If It Isn’t A Top Priority, Don’t Lose Much Sleep Over Business Development

How important is business development to you?

Years ago I was being interviewed for the senior business development and marketing position in a law firm, and was on a video conference with a handful of firm leaders. Two things about the experience impressed me…and I don’t mean in a good way.

  • At various times during the (exhaustive) 30-minute conversation every one of the interviewers had to divert attention in order to deal with a presumably time sensitive issue on their smartphone; and,
  • At one point I realized the managing partner (who was in a location by himself) was snoring. No kidding. Sawing logs.

I left the video conference in awe over how compelling I must have been.

There could have been any number of good reasons for the divided attention and general lack of interest. To be fair, I simply may have failed to earn their attention. Or, perhaps there were urgent emails from clients, a family emergency. An all-nighter prepping for a trial.

In any case the experience suggested that the ideas and issues related to the firm’s business development and marketing direction were not a priority for those five leaders…even for that 30-minute time frame.

As many shake off the effects of diving head-first into a new year, it seems appropriate to break from our series of posts on building an effective plan in order to discuss the one thing that will have more to do with business development success or failure than all the planning advice of every consultant on the planet.

(Side bar: the fact that I went back-and-forth on the use of the word “failure” in the above paragraph is indicative of the problematic way many professional firms tend to address business development and sales; but that is fodder for another conversation.)

The critical success factor? The degree to which business development is a top priority.

Not one more item on a “to-do” list. Not something you do when you can find the time or get around to it. Not that thing you turn to in desperation when the absence of work forces it.

Not your only priority, certainly. But a discipline and focus that warrants and receives your highest level of attention.

Site all the obstacles if you must. Not enough hours in a day…the hours are non-billable…it’s not in your personality…selling is distasteful or unprofessional…and so on.

Those who ultimately win more pitches, close more deals than the competition, develop broader and deeper working relationships with the clients we all covet, and yes, those who make it rain when others fear drought, do so because they prioritize business development.

(Another side bar: the line of thinking that equates “non-billable” with “non-productive” is twisted and destructive, and one of the reasons the rank-and-file in many firms find it difficult to prioritize business development activities.) 

Is business development in a professional service firm without challenges? Certainly not. Is prioritizing biz dev and sales easy? Often far from it. But the individuals and firms who repeatedly find themselves without a clue as to where the next client will come from, or searching for what can be cut in order to reach budget likely have one thing in common: business development does not occupy priority status.

Forget for a moment that we’re talking about the pursuit of new business. What does a top priority look like?

  • It bares the unmistakable imprint of our most valued investments. Though this certainly implies the allocation of adequate budget, it is far more than simply throwing money at something. A priority is known by the degree to which it receives the time and attention of leadership.
  • It captures the imagination. A top priority defies relegation to afterthought. Rather, it is the target of relentless pursuit, undivided attention, and creative innovation.
  • It factors into the framework of foundational moments. When, where and how to go-to-market…expansion…contraction…innovation…succession — our top priorities are part-and-parcel to consequential conversations.

By the same token, the things about which we care the least are easy to spot.

  • Low priorities might occupy a spot on the agenda; but we give them serious time and consideration only when external circumstances force the issue.
  • Lower priorities rarely factor into strategic considerations. They are fungible.

Where Does Business Development Rank For You?

Back to where this conversation began. I have both benefited from and seen coaching change the game for professionals seeking to improve business development and sales skills.

I’ve seen immeasurable value derived from a team of marketing and business development professionals. Given appropriate support, tools and resources such a team can facilitate and lead initiatives that consistently deliver double-digit revenue growth.

But with one or two exceptions where simply being in the right place at the right time masks a multitude of deficiencies, I have not seen an individual or a firm achieve consistent measurable business development success — never mind really making it rain — apart from raising business development and sales to levels of the highest priority

Our series on Building a Business Development Plan grows out of decades of experience, and is offered because we’ve seen the strategy work. (We’ll pick up where we left off with our next post.) But anyone who grudgingly turns to business development once a month in hopes of filling a pipeline, is going to be sorely disappointed, no matter how seasoned advice.

Anyone still looking for the silver bullet that minimizes the need for your time, attention, and energy while delivering  revenue growth is engaged in a quest without end.

But for a few, the tools, tactical direction and creative energy brought to the challenge by experienced marketing, business development and sales professionals provides unique leverage — delivering the kind of return only realized when priorities and investments are intentionally aligned.

How Long Does It Take To Develop Trust? | Building A Business Development Plan, Part 6

You’ve probably heard some variation of the joke where a significant other, weary of repeatedly being asked to profess love, announces “I’ve told you that I love you. I’ll let you know when and if that changes.”

Humorous to some…maybe. But I doubt this is an effective relationship strategy.

Yet, in many ways this captures the way we approach the relationships we seek to cultivate through our business development efforts — announce bona fides, make our pitch (sort of)…and then wait for the phone to ring.

It is conceivable that in a market long gone, this approach might have worked . Maybe. When things were less crowded and less competitive…when a business could be built on a handshake. Maybe.

Today anyone hoping to win the trust of a potential client with a couple of emails, a pitch that is little more than the “we-hire-the-best-people-and-do-the-best work” presentation being made by everybody else, is likely to struggle mightily for any market share.

For the professional service provider seeking trusted advisor status, rewarding business development seeks to create a working relationship with a prospect.

