If you secretly fear your approach to business development is underperforming, you are not alone. In fact, you’re among a majority of law, accounting and consulting professionals and firms I know.

I know there is little comfort in numbers in this case; but this prompts a question: when will the lack of results from the way it’s always been done finally push rethinking the conversation? 

Here’s a bit of fodder. 

We Know Where Business Comes From

Most who provide a professional service will quickly tell you that the majority of new work is either the direct or indirect byproduct of a relationship. 

Yet when it comes time to identify possible new sources of revenue, to talk about specifically where to intentionally focus business development efforts many struggle mightily. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • confusion between professional service marketing efforts and sales;
  • an anemic professional network;
  • a reluctance to “sell” in the context of a relationship;
  • the personality of an introvert, making conventional networking difficult, if not distasteful.

The reason is not as important as the consequence. Unable to identify any viable targets for a proactive pursuit, the default position is often to double down on visibility or branding initiatives. The result is efforts we hope will heighten awareness and speed up or streamline the credibility-building process, resulting in new opportunities presenting themselves.

The Difference 

We should quickly acknowledge that quality marketing efforts are an important part of the business development mix. But the most creative and motivating professional services marketing on the planet is unlikely to build relationship equity…and it sure won’t do it in a fortnight. 

The reliance on a marketing outreach to establish contact and build relationships of trust is one of the reasons you have those nagging concerns about your business development efforts.

Unless you’re spending enough to be ubiquitous in the marketplace and offering a solution to a real or perceived problem, you aren’t engaged in the kind of marketing that ensures you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

This is not designed to diminish the role or impact of great marketing. It is to remind us that marketing and sales — or business development if you prefer — while linked, are not the same thing when it comes to the organic growth of a professional services practice.

In brief, marketing creates awareness, builds brand equity, instigates initial interaction, helps to maintain a presence, and even precipitate certain buying conversations.

But it does not build a personal relationship. And personal relationship is central to the kind of trust that will place a company’s future in your hands.

Don’t Become A Sales Guru

This is not rocket science.

It is a slightly different framework for your consideration — one that doesn’t expect you to turn into the worlds biggest extrovert, that aligns perfectly with what you value and one that changes the business development discussion.

You don’t need more prospects. You need more allies.

Productive relationships — what we know to be the greatest source of business — are  rooted in shared purpose.

An estate planning lawyer whose clients are high net worth individuals focuses BizDev efforts on building relationships with other professionals serving the high net worth market. She speaks for financial planning groups; contributes a column for the quarterly publication of the foundation of a local university; partners with a CPA group to host workshops for the clients of a trust department; and speaks at retreats for all of these allies, systematically generating new opportunities.

A corporate law firm and CEO peer group, both of whom seek ways to connect with the local business community, join forces to sponsor and host a series of monthly presentations connecting local business leaders to authors and experts on topics of interest.

In each case, professionals  who share a common goal — to build new connections in a similar market — leverage relationships in a way that facilitates access, lends credibility and creates an organic lead generation and referral mechanism.

And in both cases, the professionals know precisely where they will invest their time, what marketing opportunities make sense, who their messaging must connect with and what communication channels will reach the audience. 

This intentional development of allied relationships transforms business development and sales activities from a search for prospects to pitch into a stream of opportunities to demonstrate the value of your service.

In the process, it will remove the fog that surrounds business development, provide a framework for strategic marketing efforts and deliver measurable return on your investments in organic growth.