Cornerstone editAny discussion of business development should be required to begin with this disclaimer:

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions or formulas. Silver bullets and cookie-cutters might work elsewhere; but not here.

With that stipulation, there are a number of solid cornerstones that will ensure the resources invested in your plan for the coming year aren’t experimental in nature, leaving you to hope the market finds you.

In fact, a volatile market, a distaste (or outright dislike) for “selling”, even personality type notwithstanding, it is possible to create an approach to business development that works — if you possess the will and discipline to build a plan on these four cornerstones.

Cornerstone #1: Target Identification

Strategic business development begins with the identification of a specific target(s).  The more specific the better. The more general, the less successful an effort will be. The best target? The individual able to hire you. But don’t overlook sources able to connect, refer, recommend and/or “coach” you regarding the target able to do the hiring.

Absent this cornerstone, a plan is built on hope — the hope that the market will find you.

Cornerstone #2: Understand Your Target’s Drivers

This is about knowing what is of utmost importance to the individual with whom you are attempting to establish a working relationship. In the parlance of consultants, what keeps your target up at night? What threatens profitability or sustainability? What puts your target at risk?

One note on understanding drivers: what your target cares about most may not be in your sweet spot. Don’t be fooled into believing it is irrelevant to your efforts. More on this in a moment.

Pursue a target without an understanding of drivers, and you risk looking and sounding like everyone else hawking a better mousetrap. Or a similar service.

Cornerstone #3: Strategic Visibility

Write a big enough check, and creating visibility isn’t an issue. The challenge, of course, is that most of us don’t have the budget of Apple. Or, more to the point, few can spend enough on visibility plays to really tip the scales of awareness. But understand the drivers of a specified target, and you’ve moved from a numbers game to the basics of strategic pursuit.

This is the science part of being in the right place, at the right time. Accomplishing this involves three things:

  • Knowing that one-offs won’t get the job done — so consistency over time must be part of the plan (once or twice a year doesn’t cut it);
  • Effective visibility delivers value — so your efforts aren’t built around a message that is all about you;
  • The more your visibility connects to what your target cares about the more strategic it becomes — so, for example, this might be a clue about where you invest incremental leisure, social, civic and/or industry related resources.

Be visibly engaged in things that connect to what your target cares about, and you’re putting the third cornerstone in place.

Cornerstone #4: Deliver A Solution

Look long enough, listen hard enough — understand the business of your target — and you’ll have an outline for the design and presentation of a solution to those sleepless nights.

We mentioned above that the solution to drivers might not be in your sweet spot. The caveat here is that in an ever-changing market, trusted advisors are increasingly called on to connect the dots and collaborate in the creation of solutions.

A Solid Foundation for Business Development

You’re probably way ahead of me. This approach to business development is really about pursuing and nurturing relationships.

This is what strong practices have always been built upon.

This is the stuff of a practice that can grow, even in today’s volatile market. While business drivers and service offerings might evolve over time, relationships based on listening and delivering value have what it takes to endure.

It comes back to this: relationships trump everything. And these four cornerstones are central to a business development effort built on strategic relationships.