Most professional service providers would welcome a more predictable, consistent and robust flow of qualified new business leads.

Scratch that.

When it comes to business development and sales, virtually every professional service provider I know is searching for an efficient way to connect with potential new clients. Marketing strategies promise it; the possibility is the siren song of technology platforms; and blog posts, podcasts and articles ponder over illusive results, ROI, and secret sauce.

Meanwhile, for many lawyers, accountants, consultants, and other professional service providers, solid solutions that transcend promises and actually deliver seem illusive.

Sure — if your budget is big enough, or if your brand has the kind of equity that captures the attention of the marketplace with a whisper, or if you’re in an arena that allows you to simply play a numbers game — a steady stream of work may not be an issue…today.

However, 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 searching for a way to connect with qualified prospects in need of the experience and expertise you provide. The marketplace is crowded and competition is fierce

Visibility is valuable. Friends, fans and followers are assets. SEO and web traffic is important. But all are of little value if your business development and sales strategy does not provide for a connection that leads to an engagement, sale, or referral source.

Lead Generation: Hype or Real?

Short answer: contrary to what your experience may have been, it is possible for marketing efforts to open doors to meetings and instigate conversations  that result in the work you seek.

Here’s the catch. New and productive client relationships are decidedly not the byproduct of an afterthought. Or an initiative you turn to when business is slow. Or something you begrudgingly and half-heartedly invest in. In a competitive marketplace, simply doing great work isn’t going to build a pipeline of future business. And even if you’ve been the beneficiary of a big brand name, you’re likely experiencing the impact of a market in transition — less client loyalty, increased competition for talent, and heightened lateral movement, to name a few.

The steady development of new business requires:

  • strategic planning (over-used term, I know — but this is about the kind of planning that is foundational — that is part of the conversation from the outset);
  • focus and tenacity (get distracted by each new flavor-of-the-month or possible shortcut, and you lose…period);
  • proportionate investment (if you cringe at the suggested benchmarks for investing in marketing and bizdev, move on…this will be the least of your concerns soon); and,
  • commitment (this is about being in it for the long-haul).

The good news is that if you’re willing to do what it takes,  you can build a marketing / business development pipeline that will deliver measurable organic growth — even significant return on your investment.

Here are the four components this kind of process requires.

One — Identify Targets

If you are a regular reader of Marketing Brain Fodder, you may be cringing. We spend a good deal of time on this one. This is the foundation of effective and efficient marketing and business development. No matter how creative or eloquent, cast a marketing effort out there designed to connect and communicate with anyone in need of what you offer, and you will continue to be frustrated. Build a strategy based on either the hope that it reaches the right audience or the belief that qualified prospects will knock on your door simply because of your firm’s name, and you’re doing little more than throwing good resources into the wind.

On the other hand, invest in identifying targets for whom your service is especially relevant, and focus here, and your marketing efforts go further and accomplish more.

If you have no idea where to begin when it comes to building a target list, or don’t know how to go about the process of target identification, your efforts are going to be frustrating and costly. 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 have subscribed to the hang-a-shingle-and-they-will-come approach to business development. And while it might be possible to build a practice with this approach in a small market where Main Street has two stop-lights, in a competitive (and increasingly global) market, it is going to take more than a sign to prompt anyone to beat a path to your door — even if your address is the most prestigious in town.

If you’ve done the foundational work of Target Identification (meaning you’re talking to the right audience), the way to differentiate your efforts and 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 offering. Our answers.

Effective lead generation — that is, a productive on-going connection and 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 your target. In consultant-speak, what keeps your target up at night? In plain English — what causes stress, is a drain on resources, impacts profitability, and threatens existence. Become relevant here and you have a shot at being deemed valuable by your prospect.

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 saying what you’re saying, doing the same thing you are, and vying for the attention of a shrinking group of prospects.

Four — Keep the Conversation Going

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 will 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, identify what differentiates you from your competitor, and beat a path to your door…undistracted by the messaages and promises of competitors.

An effective marketing and sales effort can use 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, building a pipeline of somewhat predictable business, and finally delivering measurable return on your investments in marketing and business development.