Corporate rivalryThere are plenty of questions about business development and rainmaking — what does it take to win…can only certain personality types pull it off…is there a secret language…or a handshake…and so on.

If you wrestle with the notion, and regularly move from the promises of one silver bullet to the next with minimal success, chances are good that one (or more) of the following is the reason.

1. Your Network is Anemic

This is the big one. If you’re not connected to anyone it’s going to be difficult to generate the referrals, recommendations and development insights that come when you have a productive professional network.

A robust network is your connection to the marketplace. This is how you maximize visibility and awareness efforts around your practice. And it is the tool that provides leverage for every investment you make in marketing.

What to do? The solution to network issues begins with identifying a target. If the world is your target then have fun trying to zero in on a network. But if you can name three or four targets for the work you want to offer, you can begin to map relationships connected to decision maker(s). The names on this relationship map are the cornerstones for a productive network. Start building.

2. Everything Looks Like An Opportunity

We’ve all run into the guy always ready to buy (or sell) the latest silver bullet. In our gut we know that shortcuts — if they exist — are very few and far between. But in the absence of real strategic direction it is easy to see opportunity around every corner.

The development of a decent book of business — never mind an enduring practice — demands relentless and focused pursuit.

What to do? Identify the targets that represent or can connect you to the business you want. Once identified, strategic direction begins by mapping a relationship to influencers and decision makers. The actions and investments necessary to connect provides the focus that will keep you on the right track.

3. You Aren’t Building Relationships

Every single rainmaker I know will tell you the same thing: when it comes to long-term business development success, relationship trumps everything. This is the reason flavor-of-the-month silver bullets don’t work. And it is why you won’t be able to salvage the year by deciding to focus on business development in August.

Relationships require real attention. A note a couple of times a year isn’t going to get it done. Waiting for the object of your attention to call you certainly won’t. And if your BD effort centers on setting up a lunch twice (or once) a year so you can pitch your capabilities . . . Well, suffice to say you’re not building up much professional relationship equity.

What to do? A quality relationship is the product of time. Of listening, investing, delivering value, and doing it all over again. The real business developers I know recount story after story of two, three, five and even ten years invested in the development of targeted relationships. This is what you do if your plan is based on strategic direction.

4. You Still Believe Business Should Somehow Find You

Barely a month into my first foray into legal business development I asked a partner to describe his ideal target client. He stared at me in a way that said “that is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard.”

And then he answered. “My ideal client is the next person that calls me on the phone or walks into my office in need of legal counsel.”

For a decade the market had come to him. And in large measure the same had been true for outstanding legal professionals for three decades prior to that. But unnoticed by my partner friend, things were changing.

Three years later he was having difficulty staying half busy.

If you’re not focused on strategic direction for your business development efforts, it may be because, deep down, you hold out hope that the market is going to find you.

If this is you, I hope you are a lucky soul.

5. A Deficiency In Your Product or Service

There is one other reason a few professionals wrestle with business development — a deficiency in product or service offering. And if the market has judged you based on the quality of your product and/or the experience you deliver, the only “fix” is to listen to the market and adjust appropriately.

But a final word. When the depth of the team or breadth of offering is tossed around as the reason for difficulties in attracting new business, it is often little more than a convenient excuse.

Any effective approach to meeting the challenge of securing new business isn’t flashy, and won’t come easily or overnight. It begins by charting a strategic direction…and requires relentless focus.