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.

The “if-the-market-knew-my-story” approach to Business Development

There is a basic principle in communication theory — shared experiences form the basis for the most effective communication.

Even if we did not formally study the science, most of us have first-hand experience with the validity of the principle — in intimate, social and professional settings alike.In the space where experiences of the communicator overlap with those of the audience, there is a common vernacular, similar concerns and dreams. Invest in identifying this common ground, and then use it as the foundation for your approach to connecting, and efforts are more efficient and productive.

But when it comes to marketing, business development and sales strategies, we frequently opt to skip over this basic building block.

In part, we can blame this on the fact that so many distribution channels are accessible and affordable. Once we have a product, service or cause, the temptation is to waste no time, and plunge headlong into shouting our story from every virtual rooftop available.

If the market knew our story, we reason out-loud…it would beat a path to our door is the unspoken inference.

Yet even in the wake of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we continue to focus on our story — from the breadth of our expertise to extraordinary talent (we only hire from the top 10%!); from our commitment to diversity to locations that make us virtually omnipresent…to anything else we can come up with that announces our availability.

This is, after all, how it worked for professional service providers for decades — go to the right school, hang a nice shingle, do good work, follow the path and the market will find you. And though no one really believes it was the shingle that attracted the clients, we seem willing to believe that the contemporary shingles — a logo, a (clever) tag-line, and some finessed copy on a freshly minted website will make all the difference to today’s marketplace..

We just need to get the word out there.

Notwithstanding the existence and value of all the communication and marketing tools available today, wherever just-get-our-name-out-there is the refrain, the results likely look and sound the same as the competition’s. And organic growth is slow-to-nonexistent. When it comes for business development and marketing conversations, ROI is questioned. And eventually tactics (masquerading as new strategy) shift one more time.

This Time, Begin With The Principle

There is a way to create awareness that differentiates, takes advantage of the all of the distribution channels to reach the right audience, and even prompts the market to take a step in your direction. Just go back to that basic principle.

Effective communication begins with the Identification of where your experiences align with the experiences of your target market.

It is a simple equation.

But for many, the difficulty exists in what the equation presumes — that a target has been identified.

(If you’re a regular reader, you knew we’d be getting back to this.)

We mentioned the temptation above — to jump right in, grab the nearest tool, and broadcast our story to all within earshot…all the while assuming the power to deliver the market lies within an accounting of our skills, insights, and — provided we have enough time and space — our experiences.

Yet, we know the verdict even before we begin. All the available communication channels notwithstanding — it is impossible to create a message relevant to everyone. When it comes time to precipitate the action that ultimately results in new business, the marketplace is littered with websites, ad campaigns, blogs, and social media feeds that promise everything…and all sound alike.

Granted, knowing where to begin when it comes to target identification is challenging. But an important step is to beware the “anyone-who-needs-what-I-do” trap. The real estate lawyer who says “just put me in touch with anyone doing a real estate deal” is sacrificing the leverage that comes with being able to address specific issues, needs, and experiences.

And the only way we can be certain we’re connecting with what our audience cares about, is to begin with a target. (By the way…the definition of “target” is not limited to one with hiring authority; but that is a topic for another post.)

The more removed we are from being able to name a target, the more likely our strategy is little more than a hope that the market somehow find our door. Or our email address.

Get Targeting Right, and The Second Stumbling Block Is Easy To Avoid

Here are three questions that frame a very simple target identification process:

  • Who do I want to work with?
  • Can I map relationships that connect me to the hiring authority? If not,
  • What must be accomplished in order to create that relationship map?

Once a target is identified, a basic plan of action revolves around learning what the hiring authority cares about — that is, learning the relevant field of experiences. This is the intentional listening part of the equation. It includes market analysis, research, and input from “coaches” identified during the relationship mapping process. Past experiences, future challenges, personal preferences — all of this serves to map the target’s field of experiences, and help develop an understanding of what the market cares about.

Invest in research — listen intently — and your target market will tell you what it will take to stand out and make contact — even in a crowded marketplace.

Sure…if an offering is both one-of-a-kind (or scarce), and in high demand, announcing the unique availability may be all that is required to generate a wave of new business. Take the news of your service to the rooftops and commence shouting.

But most of us exist in a competitive and noisy marketplace. Connecting is difficult enough; drawing a distinction between the services we offer and those of our competiton requires more than just getting our message out there.

It seems worth noting for the record that your most rewarding business development efforts will almost always be the byproduct of relationships. There are a number of reasons this is the case; but it is inescapable that one is in the context of building and nurturing a relationship our efforts are focused. Targeted, if you will.

