If you secretly fear your business development strategy is underperforming, you are not alone. In fact, you are among the majority of law, accounting and consulting professionals and firm leaders I know.

I know there is little comfort in numbers in this case.

And this prompts a question: when will the lack of results from the way it’s always been done finally push rethinking the conversation?

Here’s a bit of fodder. 

We Know Where Business Comes From

Most who provide a professional service will quickly tell you that the majority of new work is either the direct or indirect byproduct of a relationship. 

Yet when it comes time to identify possible new sources of revenue, to talk about specifically where to intentionally focus business development efforts many struggle mightily. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • confusion between professional service marketing efforts and sales;
  • an anemic professional network;
  • a reluctance to “sell” in the context of a relationship;
  • the personality of an introvert, making conventional networking difficult, if not distasteful.

The reason is not as important as the consequence. Unable to identify any viable targets for a proactive pursuit, the default position is often to double down on visibility or branding initiatives. The result is efforts we hope will heighten awareness and speed up or streamline the credibility-building process, resulting in new opportunities presenting themselves.

The Difference 

We should quickly acknowledge that quality marketing efforts are an important part of the business development mix. But the most creative and motivating professional services marketing on the planet is unlikely to build relationship equity…and it sure won’t do it in a fortnight. 

The reliance on a marketing outreach to establish contact and build relationships of trust is one of the reasons you have those nagging concerns about your business development efforts.

Unless you’re spending enough to be ubiquitous in the marketplace and offering a solution to a real or perceived problem, you aren’t engaged in the kind of marketing that ensures you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

This is not designed to diminish the role or impact of great marketing. It is to remind us that marketing and sales — or business development if you prefer — while linked, are not the same thing when it comes to the organic growth of a professional services practice.

In brief, marketing creates awareness, builds brand equity, instigates initial interaction, helps to maintain a presence, and even precipitate certain buying conversations.

But it does not build a personal relationship. And personal relationship is central to the kind of trust that will place a company’s future in your hands.

Don’t Become A Sales Guru

This is not rocket science.

It is a slightly different framework for your consideration — one that doesn’t expect you to turn into the worlds biggest extrovert, that aligns perfectly with what you value and one that changes the business development discussion.

You don’t need more prospects. You need more allies.

Productive relationships — what we know to be the greatest source of business — are  rooted in shared purpose.

An estate planning lawyer whose clients are high net worth individuals focuses BizDev efforts on building relationships with other professionals serving the high net worth market. She speaks for financial planning groups; contributes a column for the quarterly publication of the foundation of a local university; partners with a CPA group to host workshops for the clients of a trust department; and speaks at retreats for all of these allies, systematically generating new opportunities.

A corporate law firm and CEO peer group, both of whom seek ways to connect with the local business community, join forces to sponsor and host a series of monthly presentations connecting local business leaders to authors and experts on topics of interest.

In each case, professionals  who share a common goal — to build new connections in a similar market — leverage relationships in a way that facilitates access, lends credibility and creates an organic lead generation and referral mechanism.

And in both cases, the professionals know precisely where they will invest their time, what marketing opportunities make sense, who their messaging must connect with and what communication channels will reach the audience. 

This intentional development of allied relationships transforms business development and sales activities from a search for prospects to pitch into a stream of opportunities to demonstrate the value of your service.

In the process, it will remove the fog that surrounds business development, provide a framework for strategic marketing efforts and deliver measurable return on your investments in organic growth. 

For a long time I bought the idea that some individuals simply don’t have what it takes to become business developers, much less have the DNA of a rainmaker.

I’m not sure why I held this notion other than I had heard it voiced by others and it was easy to buy — certain personality-types and skill-sets certainly seemed at odds with the stereotypical business developer. 

But I was wrong. 

Anyone can be an effective business developer…without sacrificing personal authenticity or becoming someone or something different. 

I have worked with thousands of professionals. Some had natural “gifts” that seemed to suggest developing new work was easy for them. (In honest moments most would admit that they worked very hard at making it look easy.) Some were extraordinary when it came to building productive relationships.

Others possesed almost none of those things we tend to think of as the traits of a rainmaker. But the absence of such was not an accurate predictor of the success many of them enjoyed.

I began to realize this when I was working with a lawyer who was the textbook introvert. Noticeably uncomfortable in anything that resembled a social or networking setting, she  had become convinced that this reality foreshadowed a career of depending on others to do most of the BizDev work.

But she was willing to work at it. Over time (about three years in this case), she went from $100,000 in business she had originated in a mid-sized market, to $1.1 million. Today she does twice that in annual originations.

In fact, this quiet introvert possessed the three things required of anyone who seeks to develop a solid professional service practice…and even rain business down for an entire team.

