When the goal is to develop new business relationships in a competitive marketplace, simply being visible — having your name “out there” — isn’t near enough to differentiate you from the crowd. And though there are certainly approaches to visibility that can elicit a Wow, if your marketing focuses solely on name recognition, you will always be vulnerable to anyone willing to invest enough to upstage your efforts.

Establishing the connections that lead to the acquisition of business is a whole new ballgame when your biz dev efforts demonstrate the fact that there is value in a professional relationship with you.

This idea can be a challenging proposition for some professional service providers. So, in the spirit of offering fodder for a productive conversation, here are four thoughts on how to provide value in the context of business development activity.

1. Deliver Relevant Information

If you’re serious about being a trusted advisor, you’re probably already doing this with clients because you understand that those you hope will become cornerstones of your practice warrant more than a holiday greeting, an email blast and an invitation to a webinar. By the same token, learn as much as you can about the business of your target(s), and become a conduit of information relevant to the respective industry or market.

Use updates on legal and regulatory issues, financial projections and analysis, and operational innovations and trends as a bridge to conversations. The more relevant the information the better; but if you’re not simply shoveling stuff, there is relational value in a process that communicates your level of interest. And if you want to differentiate yourself from the pack, don’t settle for an email blast. Go an extra step, and make the communication personal.

2. Be A Connector

Virtually every business person places high value on being able to make the right connections. Anyone able to short-cut the (often painful) networking process by becoming the point-of-connection adds immeasurable value to a business relationship. Find those places where your professional (or personal) network intersects with the interests and concerns of your target, and you’ve found an important way to demonstrate the value you bring.

3. Put Skin In The Game

This can be closely aligned with the Connector idea above. It begins with the knowledge of what is important to your target. This may be charitable or community organizations, social initiatives, or even personal hobbies. Identify an interest in which you can become personally involved, and go beyond token support. Get involved by giving time, resources, and influence.

4. Be A Human Being

Before you tune out on this one, consider this: if the only thing your prospective client sees is you in pitch mode, you’re doing yourself an injustice when it comes to your business development efforts.

The best strategy creates a way for your target to experience what it is like to work with you — your communication style, your focus on the client, your follow through, and yes…the quality of your work product.

The best action plans go beyond the awkward dinner meeting where you struggle for the right way to ask for work. They opt for collaborative workshops instead of one-sided presentations. They have a focus larger than just work product.

One of the most effective marketing events I’ve seen offered a private screening for families of clients and prospects of the Harry Potter film debuts. Individuals that declined participation in every other type event showed up with kids and grandkids in tow in order to avoid the long lines, grab complimentary concessions, snap photos of the kids with a Harry Potter look alike, and then enjoy a private screening on the day the motion picture premiered. Many of these folks became friends. (But be careful; you’ll be expected to do this for every new Harry Potter release.)

Reminder: One Size Does Not Fit Every Business Development Strategy

No…you can’t do all of this with every target for a professional relationship. Invest heavily in the most important relationships. As targets become more important the ways in which you invest time and resources should correspond. And the better you know your target’s business, the more you should be able to custom fit the added-value you offer.

Whatever tactics you choose, this focus on building relationships is part of the fabric of a business development plan that differentiates. Become an important and valuable professional relationship, and business development becomes much more organic, and productive.