Once a target has been identified, the marketing toolbox — content, events, PR, and the myriad of ways to go-to-market — will become a valued if not coveted resource. A number of the questions we wrestle with — should I be on Twitter…what about Linked In…should I speak, or blog, or volunteer…or all of the above — become much less vexing. You’ll begin to consider these issues in the context of what your target cares about — that relevant field of experience.

If we as marketers and service providers exchanged some of the resources we often invest in getting our story out there for an equal portion of target identification and intentional listening designed to find that highly productive space where our experiences — professional and personal — align with what our target cares about we might find ourselves in the midst of wholly new conversations when it comes to business development.

The Simple Complications of Business Development

Business development is not complicated.

Hard work? Indeed…because effective business development (especially in a professional service firm) is almost always about building productive relationships. And that is no small task.

But we shouldn’t confuse the hard work required to build rewarding relationships with the suggestion that business development requires something that is somehow inconsistent with our profession. Or that proven disciplines such as target identification, market research, and rigorous CRM are unnecessary time-wasters. Or marketing nonsense. In fact, these are simply among the resources in the relationship tool box.

There are complicating factors, to be sure. The ongoing search for a silver bullet — a quest that precipitates fits-and-starts often affiliated with the newest shiny tool or flavor-of-the-month — is a usual suspect. Expectations that aren’t aligned with allocated resources is another.

And before you object, this is not to suggest that strategies, tactics or personnel should not be held accountable. Any legitimate business initiative includes reviews and adjustments; the point here is that rewarding  and enduring relationships rarely spring up in a month. Or a quarter or a year. If your situation demands immediate results, here’s hoping you already have a pipeline of productive relationships, or you’re going to the market with a hot commodity or slam dunk solution.

If you aspire to the status of trusted advisor, prepare to invest the resources in business development and sales that are necessary to foster and nurture relationships.

The foundation of effective business development relationships is a relentless focus on your target. (This assumes you have a target in mind; more on this in a minute.)

The Basics

While it isn’t normally accomplished overnight or as an afterthought, the hard work that results in building productive relationships isn’t difficult to understand. In fact, if you have a successful relationship or two in your personal life you already know the process.

Step 1. Listen — to your target and anyone that knows anything about your target — and learn everything you can about what your target cares about. (Hate to be a broken record here; but this, too, assumes you have a target.)

Step 2. Create visibility — make it known that you care about what your target cares about (this is otherwise known as marketing).

Step 3. Relentlessly pursue — this is the BD (or sales) part. Don’t bail or give up so quickly…invest the time and resources necessary to have a series of conversations. Does this mean stay forever? No. But if you’ve done a good job of target identification (there’s that word again), don’t jump ship after one or two or even three conversations.

Not a complicated process. The caveat is that smart target identification is the key to efficiency, and increased ROI. If you are a regular reader you know we spend a good deal of time with this idea. And this is the reason — if we haven’t identified a target we don’t know who to listen to, what to care about, or how to begin to demonstrate that we care.

Translation? We try to be all things to all potential clients. Not exactly the recipe for productive, much less enduring relationships.

Spin it, complicate it and if-and-or-but it all you want; relationships that endure — professional or personal — are about strategic (read Targeted) listening, and demonstrating we share common interests. This is the fabric of relationship, and where trust develops.

Are there skill sets, tools and more sophisticated processes that will help? No doubt.

But anyone serious about business development can realize success with attention to this simple process. Those who find a way to personalize it, and incorporate it as a daily routine are the ones that make it rain.

Are You Doing the 4 Things Necessary to Stand Out From the Crowd and Build a Pipeline of Future Clients?

Most professional service providers would welcome a more predictable, consistent and robust flow of qualified new business leads.

Scratch that.

When it comes to business development and sales, virtually every professional service provider I know is searching for an efficient way to connect with potential new clients. Marketing strategies promise it; the possibility is the siren song of technology platforms; and blog posts, podcasts and articles ponder over illusive results, ROI, and secret sauce.

Meanwhile, for many lawyers, accountants, consultants, and other professional service providers, solid solutions that transcend promises and actually deliver seem illusive.

Sure — if your budget is big enough, or if your brand has the kind of equity that captures the attention of the marketplace with a whisper, or if you’re in an arena that allows you to simply play a numbers game — a steady stream of work may not be an issue…today.

However, if what you offer is less commodity and more the service of a trusted advisor, you are in an elite minority if you’re not searching for a way to connect with qualified prospects in need of the experience and expertise you provide. The marketplace is crowded and competition is fierce

Visibility is valuable. Friends, fans and followers are assets. SEO and web traffic is important. But all are of little value if your business development and sales strategy does not provide for a connection that leads to an engagement, sale, or referral source.