The Givens

It should go without saying, but we will say it for the record: the work product must stand the test of the marketplace. In addition, the DNA of any engagement must reside in what is in the client’s best interest. Settling for anything short of the highest bar in either of these areas comes at a high price. 

A Willingness To Pay The Price

We can sugar coat it. Or try to finesse the language; but the plain truth is that, assuming the givens noted above, the single greatest indicator of whether an individual (or a firm) will succeed in developing business is the degree to which intentional business development is a priority.

If claiming agency over one’s practice is a major and operative driver, a strategic plan of action can be created that aligns with individual personality, affinity and skill-set, and results in organic growth.

Period. No caveats.

Well…okay…there is one equivocation.

Realistic Expectations 

Solid business development — the kind that is foundational to building a career — doesn’t happen over night. Or even in a season of intense focus.

In the case of the lawyer mentioned above, it took eighteen months to realize a measurable increase. Eighteen months of carving out the time to focus on the BizDev work that had to be done.

Anyone  in search of a quick fix or a way to make up for work not done should move on. I don’t know of one that works.

This is not to suggest that business development should occupy the same priority for every lawyer or service provider in every firm. Specific responsibility and accountability should be matters of strategic management in a team setting. 

But without respect to the size of your team, as you plan for a new year if you don’t have a good idea where revenue in 2022 will come from…it is time to ask relevant questions. 

Accepting the idea that some are born for this part of the work and some are not, or subscribing to any other explanation for anemic BizDev efforts is simply to avoid discussing the real question. 

Is business development a priority?

If the answer is “Yes” the good news is that a plan for success can be built.

Anyone ready to make it a priority can become a business developer. Maybe even a rainmaker. 

Strategic planning involves identifying specific goals and defining the action steps necessary to realize those goals. The squishier the goals (a lofty business term, I know) the more difficult it is to map goal-oriented actions. This approach to planning a critical initiative had better come with a hefty dose of luck.

Continue Reading A Better Roadmap for Strategic Lateral Pursuits

Anyone building a professional service practice appreciates the value of relationships. A portfolio of dynamic connections is what fills a pipeline with new leads, referral sources and recurring engagements.

But staying in touch — creating and maintaining the kind of visibility that places you in the right place at the right time — can be a challenge.

Continue Reading 7 Tips For Professionals On Maintaining Visibility And Nurturing Relationships With Prospects

Leaders face a tall task in planning for 2021. With hopeful light at what appears to be  the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, it’s going to be tempting to try to make up for traction lost in 2020 in an effort to get back to “normal.”

This temptation is likely to result in multiple “strategic” projects and extra-long to-do-lists.

Continue Reading The Trick To Strategic Planning For 2021

PLEASE NOTE — Fair warning — this is an opinion post. The intent, as always, is to offer fodder for productive conversation; it is, however, less about business development, marketing and communication, and much more about what we value. As always, I am indebted to you for your time and interest. — EF

It is one thing to subscribe to a position because of a belief in alignment with deeply held values. Or to adopt a platform based on affinity for a cause. Or even to advocate based on an assumption that historical roots run deeper than individual predilections.

Continue Reading What Do We Value Most?

In a noisy, competitive and topsy-turvy marketplace, what is the key to capturing the imagination of your most coveted prospects?

We know it isn’t the case, but particularly in professional services, it is easy to market as though we believe it is our credentials…Or brand…Or budget…Or eloquence that will differentiate us from every other advisor hoping to land the gig.

Meanwhile, the market repeatedly suggests that we get over ourselves, revealing what drives the decision to engage one professional over another. Follow the advice in this video short from the BizDev Notebook, and grab the attention of the market you pursue.

(And if you’re searching for a way to gain traction in a market none of us saw coming, request info on the all new BizDev Notebook — eric@ericfletcherconsulting.com.)

In the summer of 1969, with less technology than what exists in the device you’ll use to share today’s social media tidbits, human beings flew to the moon.

We’re so desensitized to the fact of the matter, that the impossibility of the idea in the 1960’s, not to mention the price that would be paid, is lost on us.

This post is about today — not history — but imagine it for a minute.  They flew to the moon!

Continue Reading We Can Do Impossible Things

The life expectancy of “no-one-saw-this-coming” as an explanation for stalled business development is going to run out soon. Or at least, wear thin.

So for everyone who still has a practice to grow, here is a 4-step plan for the last 4 months of a year none of us saw coming. Buckle up…we’ll make it a speed round (because time is wasting).

Continue Reading A 4-Step BizDev Plan For The Last 4 Months of This Year

This post was originally published by CMO-Whisperer.com.

I admit it — I’m teetering on the edge of stir crazy. Some days it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. But— and I’m about to insult some very good seventh grade writers — an avalanche of middle-school-level headlines attempting to capture my attention have set me on edge.

Continue Reading Glazed Over Eyes Don’t Count As Impressions