Joking aside, in any other context we understand that productive relationships are not built overnight. They require focus and attention. Yet, we continue to see professional service providers go to the marketplace announcing a case for a working relationship…and then walk away believing their business development work is done.

This disconnect brings us to the sixth in our series on Building A Business Development Plan — a component that most planning efforts simply overlook — sustaining the pursuit.

You may excel at everything we’ve discussed up to this point — you have a solid strategic foundation, have identified specific targets, tended to the health of your professional network, created visibility and delivered value via your initial marketing and BD. But unless you sustain the value of these efforts over time, your biz dev initiative is likely to come up short. It certainly isn’t going to provide maximum return on your investment.

The Sustain Principle

This phase of the planning process addresses the value to be derived by leveraging the time and energy invested thus far. Put another way, this is about focusing on ways in which you can build on your initial efforts. Specifically, this portion of your planning should focus on activities that:

  • Sustain and enhance your detecting efforts;
  • Increase your target’s awareness of your relevance in the marketplace; and,
  • Continue to make valuable contributions to your target.

The difference between rainmakers and those who continually find themselves as the runner-up, is often the difference between a series of one-off so-called campaigns, compared to the focus necessary to sustain strategic efforts in these three areas. So here’s a quick look at each.

Detecting (After The Thrill Is Gone)

The fact is that if you don’t love business development, maintaining focus on a single target for an extended period of time does not come easy. It is tempting to spot an area of potential need, and rush in with a pitch. It’s one thing if the need relates to a burning platform of some type; but trusted advisor status is most often earned in the context of building and maintaining a working relationship.

And a working relationship takes time to develop.

Practically speaking, this means your business development plan must include a sustained focus on your role as a detector (as discussed in Part 5) — of influential relationships, consequential market or organizational movements, and ways in which the experience you, your firm and/or your connections possess might prove relevant to a working relationship with your target.

Ideally, thanks to the work you began earlier in your pursuit, you’ll have a methodology and even an infrastructure in place for this detecting effort. It will build around industry, market, company and executive research.

To leverage your time, find regular ways to tap the information and skillsets of your business development and research team as well as your coaching network.

Staying plugged into this detecting role is critical to sustaining meaningful visibility and building a solution that is relevant and resonates with your target. It is, as much as anything else, a mindset — a determination to listen, learn and digest everything you can find about your target. This is the lifeblood of a successful pursuit.

Creating Increased Awareness

A frequent question from professional service providers goes like this: “How often should I reach out to a target? When does it begin to feel like stalking, or get creepy?”

A bit more conversation often reveals that this line of questioning is closely associated with the “I sent them an email with links to our website, and I’ve been watching (fill-in-the-industry-monitoring-service)” approach to client development.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of those once-a-week (or worse) telemarketer calls. And daily marketing emails are not typically the path to a productive professional service engagement.

But neither does meeting at a conference, sending a generic email and (sort of) maintaining a website bio usually lay the foundation for a strong relationship. It is certainly not the recipe for making it rain.

So how does one maintain visibility without stalking? First, let’s stipulate that writing those big sponsorship checks might work. Might. The more every competitor in the market is writing the same check, the less likely it is anyone but the one writing the largest check will create any meaningful awareness.

A more strategic approach begins with the step noted above — doing the work related to detecting. The more you know and understand here, the easier it should be to decide when and where to plug in. Unless your budget is not a concern, you’re gong to want to find a strategic way to respond to these “opportunities.”

Without respect to the check you might write, personal involvement speaks volumes. A good coaching network can be the key to identifying the organization(s) in which you should become involved — professional, charitable, and even at the personal level. Identify a shared interest and not only will it will be much easier to maintain visibility, you’ll have an opportunity to collaborate in pursuit of a common goal…giving your target a taste of what it is like to work with you.

A visibility calendar can include a wide-ranging menu of items from which to choose — from holiday greetings and firm “alerts” to personal good wishes or congratulatory notes; from unique “VIP” events to an invitation to speak to your firm’s relevant industry group; from distribution of your thought leadership to strategic requests for the thought leadership of your target. The list is limited only by the creativity you and your marketing/business development team bring to the task.

And yes, it is conceivable that an ad or sponsorship might have a place here. But unless you’re prepared to spend at least 5-figures, don’t count on moving the visibility needle with these conventional tools. 

Deliver Value (yes, more)

In Part 5 we explore ways in which a business development pursuit should actually deliver value. And, at the risk of being that preverbal broken record, your work as a detector should informing not only your early pursuit efforts, but ways in which to keep the value coming. (If it is not, consider two possibilities: one, your detecting focus needs some work; and/or two, this may not be a good primary target.)

The more mature your pursuit, the more likely the awareness and visibility efforts discussed above will present opportunities to deliver measurable value.

At the same time, high level strategic targets warrant a specific focus on unique issues. Whether industry, market or company specific, the degree to which you are aware of and able to address consequential movement is the degree to which you will begin to differentiate yourself from the competition.

It is not unusual for professionals to fear that a) they might be giving too much away (or even revealing proprietary secrets); or b) the value offered may create professional liability. These are clearly concerns that must be addressed; however, where issues of liability can be managed, activities that provide real value almost always serve to change the business development conversation.

Somewhat predictable value offerings include continuing professional education curricula, white papers, and even research projects. One accounting firm we’ve worked with focuses on “whiteboard collaboration sessions” in which service provider and target jointly explore the creation of a solution to a pressing issue.

