It is not because it requires a skill set few possess. Not because a particular personality type is critical. It is not even because it approximates sales — and few who chose the professional services arena signed on for sales.

One reason solid business development is so difficult is it takes time.

I love the story told by President John F. Kennedy about the French Marshall Lyautey who asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’

Factor Time Into A Business Development Plan and Watch Relationships Grow

In a recent post here we discussed the simple formula for business development success; but as simple and proven as it is, the equation falls apart when immediate return is the expectation.

Why? Because successful business development is about building relationships. And building a relationship — like growing a tree — takes time.

So how do we insure that time is working for us? What are the critical pieces of an action plan that don’t waste time…but make the most of the valuable commodity?

Here are three keys to the care and feeding of quality relationships.

1. Listen. If you know me (or follow these musings), you know my bias; try to achieve serious biz dev progress without having invested significant time here, and — well. . .most of us have first-hand experience with how things work when we do all the talking. Brilliance, eloquence and charisma aside — all-about-my-point-of-view attempts at relationship building rarely result in quality, on-going conversations.

2. Instigate Dialogue. Begin with listening, and you’re well-equipped for this one. Growing relationships are characterized by conversations. Touching base four times a year is insufficient. Dialogue informs, reveals and energizes. It reshapes a conventional approach to presentations or pitches. It is the first step toward collaboration. And in a marketplace where shared risk is increasingly a theme, collaborative solutions are a differentiator.

3. Deliver Value. Sure — the work product you ultimately sell will deliver value; but the discussion here is about providing value in the midst of the biz dev cycle. Nurture a relationship with meaningful gifts. This one isn’t easy, and it is likely different in every situation. One thing is certain — if a plan begins and ends with dinners, concerts, ballgames and marketing swag, you may be wasting time, no matter how much you’re investing. Value is defined by your target. And the key to identifying it is investing enough time on #1 and #2, above.

The tough news (and what is often glossed over) is that if we need the shade of a strong tree tomorrow, it is a little late to be thinking about planting. Relationships that endure don’t spring up overnight.

But begin today to cultivate and nurture strategic relationships. Over time the result will be a root system able to withstand even a season of storms.