, growth.

Where there is vision, there exists a kind of future-movie — exemplified by Dr. King’s dream for all children, JFK’s audacious idea of a man on the moon, and Lincoln’s new birth of freedom.

A compelling future-movie is inclusive, taps into the best attributes of the players, and precipitates the decisions and actions that are the difference between good and great.

Tomorrow always brings a set of unknowns. But consider the possibility that history’s most poignant lesson — whatever the venue — is captured by the writer of Proverbs — “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Musings From The Radio Studio — On Effective Business Development Communication

Studio MicrophoneA lifetime ago, in what seems like a galaxy far away, I spent some time in the broadcast industry. More specifically, in a radio studio.

At the time the fast paced “Top 40” genre topped most markets, and was designed to sound slightly anti-establishment with a shoot-from-the-hip tone. In reality, it was a highly structured, tightly formatted, close-to-scripted approach to delivering an experience.

The “clock” (a minute by minute kind of info-graphic of an hour) ruled. It was based on exhaustive research of what would keep the target audience tuned in. The job of the on-air “personality” was to stick to what the research said would work.

One quickly learned that at almost any cost, you were to avoid “dead-air” — broadcast shorthand for any silence between programming elements. Even a second or two of dead-air gave a prospective listener time and/or reason to sample a competitor’s programming on a different frequency.

Every segment was both product and marketing opportunity. Even the revenue engine — paid advertising — was more effective if it was part of the experience.

Business Development and the Customer Experience

The premise — that valued connections warrant a vigilance that continually engages — is a principle that translates to business development and client service efforts almost anywhere.

The occasional email, quarterly newsletter, annual event or however-well-timed-and-heartfelt-holiday-wish are hardly enough to seed what David Maister termed trusted advisor status. Each might be part of a plan, but allow too much radio silence to creep into your communication calendar, and no one should be startled when relationship growth proceeds at a snail’s pace. Or, when your prospect disengages.

Quality, multi-dimensional and regular communication is the fabric of a relationship that is going somewhere.

As is the case with almost everything related to business development, a broadcast-hour-type cookie-cutter solution for every pursuit does not exist. The elements of a thoughtful communication — the frequency, specific touch-points and nature of the message — depend on alignment with the target in three areas.

  • Personal and organizational interests and values
  • Organizational goals and aspirations
  • Critical business drivers

Understand what a target or key client values most, their short and long term goals, and their most intensely felt business drivers, and the framework for relevant communication elements is in place.

If a timing benchmark is helpful, think about connecting in some way nine or more times a year. The more frequent the relevant touches, the better. Incorporate a healthy dose of communication that includes a personal dimension. (Blogging gets consistently high marks in this arena.)

Use your best instincts on timing. Seek and listen to feedback — verbal and non-verbal. Be vigilant.

Think of business development — with targets as well as existing clients — as an opportunity to package an experience, and engage the audience.

Business Development Success Is More About Asking The Right Questions Than Having All The Answers

IMG_0086The game show Jeopardy has had it right all along — knowing the right question is the way to win big.

Conventional wisdom argues the point. And most of the time we buy into the argument.

In virtually every venue — from personal relationships to building a productive professional network, from pitching a pizza franchise to marketing a law firm or consulting practice — we invest mightily in dispensing answers.

Some will argue that market research is all about asking questions and listening. Legitimate point.

But let’s be honest: much of the time what passes for market research is really about gaining insight into the best way to position what we’ve already decided to take to market. What features should be emphasized? What words turn our targets off? How do we capture imagination and motivate?

Valuable. But the focus is on how we deliver our message. So convinced are we that powerful motivation derives from having all the answers, that our questions don’t accomplish near what they might. Never mind inspire or motivate.

Doubt this? Calculate the value of resources invested in designing, debating and redesigning the messages and tools used to tout qualifications to targets. Compare this to the ROI on our messaging efforts.

Now consider how many quality conversations have been generated by all of your messaging efforts.

This isn’t a metric most of us track; but we’d do well to start. The right questions instigate on-going dialogue.

A Better Conversation

Most professional service firms recognize and tout the value of relationships. Entire go-to-market strategies have been based on what it takes to become trusted advisors.

Yet, when presented with an opportunity for conversation or collaboration, how often is our default response the tried and stale approach to dispensing all the answers.

If you want to change the dynamics of a relationship, begin changing the nature of the conversations you have. Find a way to collaborate around a couple of key questions, and you’ll find yourself on the verge of changing the entire game.

Questions As Differentiators

In many professional service arenas (including legal) research indicates that mugh of the time the audience assumes you have some level of expertise. Put another way — your target likely assumes you have a lot of the answers, and can get to the ones you might not know. (Granted…we’d prefer they believe we have all the answers, but let’s get real…)

One of the easiest ways to differentiate in a crowded and competitive market is by resisting the temptation to always talk about what we know, and focus on the right question(s). There is always at least one.

If your product or service is the undisputed leader in a market, you may be able to slide by for who-knows-how-long. But check business school case studies these days. You’ll find more than a handful of postmortems on once venerable market giants who failed to ask the right questions of the marketplace.

The market is always delivering a critical message. The key to business development success is knowing how to engage. If touting answers isn’t doing the job, try posing a question or two. And being astute enough to be quiet, and listen.