Once again, the more mature a pursuit, the more likely you will find ways to collaborate with your target…providing a glimpse of what a working relationship with you/your firm actually consists of. In a highly competitive marketplace, the return on an investment in this “give-a-glimpse” strategy can dwarf the return on every other marketing or business development tactic.

How Long Do You Keep This Up?

Some professional service organizations have been tracking strategic business development efforts for long enough to be able to project the duration — from target identification to winning or losing — of a pursuit. This experience helps with budget forecasts, and provides a basis for the realistic evaluation of ROI. 

For those just beginning to explore the science, the pursuit of a wholly new working relationship will require a significant amount of time. We suggest planning for eighteen to thirty-six months. In fortunate situations where a relationship predates a pursuit, the sales cycle can be considerably shorter. in any case, building and strengthening a working relationship requires much more than identifying a prospect and making a pitch.

Rainmakers build working relationships by sustaining the activities that create visibility and deliver value to highly valued targets.

Does Your Pursuit Say “Working With Me Will Be Different”? | Business Development Planning – Part 5

Part 5 in our series on Building a Strategic Business Development Plan focuses on Delivering Value — the first step in establishing a working relationship. We’ve discussed strategy, target identification, building a strategic network, and most recently, becoming relevant (creating visibility) with the targets you’ve identified.

But actually securing that coveted engagement, never mind earning trusted advisor status, typically requires more than a finessed list of credentials and a brand. The “trust” part of that status is the byproduct of a working relationship. If you’re marketing something more than a commodity, you’re going to have to get personally involved in order to realize this.

Delivering Value demonstrates that a working relationship with you will result in a net gain for your target — an improvement on the status quo, and preferable to choosing your competitor (or doing nothing).

Let’s begin with this baseline equation: the easier it is for you to give something away, the less likely the target of your pursuit is going to view it as valuable.

Consider your market. The wining and dining, the sponsorships and events, even the continuing professional education sessions you produce or underwrite — do any of these make the case that a working relationship with you rises above the norm?

This does not mean that the things noted above have no value. It means that your target is not likely to view the offering as something that differentiates you from your competitor. And while a robust business development plan will almost certainly include table-stakes like the offerings noted, if your efforts to grow business revive around these alone, you’re very likely wasting time and resources.

When we discuss delivering value as a strategic way to build relationships and develop new clients, it doesn’t tip the value-scale unless the target/prospect defines it as valuable.

If you’re working on your plan, this leads to the question — how do we learn what our target will define as valuable?Here is fodder for that conversation.

Become A Detector

Plenty has been written that extols the value and virtue of listening. We’ve done our share of contributing to all the talk (ironically) on the topic. But talk aside, the thing about taking the time and developing the skills related to intentional listening is that it turns one into a detector — of pitfalls and problem areas. Of motion and potential movement in the marketplace. And of opportunities.

Those rainmakers who always seem to be in the right place at the right time are there because they detected something early in the game — movement, change, risks, and potential solutions.

For the best business developers, detecting isn’t a tactic to be turned on and off. Even when major change like a merger or acquisition consumes attention and results in a significant piece of work, the practice of detecting continues.

A trusted advisor earns the position in part by detecting issues early. To this end, here are four ideas on where a plan might consider investing in the work necessary to detect consequential issues, influencers and motion within the world of your target. (This is not intended to represent a comprehensive list, but an idea starter. See how many ways to detect motion you can add to this list.)

Research of Individual Targets. Platforms like LinkedIn offer helpful insight into the background and areas of interest of hundreds of thousands of professionals. Go beneath the service to explore individual posts and LinkedIn group participation and you’ll learn more. There are other platforms that provide varying degrees of information. Check with your firm’s library, research department and business development professionals.

Market Research & Analysis. Rumors of a competitor moving into your target’s market, leadership comings-and-goings, and economic trends are indicators of an opportunity. This is another area where your business development team or the right external resource can provide assistance.

Organizational Shifts. A push for new talent or a coming reduction in force are clear indicators of strategic moves inside an organization. Rumored (or if you’re running late, announced) capital improvement, an open search for a “deal” partner, and a wholly new go-to-market effort with a new product or service are signs of movement. Do the work necessary to detect this early, and it is a clear indication that you bring something extra to the table.

Regulatory Change. Any shift in issues related to compliance signals motion that may well be painful for any target dealing with either industry or governmental oversight. If your target is engaged in international dealings, there is likely to be constant motion in this area.

It Takes A Team

When we suggest that detecting is a key success factor for business developers, it may seem more like the job description of an investigative reporter. And whether you are a full-time business developer or you have a professional services practice to run, having sources strategically positioned to collect and provide critical intelligence early is a definite asset.

But this is not the world most of us live and work in.

Or is it?

In fact, even if you are a one-person-show, the work we outlined in Part 3 on the make-up of a healthy professional network is designed to connect you to critical members of a business development team. Here are three suggestions to consider as you draft your plan for the coming months.

Tap Into Your Coaching Network. As we’ve noted previously, your professional network should include what we refer to as Coaches. These individuals (or in rare cases, groups) will connect you to valuable insight and information related to consequential movement in the marketplace at large, as well as with specific targets. A robust biz dev plan will actually target relationship development with key coaches. 

Business Development Professionals. If you are part of a firm, you may be fortunate enough to be connected to business development and sales professionals. These folks live for this stuff, so collaborate with them to help with at least two critical pieces of the puzzle:

— identification (given the targets you’ve selected) of areas where timely detection of consequential motion provides an advantage;

— ideas on how to create visibility and connect with potential coaches (and other important influencers) in these areas.

