Yellow speech bubblesIf you want to test the viability of your approach to business development (or maybe even the quality of your most valued relationships), few questions will reveal more than this one: “Have I built a bridge to the next conversation?”.

When considering business development and marketing efforts in today’s environment, the temptation — in fact, the easy thing to do — is invest significantly in opportunities that create visibility. A big media push, a social media presence, email “blasts” at the drop of a hat, killer events, sponsorships, even charitable contributions — the tendency is to do whatever the checkbook will absorb. We need to “have our name out there.”

The issue is not that these channels aren’t viable, even valuable when it comes to growing a potential market. They are. But visibility alone rarely equates to effective business development.

The problem is the degree to which visibility efforts — advertising, social media posts, event sponsorships and the like —  exhaust the business development or marketing plan. Write the check. Get our name out there. Then sit back and wait.

And wait.

Here’s What Is Missing

Talk to any rainmaker, and (usually sooner rather than later) s/he will make the point that business development boils down to relationships. People hire those they know and trust. And unless you’re aware of a way to get to “know and trust” absent some interaction, then creating visibility and awareness is only the first step in the process.

Relationships (hence, successful business development efforts) revolve around a series of multi-faceted and on-going interactions. Some are professional. Some will almost certainly be personal.

If you’re not having ongoing conversations, you might want to take stock of the relationship.

Sure…not every piece of business you get will be connected to a great relationship. If you’re present in the marketplace, are building relationships and the reputation that accompanies excellence, you’ll increasingly find yourself in the right place at the right time.

But long-term clients — those that stick with you through thick and thin, and call you no matter what, do so because they trust you.

So make your visibility play as robust as you possibly can. Then be certain your plan maps the investment and action steps necessary to build a bridge to the next conversation. Otherwise you’re doing little more than hoping something prompts your target market to come to you. And this is increasingly rare in a competitive and volatile marketplace.

Strategic marketing — a smart investment in efforts to connect with carefully selected targets — includes a plan of action that facilitates on going dialogue. Conversation after conversation.

Because in the context of relationship, the next conversation is the most important one yet.