If business development is causing you sleepless nights, chances are the source of much of that angst is an anemic professional network, or the absence of strategic targets. Or both.

A healthy network connects you to opportunity flow. We discussed this, along with three ways to address challenges associated with “networking” in a post a few days ago.

Today let’s dive a little deeper, and explore how to identify strategic targets — the critical step when it comes to mounting productive proactive pursuits.

Leveraging Your Network

The time and energy you put into building and sustaining a network should never be done in a vacuum. In fact, the more strategic and mature your network, the easier it will be to identify and prioritize targets for purposes of planning a pursuit.

What are the keys to being smart with your business development resources? First, it is important to remember that there are at least three types of targets.

  • Individuals in a position to actually hire you
  • Those (individuals and groups) who will refer / recommend / introduce you
  • Coaches — individuals who can provide insight and intel relevant to the hiring targets you pursue.

The most effective plans — those with the potential to connect you to a consistent stream of work — include all three target types.

Get Organized

Many of us become adept at shying away from this part of the process; but as a practical matter, critical information about the individuals and groups that make up the network you’re building — should be maintained in organized fashion. Successful sales organizations take this seriously, and rely on a database or CRM solution. It’s not sexy or fun. But clean, accurate data is an asset.

Regardless of how you keep your database, you should be able to sort based on the three target-types noted above (or your own customized catagories).

The Targets of Your Attention

With a list of targets sorted by type, you can begin to create an action plan — how and where to invest the time, energy and financial resources necessary for effective pursuit. Here are a few of the criteria that can help you prioritize, and build a target list that maximizes your efforts.

  • Subject matter expertise — targets whose business, issues, and concerns overlap with your area of experience / expertise (or that of someone in your firm);
  • Decision-maker relationship — all other things being equal, investing where you have a direct relationship with an individual empowered to hire you/your firm should take high priority;
  • Consider the arithmetic — do enough homework to know that cost will not end up being an issue when your pursuit is successful;
  • Connect Dots — draft a relationship map that shows all known connections between you/your firm, others in your network, your target’s organization, and the decision maker;
  • Personal Affinity — work that touches on areas you care about will almost always help make a pursuit more organic;

Your best targets should spring from the network you’re consistently nurturing. Being smart here helps establish priorities, and provides a structure for action plans — what events to attend, what to write about where to seek speaking engagements, and even when to say no to “opportunities.”

Strategic targeting is essential to business development success because it helps map the shortest distance between where you are today, and a pipeline of the kind of work you seek.