External Tools and Resources. Above we mentioned LinkedIn and other profile/directory platforms as tools to gain insight into individual targets. In addition, social media can be an extremely productive listening tool when it comes to industries, market segments and individual companies. At the risk of too much repetition, your marketing and business development team should be able to assist here.

If you don’t have access to firm resources, an outside business development consultant can provide guidance and counsel at an appropriate level — from the development of a plan, to the science of detecting, to how to actually deliver value at any stage of a pursuit.

On Delivering Value

Once you’ve detected where you intend to deliver value, how do you actually pull it off? Here are three general ideas and a couple of real-life examples.

First, begin your planning with a whiteboard mentality. Leveraging past successes is important; but just because it worked once doesn’t mean it will work again. (There was a day when the thought of offering continuing education to a target market was a unique idea.) 

Be creative, and apply the testwill the target view this as valuable? This test may end up pushing you toward a much more bespoke approach.

Take it personally. Every true rainmaker I know takes business development personally. This isn’t something one accomplishes at arm’s length, relying on marketing execution to deliver leads ready to entrust you with critical business decisions.

A law firm partner I know spent weekends personally scouting for a suitable housing arrangement for the college-bound daughter of a target. He could have easily connected his target with a reputable realtor; but having sent his own daughter off to school with concerns over proper housing, this rainmaker understood the value to be derived from a personal touch.

The need wasn’t legal; and the value delivered had nothing to do with the particular work the lawyer was pursuing. But it will be a long time before that business owner ever calls another attorney.

Another firm we worked with secured rights to screen a highly anticipated first-run motion picture aimed at the youth market, bought out a local theater, and invited targets to bring children and grandchildren, skip the line, and be the first to view the movie. Illusive targets jumped at the chance to take the grandkids to an exclusive early showing.

In a given moment your target’s view of value may have little to do with the professional service you seek to provide. It might be easing anxieties over a child’s move; or making it possible for a grandparent to deliver a unique experience to the grandkids. In both of these examples what was delivered provided a compelling glimpse of what the proposed working relationship would be like — far above the norm.

Be discerning, prepared to offer up something your target sees as valuable. Then be creative.

When the value you plan to deliver will differentiate you from the pack, you have the makings of a productive plan of action.

A Contagious Perspective

Thankfulness is a decision. Like many decisions we make, it has a ripple effect.

It is borne of a perspective that transcends experience, and resists seeing life through any single lens.

Thankfulness has no agenda. It is comfortable in any room…at ease in any position or station…predisposed to give, with no expectation.

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

It is a gift. And to give thanks is a choice.

A thankful perspective is inclined to reject views rooted in fear.

Thankfulness makes our hearts bigger. It opens our eyes wider and fine-tunes the way everything is seen.

It inspires the highest order of creativity and innovation.

People driven by a thankful spirit are inconspicuous. They speak softly; yet, what they say resonates. They change every room they enter.

We are all a little better when we are consciously thankful. This is why our world is a happier place when we pause for a season of thanksgiving.

 

You’re Not Selling Phones! Business Development Planning – Part 4 | Creating Visibility

It creeps into consciousness sometime in mid-to-late September. By mid-November, partners in firms everywhere are feeling either personal or institutional pressure (or both) to come up with a business development plan for the coming year.

If you’re in the midst of this planning, you’ve happened onto the fourth installment in a series on building a business development plan. The objective is to provide a real-world framework for planning that does more than go through motions that result in a document that is largely irrelevant, having no impact on either business development or the bottomline.

We’re outlining a proactive approach that leverages the resources you have — however robust or constrained — and provides a roadmap for effective and efficient efforts.

That’s an easy line to type. But this is not a suggestion that creating a plan that works is easy. It isn’t. Not because it is rocket science; but because it requires regular attention to a thought process and action items that are typically nowhere close to what most professional service provides would otherwise choose to be working on.

But with that disclaimer, it is emphatically doable. If you missed the early installments, here is where you’ll find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Today’s installment — Part 4 — is about creating visibility.

This may feel like more comfortable ground. It is, after all, (unfortunately) where many marketing, business development and sales efforts tend to focus first — and where conversations tend to linger…in search of a silver bullet. It often begins with something like “we just need to get our name out there…”

The unspoken implication is that brand visibility would make the development of new business a breeze. Or at least easier.

As ineffective as it is, the conversation is irresistible. We have scores of tools at our fingertips. Place the right ads, sponsor all the big events, have the best tag line, and then…when the market needs what we offer…we’ll be the logical choice.

But We’re Not Apple. And We’re Not Selling Phones

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to creating awareness, there is little doubt about the effectiveness of broad-casting — spreading the word far and wide, via any means available. The only trick is that in order to be effective this plan requires time (for repeated messaging) and the budget necessary to carve out shelf space in the consciousness of potential clients — enough space to be top-of-mind when a potential client needs the service you provide.

For firms located in a mid-sized market, the budget for this kind of visibility will run well into seven figures annually; and one year won’t create the ever-present-awareness necessary, so be prepared to make this investment year after year. Firms competing in a major market (or multiple markets) should be thinking in terms of multiples of that seven figure budget..

No problem if you’re 1) working with an Apple-like budget; 2) already enjoy measurable brand recognition; and 3) are selling a commodity.

