There is a basic principle in communication theory — shared experiences form the basis for the most effective communication.

Even if we did not formally study the science, most of us have first-hand experience with the validity of the principle — in intimate, social and professional settings alike.In the space where experiences of the communicator overlap with those of the audience, there is a common vernacular, similar concerns and dreams. Invest in identifying this common ground, and then use it as the foundation for your approach to connecting, and efforts are more efficient and productive.

But when it comes to marketing, business development and sales strategies, we frequently opt to skip over this basic building block.

In part, we can blame this on the fact that so many distribution channels are accessible and affordable. Once we have a product, service or cause, the temptation is to waste no time, and plunge headlong into shouting our story from every virtual rooftop available.

If the market knew our story, we reason out-loud…it would beat a path to our door is the unspoken inference.

Yet even in the wake of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we continue to focus on our story — from the breadth of our expertise to extraordinary talent (we only hire from the top 10%!); from our commitment to diversity to locations that make us virtually omnipresent…to anything else we can come up with that announces our availability.

This is, after all, how it worked for professional service providers for decades — go to the right school, hang a nice shingle, do good work, follow the path and the market will find you. And though no one really believes it was the shingle that attracted the clients, we seem willing to believe that the contemporary shingles — a logo, a (clever) tag-line, and some finessed copy on a freshly minted website will make all the difference to today’s marketplace..

We just need to get the word out there.

Notwithstanding the existence and value of all the communication and marketing tools available today, wherever just-get-our-name-out-there is the refrain, the results likely look and sound the same as the competition’s. And organic growth is slow-to-nonexistent. When it comes for business development and marketing conversations, ROI is questioned. And eventually tactics (masquerading as new strategy) shift one more time.

This Time, Begin With The Principle

There is a way to create awareness that differentiates, takes advantage of the all of the distribution channels to reach the right audience, and even prompts the market to take a step in your direction. Just go back to that basic principle.

Effective communication begins with the Identification of where your experiences align with the experiences of your target market.

It is a simple equation.

But for many, the difficulty exists in what the equation presumes — that a target has been identified.

(If you’re a regular reader, you knew we’d be getting back to this.)

We mentioned the temptation above — to jump right in, grab the nearest tool, and broadcast our story to all within earshot…all the while assuming the power to deliver the market lies within an accounting of our skills, insights, and — provided we have enough time and space — our experiences.

Yet, we know the verdict even before we begin. All the available communication channels notwithstanding — it is impossible to create a message relevant to everyone. When it comes time to precipitate the action that ultimately results in new business, the marketplace is littered with websites, ad campaigns, blogs, and social media feeds that promise everything…and all sound alike.

Granted, knowing where to begin when it comes to target identification is challenging. But an important step is to beware the “anyone-who-needs-what-I-do” trap. The real estate lawyer who says “just put me in touch with anyone doing a real estate deal” is sacrificing the leverage that comes with being able to address specific issues, needs, and experiences.

And the only way we can be certain we’re connecting with what our audience cares about, is to begin with a target. (By the way…the definition of “target” is not limited to one with hiring authority; but that is a topic for another post.)

The more removed we are from being able to name a target, the more likely our strategy is little more than a hope that the market somehow find our door. Or our email address.

Get Targeting Right, and The Second Stumbling Block Is Easy To Avoid

Here are three questions that frame a very simple target identification process:

  • Who do I want to work with?
  • Can I map relationships that connect me to the hiring authority? If not,
  • What must be accomplished in order to create that relationship map?

Once a target is identified, a basic plan of action revolves around learning what the hiring authority cares about — that is, learning the relevant field of experiences. This is the intentional listening part of the equation. It includes market analysis, research, and input from “coaches” identified during the relationship mapping process. Past experiences, future challenges, personal preferences — all of this serves to map the target’s field of experiences, and help develop an understanding of what the market cares about.

Invest in research — listen intently — and your target market will tell you what it will take to stand out and make contact — even in a crowded marketplace.

Sure…if an offering is both one-of-a-kind (or scarce), and in high demand, announcing the unique availability may be all that is required to generate a wave of new business. Take the news of your service to the rooftops and commence shouting.

But most of us exist in a competitive and noisy marketplace. Connecting is difficult enough; drawing a distinction between the services we offer and those of our competiton requires more than just getting our message out there.

It seems worth noting for the record that your most rewarding business development efforts will almost always be the byproduct of relationships. There are a number of reasons this is the case; but it is inescapable that one is in the context of building and nurturing a relationship our efforts are focused. Targeted, if you will.

Once a target has been identified, the marketing toolbox — content, events, PR, and the myriad of ways to go-to-market — will become a valued if not coveted resource. A number of the questions we wrestle with — should I be on Twitter…what about Linked In…should I speak, or blog, or volunteer…or all of the above — become much less vexing. You’ll begin to consider these issues in the context of what your target cares about — that relevant field of experience.

If we as marketers and service providers exchanged some of the resources we often invest in getting our story out there for an equal portion of target identification and intentional listening designed to find that highly productive space where our experiences — professional and personal — align with what our target cares about we might find ourselves in the midst of wholly new conversations when it comes to business development.