Confused Businessman Looking At Arrows Pointing In Different DirectionsFor a moment let’s say we really believe the notion that relationship is the key when it comes to business development for professional service providers.

What do we do with that? How do you build the kind of relational equity that is at the heart of a stable practice?

Warning. If you’re hoping for a silver bullet you are not going to find it here. If you’re searching for an easy fix, move on. If you believe business development is something to be turned on when things slow down, you’re not going to like much about this post for four reasons.

  1. Professional relationships are no easier than the personal variety — (evidence the next three points);
  2. Building the kind of equity that results in trust (which is what business development relationships are all about) doesn’t happen overnight…it takes time;
  3. Investment is required — and we’re not talking about the big-budget kind; this is roll-up-your-sleeves and get personally vested in the pursuit of something important;
  4. Success demands caring about what your target cares about (versus a preoccupation with what you bring to the table).

Come to terms with these four realities, and there are plenty of creative ideas, processes and tools to help you leverage your efforts.

What do we do to actually build professional relationships?

Here are four suggested guiding principles.

1. Focus On Your Target’s Story.

Let me tell you all about me! This is the temptation — to believe winning is the result of getting our message across. Fall prey to this and the focus is on what we need to communicate. Completely convinced of our ability to bring something to any table, we expend time and resources cataloging all that we can (or might be able to) do.

Equity comes from knowing what the target cares about most, understanding where the need is most intense, and focusing attention at this precise point. (Kind of the same way things work in a personal relationship.)

2. Become a connector.

Individuals that make it rain for the entirety of a career, no matter the season, are almost always masters at connecting. This is closely related to number 1, above — a focus on your target. Relevant introductions, references and referrals are universally valued. Become viewed as the conduit to valuable connections, and your equity as an advisor is on the rise.

3. Care About What Your Target Cares About.

At the risk of going to this well too many times, the realm of personal offers the object lesson here; when you seek a relationship with someone, you invest time, resources and energy in the things that individual cares about.

Want to build or increase equity in a professional relationship? Short of creepy stalking, become involved in what your target cares about. A cause, professional or civic organization, or leisure interest afford the possibility of important visibility and association. This is one of the shortest paths to professional relationship.

4. Don’t Just Talk; Do Something!

While it is no news to anyone that talk is cheap, we continue to double-down on delivering a message all about us. Nothing does less to differentiate than endless blather about expertise. Listen up, and you’ll hear your competition saying the same things.

It will take some creative thinking, and it will not be easy; but find a way to actually share your experience and expertise with a target apart from an engagement, and you have a shot at setting yourself apart. This is where there is business development value in becoming involved in organizations your targets care about as noted above. Volunteer for a committee position in an association your target is involved with and seek an opportunity to collaborate.

Continuing education offerings and relevant thought leadership are a couple of the more standard ways to demonstrate (versus simply talk about) expertise. But if you’re committed to building a relationship, some effort in this area can unlock other possibilities.

There are other ways to build professional relationships, of course. This is offered as fodder for a conversation, and if you have practical ideas, please contribute.

The one thing we’ll venture all good ideas will have in common is a focus on the object of our pursuit.