Most professional service firms — probably including yours — are not willing or are not in a position to make the kind of budget commitment necessary to create a dent in the visibility universe.

So if shouting from the rooftops isn’t the answer, how do we address the need for visibility when it comes to the marketing and business development challenge in a highly competitive marketplace?

Cue The Broken Record

The good news is that we’ve already covered the basic building block when it comes to addressing the challenge of visibility. In Part 2 of this series we dealt with what lies at the heart of an effective approach — the strategic selection of specific targets. This can prove to be a problem for a number of reasons. For starters, it is in stark contrast to the approach that says “my-ideal-client-is-anyone-who-needs-the-service-I-provide — so let’s just get the word out.”

Anyone still clinging to this as a viable go-to-market methodology will continue to be frustrated by (or scoff at) strategic business development planning conversations. If you are unable to name specific targets, you are operating in a reactive arena…hoping the market brings you an opportunity.

On the other hand, it is completely possible to create awareness and visibility among the targets you’ve identified.

  • Wondering what organizations to join and what meetings to attend? Find out where the targets you’ve named hang out. (And while we’re on the subject of attending meetings, conferences, and the like, differentiating yourself from every other professional trying to create visibility requires more than just showing up. Do the advance work necessary to reach out to targets you know or suspect might be in attendance. Schedule coffee, lunch or just a quick base-touch. And then keep the conversation going with appropriate follow up.) Focus on targeted visibility.
  • What about content marketing — is writing a waste of time, or is another article worth the investment? Should you author a blog? Do a podcast? Host or sponsor a Continuing Education / Professional Development event? Begin by considering two questions. 1) does it give me a way to directly connect to one of my targets? 2) If not, is it connected to something one of my targets cares about? If the answer to either of these is ‘yes,’ ask one additional question before you dive in — is this something every other service provider in the market is focusing on? If ‘yes’, look for another way create visibility. (A strategic plan helps you know when to say ‘no.’)
  • When it comes time to weigh requests for support, we recognize that business development is not the only factor here; but to the degree that it is a consideration, create visibility by supporting and getting involved in organizations and causes that are important to your target. (And be certain they are aware of your involvement.)
  • And what about social media? Do Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest play a role when it comes to creating visibility? The test is the same — can the tool be used to establish visibility that accrues to your benefit? Wherever the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ the use of social media should be explored. But note that social media is most effective when used as an engagement tool. Simply building a firm page on Linked In hardly qualifies as engaging or strategic visibility. Social media is a venue for conversations.

A quick sidebar. Do you have access to a team of BD or administrative professionals? They are looking for ways to assist. Engage them in this planning process — they live for this stuff, and will help you leverage your resources.

The list of ways in which you can begin to create meaningful visibility is only limited by the degree to which you’re willing to creatively pursue opportunities to connect with targets.

Where To From Here?

The next step is to go back to your list of strategic targets, and begin creating a visibility strategy for each one. (If your target list is large, cherry-pick the top six to nine for starters.)

As you focus on each target you’ll begin to develop a menu of visibility action items. Be alert to ways to generate leverage across multiple targets on your list, as well as with targets of your practice/industry group, office and across your entire firm.

The makeup of the visibility portion of your overall plan will depend on a number of factors, including the maturity of your professional network, the nature of your practice, and the degree to which you are able to tap into a group/team approach. That said, an effective effort to create visibility and awareness will typically include a focus on content marketing (articles, blogs, speeches, CLE, website features, etc.), personal appearances (attending conferences and network events), and firm-or-practice-wide targeted events.

When it comes to getting your name out there, the fact of today’s market is that it is highly unlikely you can become known by and relevant to everyone. However, for everyone able to identify sweet-spot targets — the select few whose service needs will change the shape of your practice overnight — it is completely possible to create a business development plan for the new year that creates visibility, awareness, and connects with decision makers.

Building A Business Development Plan: Part 3 — If You Can’t Name Targets, Focus On A Network Tune-Up

Professional service providers who have difficulty identifying specific targets (as discussed in Part 2 of our series on Building A Business Development Plan) typically have one thing in common: an anemic or non-existent professional network. If this sounds familiar, Part 3 In our series on creating your business development plan is for you. 

A healthy network is central to the development of new business for three reasons:

    • It informs you with respect to new opportunities;
    • It constantly connects you to targets; and,
    • It provides insight, information and resources that will help you move opportunities into and through your pipeline.

Monitoring the general health of your network will help insure that it is working for you — even when you are otherwise busy. So here are the basics of a quick 5-point check-up.

1. Check Your Network Make-up

At a minimum, a healthy network is made up of four types of connections:

  1. Individuals with the authority to make a hiring decision;
  2. Individuals and companies who, based on an awareness of you and your practice, are in a position to be a valuable referral source;
  3. Individuals who, based on first hand experience will eagerly recommend you; and,
  4. Individuals who are in a position to serve as a coach, providing intel and insight that will help you move the ball with someone empowered with hiring authority.

A robust network is chocked full of types 2, 3 and 4. Think of these as your growth agents — connections able to provide market intelligence, open doors, lend credibility, and offer tactical direction.

2. Insure That You Are Positioned to Grow

How big should your network be? This may well be one of those “if you have to ask, it isn’t big enough yet” questions.

The real answer is that your network should be big enough to consistently connect you to all the work you can find a way to manage. Until then, it will pay you to invest in network growth.

Rainmakers never stop focusing on the health of their network.

