Most professional service providers would welcome a more consistent and robust flow of quality leads.

Scratch that.

When it comes to business development and sales, virtually every professional service provider I know is searching for a way to connect with potential new clients. So much so that this is the promise of marketing strategies, the siren song of technology platforms, and the recurring theme of blog posts and articles.

But solutions that deliver seem illusive.

Sure, if your budget is big enough, or if your brand has the kind of equity that prompts market movement with the mere hint of a new offering, or if you’re in an arena that allows you to simply play a numbers game — then generating new leads may not be an issue.

But if what you offer is less commodity and more the service of a trusted advisor, you are in an elite minority if you’re not still searching for a way to connect face to face with prospects that are in need of (and willing to pay for) the experience and expertise you provide.

Visibility is valuable. Friends, fans and followers are important parts of a community. SEO and web traffic is important. But all are of little value if your strategy does not provide for a connection that leads to a sale.

So Is There A Way To Generate Viable Leads For The Professional Service You Offer?

Contrary to what your experience may have been, lead generation isn’t just another marketing or sales cliche. It is a real thing.

It is possible for your marketing efforts to open doors to meetings, conversations and collaborations that result in the kind of work you want to do. Here’s the catch. It is decidedly not the byproduct of an afterthought. Or something you turn to when business is slow. Or something you half-heartedly invest in.

The work that leads to new business — even rainmaking — requires strategic planning, focus, investment and commitment.

The good news is that if you’re willing to do what it takes, then the answer is Yes — you can build a marketing / business development / sales process that will deliver measurable — even significant return on your investment.

Here are the four components this kind of process requires.

One — Identify Targets

This is the foundation of effective and efficient marketing and business development. No matter how creative or eloquent, cast a marketing effort out there with nothing more than the hope that it reaches the right audience, and you’re doing little more than throwing good resources after bad.

On the other hand, invest in identifying targets for whom your service has a shot at being relevant, and your marketing efforts go further and accomplish more. If you can’t build a target list, or don’t know how to go about the process of target identification, you are going to have a frustrating and costly experience. it is time to put the brakes on your plan and dive into the work of Target Identification.

Two — Deliver Value

If the thesis of your marketing plan is “if the market just knew our name” or “if we could just get the word out” you may have fallen victim to a hang-a-shingle-and-they-will-come strategy. And while it might be possible to build a practice with this approach if your target is a small market where Main Street has two stop-lights, in a competitive (and increasingly global) market, a shingle alone is not going to prompt anyone to beat a path to your door.

If you’ve done the foundational work of Target Identification (meaning you’re talking to the right audience), the way to prompt real prospects to take action is to deliver value.

Observation: this is where marketing efforts often go awry because we go to the marketplace with what we deem to be valuable. Our message. Our canned presentation. This is backwards.

Effective lead generation — that is, a productive on-going conversation with a qualified target — is initiated by delivering something your target market defines as valuable.

Three — Demonstrate Relevance

This is about knowing and understanding the business issues faced by the target. In consultant-speak, what keeps your target up at night? Become relevant to this issue and you have a shot at a productive conversation.

On the other hand, insist on making a pitch without knowing that your offering connects to business concerns of the target, and risk becoming irrelevant…which means being relegated to market noise — where every competitor is doing the same thing you are, and vying for the attention of your best targets.

Four — Do the Follow Up

This is what separates the relentless business developer (read: rainmaker) from everyone else.

Question: in what endeavor of consequence does delivering a message one time get the job done?

Without respect to targeting, delivering value, and proving relevance, if your go-to-market development strategy does not include intentional and strategic follow up, you’ve embarked on one more less-than-productive marketing initiative.

The nature of appropriate follow up may vary depending on the specifics of your offering. But without an intentional effort to establish an on-going conversation, you are still hoping the market will do the hard work, and chart the path to your door…undistracted by the noise and promises of competitors.

An effective marketing and sales effort may utilize a variety of tools, and be built on a number of platforms. Whatever your platform of choice, these are the four keys to differentiating your efforts from the masses, generating meaningful leads, and finally delivering measurable return on your investments in marketing and business development.