Lead Generation: Hype or Real?

Short answer: contrary to what your experience may have been, it is possible for marketing efforts to open doors to meetings and instigate conversations  that result in the work you seek.

Here’s the catch. New and productive client relationships are decidedly not the byproduct of an afterthought. Or an initiative you turn to when business is slow. Or something you begrudgingly and half-heartedly invest in. In a competitive marketplace, simply doing great work isn’t going to build a pipeline of future business. And even if you’ve been the beneficiary of a big brand name, you’re likely experiencing the impact of a market in transition — less client loyalty, increased competition for talent, and heightened lateral movement, to name a few.

The steady development of new business requires:

  • strategic planning (over-used term, I know — but this is about the kind of planning that is foundational — that is part of the conversation from the outset);
  • focus and tenacity (get distracted by each new flavor-of-the-month or possible shortcut, and you lose…period);
  • proportionate investment (if you cringe at the suggested benchmarks for investing in marketing and bizdev, move on…this will be the least of your concerns soon); and,
  • commitment (this is about being in it for the long-haul).

The good news is that if you’re willing to do what it takes,  you can build a marketing / business development pipeline that will deliver measurable organic growth — even significant return on your investment.

Here are the four components this kind of process requires.

One — Identify Targets

If you are a regular reader of Marketing Brain Fodder, you may be cringing. We spend a good deal of time on this one. This is the foundation of effective and efficient marketing and business development. No matter how creative or eloquent, cast a marketing effort out there designed to connect and communicate with anyone in need of what you offer, and you will continue to be frustrated. Build a strategy based on either the hope that it reaches the right audience or the belief that qualified prospects will knock on your door simply because of your firm’s name, and you’re doing little more than throwing good resources into the wind.

On the other hand, invest in identifying targets for whom your service is especially relevant, and focus here, and your marketing efforts go further and accomplish more.

If you have no idea where to begin when it comes to building a target list, or don’t know how to go about the process of target identification, your efforts are going to be frustrating and costly. It is time to put the brakes on your plan and dive into the work of Target Identification.

Two — Deliver Value

If the thesis of your marketing plan is “if the market just knew our name” or “if we could just get the word out” you have subscribed to the hang-a-shingle-and-they-will-come approach to business development. And while it might be possible to build a practice with this approach in a small market where Main Street has two stop-lights, in a competitive (and increasingly global) market, it is going to take more than a sign to prompt anyone to beat a path to your door — even if your address is the most prestigious in town.

If you’ve done the foundational work of Target Identification (meaning you’re talking to the right audience), the way to differentiate your efforts and prompt real prospects to take action is to deliver value.

Observation: this is where marketing efforts often go awry because we go to the marketplace with what we deem to be valuable. Our message. Our offering. Our answers.

Effective lead generation — that is, a productive on-going connection and conversation with a qualified target — is initiated by delivering something your target market defines as valuable.

Three — Demonstrate Relevance

This is about knowing and understanding the business issues faced by your target. In consultant-speak, what keeps your target up at night? In plain English — what causes stress, is a drain on resources, impacts profitability, and threatens existence. Become relevant here and you have a shot at being deemed valuable by your prospect.

On the other hand, insist on making a pitch without knowing that your offering connects to business concerns of the target, and risk becoming irrelevant…which means being relegated to market noise — where every competitor is saying what you’re saying, doing the same thing you are, and vying for the attention of a shrinking group of prospects.

Four — Keep the Conversation Going

This is what separates the relentless business developer (read: rainmaker) from everyone else.

Question: in what endeavor of consequence does delivering a message one time get the job done?

Without respect to targeting, delivering value, and proving relevance, if your go-to-market development strategy does not include intentional and strategic follow up, you’ve embarked on one more less-than-productive marketing initiative.

The nature of appropriate follow up will vary depending on the specifics of your offering. But without an intentional effort to establish an on-going conversation, you are still hoping the market will do the hard work, identify what differentiates you from your competitor, and beat a path to your door…undistracted by the messaages and promises of competitors.

An effective marketing and sales effort can use a variety of tools, and be built on a number of platforms. Whatever your platform of choice, these are the four keys to differentiating your efforts from the masses, generating meaningful leads, building a pipeline of somewhat predictable business, and finally delivering measurable return on your investments in marketing and business development.

Seven Signs Your Firm Could Be Facing Consequential Transition

Whether a new enterprise or a venerable brand, the realities of a market in transition are most likely having an effect on your firm. Responses to Altman Weil’s 2018 Law Firms In Transition Survey underscore the magnitude.