If you’re in the early stages of building, here are suggested areas where focus can produce quality network growth (focus on at least one of these sources each quarter as you construct your business development plan):

  • alumni groups — schools, former employers, associations and organizations you’ve been part of;
  • social, civic and charitable memberships and interests;
  • aligned or allied professional groups;
  • global professional and social networks such as Linked In or other professional directories.

3. Check Your Visibility

A thorough business development plan of action includes marketing tactics that create and maintain visibility with your targets as well as your professional network. Specifics will vary; but a healthy plan should connect you with every facet of your network a minimum of once-a-quarter. Minimum. Six to nine times a year will produce a better return on the time you’re investing.

Here are avenues that will help you accomplish this (select a couple a month to focus on in a strategic way):

  • a personalized communication calendar (birthday wishes/family events, industry trends, business intel) — and don’t underestimate the value of a handwritten note on those personal occasions;
  • volunteer for leadership roles, where appropriate — leadership positions grow your network exponentially, and often put you closer to targets who possess hiring authority;
  • offer value (speaking, presentations, other resources) for organizational/association meetings — you know this, of course…but remember that “value” here is defined by the individual or organization you’re focused on;
  • be a Connector — provide valued introductions, referrals and recommendations whenever you have the opportunity.

4. Take Stock of Your Equity

This is where the rubber of everything you categorize as networking meets the road that leads to the development of new business. A quick test is the degree to which your network is converting connections into business development assets.

If you’re not plugged into a network made up of relationships that connect you to opportunities and targets, your business development efforts are going to be frustrating and challenging. And the chances are good that you are simply wasting time and resources.

In practical terms, if frequent speaking gigs aren’t delivering network assets, rethink where you’re speaking. Note that we didn’t say stop speaking. This may be a valuable tool; you may simply be speaking to the wrong crowd.

Which leads us to one final thought on the subject of a professional network.

Quality Networking Is Intentional

We ought to come up with a new term. “Network” comes with a ton of baggage. It’s about happy hours with mediocre hors d’oeuvres. It’s about name tags and small-talk to fill awkward silence. And then its about trying to know when and how to talk about your practice.

Building (or tuning up) your professional network should be much more strategic than the way in which we often approach those networking events. Productive work begins with a plan — a simple one that might look like this:

  • Why does it make sense to engage in this activity?
  • What will make participating in this event/activity/exercise a success as it relates to my professional network?
  • Are there individuals (or groups) with whom connection provides unquestioned value?
  • What might be done to prearrange or orchestrate the meetings/activities noted in the two previous bullets?
  • What might be done to build a bridge to a natural follow up conversation or meeting?

When it comes to the development of new business, your professional network is the single most valuable asset you can possess. It alerts you to important movements and consequential change in the marketplace, and connects you to the right individuals and organizations.

And it is invaluable when it comes to naming strategic targets for your business development efforts.

When approached intentionally — who should you connect with, and why (that is, where does an individual or group fit in your overall business development strategy?) — the time and resources devoted to network development will begin to connect you to the targets and opportunities that will grow your practice.

The Either / Or of a Personal Value Proposition

Whether we talk about it or not, each of us has a value proposition. It frames days, shapes attitudes and is the fabric of the moments that define us.

Either intellectual honesty and emotional integrity are guideposts to which we aspire, or we find it convenient to rely on shades of gray and situational ethics for cover.

Either we believe word is equivalent to bond, or we live and work in a world without trust.

Either we are driven by rewards and acclaim, or we come to every endeavor with the best we have to offer because this is a reflection of who we are.

Either we believe relationship is the only thing that endures — so this is where we put our creative energy, or we believe an agenda is noble enough to warrant allegiance — even at the expense of relationship — past, present and future.

Either we forgive, or we likely never experience the exhilarating renewal that comes with having been forgiven.

Based on our values, today will either be one more episode of juggling and balancing, or it represents the chance to frame challenges and opportunities in a context that transcends one day.

Building A Business Development Plan for 2019 — Part 2: With Whom Should You Connect

This is the second installment in a 14-part series dedicated to everyone working on a business development plan for 2019. Part 1 outlined the necessity of a strategic foundation, and suggested a framework that will help in identifying and articulating the strategy.

If you haven’t come to terms with this first step, resist the temptation to press ahead. While it can be challenging and messy, time invested here makes each successive step infinitely more easy. Without this foundation, anything can masquerade as an opportunity, and the result is another year spent reacting…chasing…and facing anemic ROI.

Defining Who

Once a strategic foundation is in place, the second part of the planning process focuses on Who. Specifically, with whom must you connect in order to realize your development goals and objectives? To say this can be a stumbling block is to significantly understate the challenge.

There are a number of reasons this step is skipped over by many planning processes. For decades many professional service providers go to market with what amounts to a plan to react as opportunities are presented. Come to the game with the right pedigree, reach designated benchmarks, do great work, nurture a reputation and let word-of-mouth grow a practice.

This is a workable plan where the ratio of service providers-to-opportunities works in your favor.

But things change when there seems to be a service provider on every corner (or a half-dozen firms in the same downtown high rise). A competitive marketplace precipitates a proactivity among those who are paying attention. And the cornerstone of a productive proactive go-to-market strategy is the identification of the right targets.

The Keys To Smart Targeting

Years ago a corporate lawyer let me know that he considered the idea of target identification to be little more than marketing mambo-jumbo. “My target is anyone who needs a great corporate lawyer,” was his proclamation. The target of his attention was the next person to stride into his office or reach out via a phone call.