  • 49% of responding firms failed to meet billable hour targets in 2017
  • 59% say equity partners are under utilized

A move to handle work in-house, alternative service providers, and technology solutions are cited as factors contributing to the transition.

As to how 2018 compares to previous years, “…the threat to law firms in 2018 is broader and more nuanced,” according to Altman Weil principal and survey co-author Tom Clay.

If your firm is staring down the double barrel of missing budgeted targets and equity partners with too little to do, you didn’t need the survey to substantiate what you are experiencing. And you are likely among the firms engaged in activities intended to be an appropriate response to these issues. Colleagues Roger Hayse and Andy Jillson of Hayse LLC point to three additional conditions that may already have precipitated action — or at least conversations:

  • an increased reliance on credit to fund debt
  • the attrition of key clients, and/or
  • the inability to recruit the talent necessary to compete

But consequential transition typically begins long before these emphatic challenges announce trouble.

Here are 7 indicia of a firm that, whether recognized by leadership or not, is already in the midst of a defining season.

1. Matters of Succession Are a Mystery

For decades in many firms the question about who would inherit leadership roles and/or key client relationships seemed to be resolved organically (or at least systematically), with a clear and accepted line of succession. But as firms became larger and more diverse in terms of practice offerings, questions swirl on both fronts.

Stable firms proactively address succession — in terms of leadership as well as key client relationships. Firms failing to address this are on the cusp of a transition that may result in the loss of both key clients and young talent.

2. Your Diversity Initiative Is Driven By 60+ Year Old White Guys

Diversity is increasingly a driver in the marketplace — of who clients want to work with, and of where talent wants to work. Firms that address the conversation by relegating it to a committee may find it difficult to make progress.

The conversation not only warrants, but demands fresh perspective and institutional commitment. If efforts, however well intentioned, fail to address implicit biases — individual and organizational — that impact opportunity, compensation, values, and aspirations, diversity and inclusion will continue to be a significant factor when it comes to the transition of today’s firms.

3. Cross Selling Is The Exception Rather Than The Rule

Firms that operate as practice (or even industry) silos fail to capitalize on the real value of partnership — leverage and cultural dynamism. If business development credit, relationship protection, a lack of trust, or simple blindness to opportunity stand in the way of a firm finding ways to make the most of relationships and capabilities, you’re not only leaving work on the table; you’re opening the door to fracture.

4. You Have No Idea What It Costs Your Firm To Take In A New Client or Open A New File

It is vogue to speak of the business of law. But where everyday costs to do business are not understood and factored into strategic and operational decisions, the business side of the firm has yet to be fully embraced. In this environment issues such as project management, strategic growth, the value of culture, and the essential nature of team will pose challenging conversations.

5. Lateral Partners Are A Losing Proposition

When it comes to measurable growth in revenue, firms have historically turned to individuals and groups interested in making a lateral move, trusting that “portables” will follow. Whether the byproduct of mediocre due diligence, worse-than-mediocre integration practices, or strategic or cultural misfit, if laterals are no better than a break-even, this path to revenue growth is an early sign of potentially painful transition.  

6. You Are Still Searching For A Silver Bullet For Business Development and Growth

Firms whose knee-jerk response to zero-or-worse-revenue growth is to regularly move from one personnel decision to the next initiative or tool rather than engaging in an honest SWOT analysis are already in the midst of transition. Pulling the trigger on a new silver bullet is easy, whereas the day-to-day roll-up-your-sleeves work necessary for organic revenue growth is uncomfortable. Only one of these two approaches delivers a solution. 

7. A Strategic Plan Is A Moving Target

At its best, a strategic plan grows out of four things:

  • shared values and aspirations that form the foundation of the partnership
  • a clearly defined target market(s)
  • an understanding of the dominant drivers at work in the target market
  • a plan that
    • articulates methodologies and practices that address market drivers, and
    • a go-to-market strategy designed to connect with targets

This kind of strategy does not shift quarter to quarter or get thrown out after one tough year. It is the standard against which significant decisions are measured and tested, and the fabric that provides continuity, stability and long-term direction.

Anyone engaged in the marketplace today deals with some measure of on-going transition. Firms that endure have an attentive ear to the ground, identify early indicators, and find a way to manage change. If you’re a part of the leadership team of a law firm or other professional service firm, and would like regular thoughts managing firms in transition, I refer you to the regular musings of my friends Roger and Andy here.

There are exclamation marks that announce big transitions. And there are more subtle, day-to-day signs that indicate whether we are managing inevitable transitional moments effectively, or are on the brink of high-consequence change.

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