At the risk of being redundant, if this is your business development strategy, you’re doing nothing more than hoping the market finds and chooses you. It is a plan; but it is far from proactive or strategic. So how do you begin to build a list of targets?

Armed with the intelligence you gathered as you built your strategic foundation (see Part 1), here are at least four areas that, when thoroughly explored, should yield an initial list of those with whom you should proactively connect.

Target Source #1 — Your Existing Contacts

Given that the development of a professional service practice is most frequently the result of the trust born in personal relationships, an audit of personal connections is the place to start. Reference old data bases, directories and those business cards you’ve accumulated. Here are a few of the sources you might reference:

  • Former classmates and alumni association members
  • Personal service providers
  • Social and charitable organization rosters
  • Colleagues and business affiliations — especially those connected to a market you want to serve

Target Source #2 — Subject Matter Areas

This one may seem all-too evident; however it is surprising how often we fail to get beyond the surface. Use this list as an idea-starter and a reminder to include targets with:

  • An interest in the area in which you are a subject matter expert
  • Interests and needs in other areas served by your firm (you are the conduit to a solution they need)
  • Interests and needs addressed by someone in your broad network of professionals or service providers

It is a mistake to limit your target identification to those able to hire you in your area of expertise, or even the areas served by your organization/firm. Rainmakers connect needs to solutions, going wherever necessary to make this happen…thus developing relationships of trust.

Target Source # 3 — Affinity and Aspirations

Business development is easier when the effort stems from something about which you care deeply.

  • One professional I know is passionate about literacy programs, and she has married this with business development efforts by building professional networking activities around this passion.
  • A real estate lawyer who loves golf focuses much of her biz dev efforts on connecting with golf course developers.
  • An architect who loves the arts targets local business leaders with demonstrable interest in the theater and the museum district.

Make a portion of your time a mash-up of business development and activities associated with areas of personal affinity and your passion becomes a biz dev asset.

Target Source #4 — Areas of Consequential Change

The investment you made in identifying the strategic foundation for your growth should serve you well here. A market analysis and competitive intel should point you toward practices and/or service areas:

  • Trending up / down / indicating expansion or contraction
  • Where a service gap exists
  • Where pressing issues make the arithmetic particularly attractive to your practice / firm
  • Where succession, M&A, diversity, finance or other operational realities exist

Firms committed to the proactive identification of entities dealing with consequential change consistently find themselves in a position to seize significant opportunity earlier than the competition.

Targets Do More Than Hire You

Conversations about target identification — who we intend to connect with through our business development efforts — must be multi-dimensional. In simple terms, smart targets serve one or more of the following functions:

  • Hire you / your firm:
  • Refer you / your firm (this is often based on reputation)
  • Recommend you / your firm (often based on personal experience)
  • Coach you on what it will take to connect with one of the other types of targets (usually based on first hand business intelligence).

While building a master target list it is helpful to suspend disbelief. Don’t second guess — it tends to result in enumerating all the reasons someone doesn’t belong on your target list. But once a relevant universe has been defined, there are two additional significant steps to the process of smart targeting:

  • Run the administrative traps
  • Estimate your relationship equity

Depending on your firm’s size, infrastructure complexity, service areas and geographic breadth, administrative issues may vary. But before resources are devoted to the tactical pursuit of new business, you’ll want to do everything you can to insure a hiring target does not pose conflicts that cannot be resolved, is able to pay your rate, and can otherwise conform to client intake requirements.

Administrative issues rarely impact the pursuit of targets for referrals, recommendations and coaching; however prior to planning a pursuit it is wise to run these traps.

Defining your relationship equity will help you prioritize pursuits. Where all other factors are equal, stronger relationships mean that development efforts generally have a better success rate, and can often move more quickly. There are a number of methodologies designed to determine the depth of a relationship; all tend to rely on a measure of subjectivity.

In addition, the value in defining the quality of a relationship with a target — even if it is little more than a ranking of poor-to-average-to excellent — is that this process will help define the action items of your business development plan.

The reason target identification is important is that it provides rhyme and reason to the tactical aspects of your business development plan. Where should you be networking? What subjects should you consider writing about? What technology is critical to connecting with your target audience? Should you invest in that one-off “opportunity:? If you’ve named who you want to connect with, there is a framework for answering these questions.

If, on the other hand, you’re having difficulty naming targets, you’ll be wise to hit pause in your planning process. Examine your strategic foundation. Then audit your connections using the four areas noted above. It can feel tedious, and the temptation is to simply begin with the tactical aspects of an outreach — broadcasting the news of your offering to anyone that will listen.

But for those willing to fight through the process, smart targeting — naming precisely who it is you intend to connect with through 2019 business development efforts — will land you in a significantly different spot when you assess ROI a year from now.

For Everyone Beginning To Work On A Business Development Plan For 2019

Over the next two-and-a-half months or so you may be among the lawyers, accountants, consultants and other professional service providers taking a long hard look at your marketing, business development and sales initiatives. The dye for 2018 is pretty much cast. Time to focus on market movement, emerging trends, lessons learned, and begin the work that will chart a course for the coming year.

Whether your organization is breaking records this year, facing revenues in steep decline, or somewhere in between, you are likely about to spend a measurable amount of time in meetings focused on how to do more with less next year.

(The reason for the deja vu you’re experiencing is these meetings bear a striking resemblance to the ones you had last year. And the year before.)

Unless you are among a small handful of exceptions, you’re feeling pressure to increase marketing/business development/sales ROI. But identifying new targets is still a challenge. Generating leads is a mystery. Each year seems to bring new “best-ever-solutions.” And when it comes down to establishing priorities, choosing tools and allocating resources, you may trim a little here…add a little there…and end up with a slight variation on what you’ve always done — do your best to get your name out there, and hope the marketplace chooses you.

This Time, Build A Plan That Changes The Game

If you are working on a plan for 2019, without respect to where you are on the spectrum ranging from completely frustrated to enthusiastic, for the next 14 weeks this space is dedicated to you. Each week we’ll address a critical element in a process aimed at the creation of a plan that can put you in a different place when mid-September 2019 rolls around.

This week — Step 1: BOS — Build On Strategy

We know…strategy and strategic planning are overused, to understate. But trying to craft a marketing or business development plan apart from a strategic baseline is like attempting to build a house without a foundation — and to flounder, frustrate and fail.

Lest you drop out before we’ve really begun, creating a strategic approach for your efforts does not have to be a stumbling block. Executable plans are seldom the stuff of MBA projects. They do, however, require a sober approach to three critical elements:

    • A Market Awareness
    • A Self-Assessment
    • A Commitment to the Process

If you’re not up for dealing with these three things, now is the time to tune out. You’re doomed to continuing to depend on getting lucky, or repeating the most frustrating moments of your marketing and bizdev moments.

On the other hand…if you’re game, here we go.

Market Awareness

To presume to go-to-market offering a menu of services/products without having completed an analysis of market conditions is to invite frustration from the outset. Here are seven basic questions that should be asked to get you started on a productive market analysis.

    1. What does the competitive landscape look like?
    2. What is your value proposition? (Why should the market choose you?)
    3. Where do gaps in services/products (relevant to your offerings) exist?
    4. What market sectors are growing? In decline?
    5. Where can you leverage existing connections and relationships for growth?
    6. What is a realistic estimate of the cost to develop a new client/customer, and what is the projected 3-5 year value?
    7. Who are your specific targets in this market?

 

Self-Assessment

Call it a SWOT, an audit, an organizational inventory or any label that facilitates getting it done; but a clear understanding of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is a critical step in the creation of a marketing, business development and sales initiative that makes a difference when it comes to carving out market share. Identifying the areas where this assessment intersects with the realities of market is what provides a strategic foundation for a plan.

Simultaneously, the owners of the organizations should articulate core values and shared aspirations — the three or four organizational principles and goals against which major decisions are weighed. Ideally, these are the things that brought you together as a partnership or team in the first place. This list will vary firm by firm; but examples of aspirations addressed might include:

    • a position of market or industry leadership
    • a specific financial benchmark — individual and/or organizational
    • a position relative to work/life balance
    • a specific stance relative to civic or charitable involvement

The recognition of shared aspirations is invaluable when a group of owners wrestle with issues that inevitably arise in the creation and execution of a strategic plan.

And no self assessment is complete without a clear understanding of critical operational and profitability metrics. Specifics here have a great deal to do with the nature of your organization; however, to sacrifice transparency here in the name of collegiality is to leave out a basic building block. 

Commitment to the Process

Plans fail, without respect to strategic foundation, when not executed to maturity. Instigating change in a marketplace comes with a life cycle. A solid market and self-analysis (including the identification of pursuit targets) should lead to a clear understanding of a realistic sales cycle and projected return.

Stakeholders must share a commitment to the initiative, its processes, and a calendar that accommodates consequential change.

This is not to suggest that accountability, tweaks and even significant adjustments should not be incorporated.

But significant and enduring organic growth is seldom the result of a three to six month “surge” approach to marketing and business development. Expectations that declining revenues and shrinking profits — frequent indicators of issues that transcend marketing and sales — can be turned around by pulling out the stops for three to six months, almost always result in a fits-and-starts approach. If your revenue isn’t growing, chances are good you have no real sustained strategy aimed at increasing market share.

Want to realize a measurable return on your investment in marketing and business development? Focus on building an initiative on a solid strategy to which all are committed.

Coming next week — Step two in our 14-week series on creating a plan that will make a difference.

The Resonant, Authentic Voice Of Leadership

Some accomplish it with a pen — mightier-than-any-sword. Some with eloquent oratory.

For some the tool is as simple as an invitation — how may I help you? Or the offer of a cup of cold water

A few speak volumes with the sheer force of example.

Whatever the avenue or methodology, the voice of real leaders encourages conversations — around core ideas, fundamental values, consequential agendas, and aspirational vision.

To be sure, with the right megaphone any voice may be able to distract for a season. Given the resources, a poser can spin, obfuscate, and monopolize messaging.

But storming to the front of a room, grasping the microphone or hovering over a pulpit does not constitute leadership.

The more one must announce credentials the more likely reality will reveal a leadership vacuum.

Real leadership — in a firm, a family, a community or a country — is marked by the presence of inclusion, service, and the pursuit of a higher calling.

Yes…the conversations can be messy and disconcerting; but progress is realized in the honest dialogue and collaborative spirit that is born of shared aspirations.

Over time, real leadership is unmistakable. The authenticity resonates, and inspires us — to see a bigger picture, to dream of what could be, to build bridges, and to dispense with our smaller selves, and engage in consequential adventure. And in our gut, we know it when we hear it.

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