Working On Resolutions? Begin With A Clean Slate

There is still time to give a gift that can change everything in the coming days, weeks and throughout the new year.

The gift? A fresh start. A new beginning.

Give it to everyone with whom you interact — family, colleagues, team members, clients and customers. Extend it even to those from whom you expect to receive little or nothing in return.

And give it to yourself.

Forget the past — successes and failures, hits and misses, promises broken and opportunities missed. The preconceived notions and expectations that come with past experience inevitably inhibit our ability to take full advantage of a clean slate.

A fresh start cones with clearer vision. A new beginning fosters the capacity to dream.

This is, at least in part, why we celebrate the turn of the calendar and the promise of a new year.

The best beginnings come with renewed emotional energy and uncluttered perspective. There is no quicker way to adjust the course of relationship or enterprise.

Want the benefits of a clean slate to last longer than your average resolution? Try this:

  • Forget about making a case for or justifying decisions, actions and plans of the past.
  • Begin with your most noble aspirations.
  • Define success by the degree to which actions align with these aspirations.

Resolved to make the new year more productive on every front? Work with these basics and the slate will stay relatively uncluttered.

What would you add to this list?

How To Build A Marketing Strategy That Will Deliver

Ask a dozen professionals to define marketing and you might receive a dozen different responses. From retailer to B-to-B enterprise, from service provider to widget producer, from Fortune-listed to start-up — we tend to define marketing based on what we’re selling, and who we need to motivate.

But all of us, unique perspectives notwithstanding, count on our marketing investments to change our business reality — in terms of awareness, behavior, and loyalty.

Marketing, at its best, is a dynamic agent of change.

It may be about transforming a target into a client, expanding a customer’s use of a product/service line, creating initial awareness, or deepening demotion to a brand.

If marketing is not making a difference it is not doing its job.

At The Heart Of It All

Many things can instigate the process of difference-making. Timing, an event, an emotion, even peer pressure or an affiliation are some biggies. But the life-blood of enduring change — in marketing terms, the thing that makes measurable difference, what turns targets into clients and clients into raving fans — is an appropriate dose of relationship.

An incentive, a compelling message, even marketing slight-of-hand can precipitate one-off decisions. But when it comes to making a difference that lasts — the kind of change that lies at the heart of valued experiences and return engagements (cliners for life) — an effective plan builds around market feedback and the dialogue attendant to shared experiences…even collaboration.

Invest in the creation and nurture of honest-to-goodness relationships, and questions about return on investments in marketing tend to move away from how do we get by with less to how do we do more.

So when you wonder about what your marketing strategy should look like — when you set out to determine whether a particular tactic or a “new opportunity” are aligned with a defined approach — remember what gives rise to enduring change in a market is the instigation of an awareness that differentiates, the creation of valued experiences, and the facilitation of on-going dialogue.

The catch? It takes time. Relationships are rarely built by the end of next quarter. But this is the DNA of a marketing strategy that will deliver on its promise…and change everything.

The Illusion of a Business Development or Marketing Silver Bullet

No one should be surprised. It is, after all, human nature. On the other hand, it is a distraction, a resource drain and a mistake we insist on making over and over.

“It” is our seemingly relentless search for a business development Silver Bullet.

From the siren call of a social platform to the promises that the newest technology tool is the answer; from quick fixes to motivate practicioners to freshly edited insights that will flip a magic switch, the (embarrassingly secret) hope that there is something — anything — that will instantly make it rain is one of the great impediments to game-changing business development and marketing success.

Most of us must confess — the pull is so powerful that strategic focus is replaced by fits and starts with every new “opportunity” — real, or imagined.

(Yes, even the real opportunities can dramatically impede progress when a strategic plan is interrupted. The fact that a departure from the charted course might result in measured success only reinforces a behavior; when characterized as an asset — flexible, opportunistic – even (mistakenly) entrepreneurial — we may simply have given in to the shiny silver bullet. It is a heck of a lot easier than committing to a strategy.)

Sure…in the absence of a real game plan, being athletic enough to turn on a dime may well be the best option. But don’t mistake it for a Strategy (with a capital S).

And when we wonder at the advances made by competitors, or are mystified by an inability to leverage investments in business development, consider these two simple tenets:

  • Focus wins.
  • A measure of real strategy is whether it facilitates focus, empowering an organization to say “No” to the endless stream of “opportunities.”

Absent unlimited resources, few organizations are really flexible enough to react to every great opportunity that comes along. Before we alter strategy in order to take advantage of something too good to pass up, consider the implication; while we might call it opportunistic, we may have a business development strategy (with a very small “s”) that is little more than waiting (and hoping) for the next opportunity.

A successful business development strategy speaks (in a definitive but not necessarily sexy way) to three questions:

  • Who is the target, and why? — which implies you have taken stock of market realities and your organization’s capabilities;
  • What “business drivers” are top of mind, impacting critical decisions, and how do you connect to these drivers?;
  • What must we do to connect with the decision maker (that is, how complete is our decision-maker relationship map)?

Silver bullets are rare. Those that address this three-point strategy…rarer still.

Why Listening Should Be Your #1 Business Development Action Item

All listening is not the same.

Consider the differences in the way you listen to talk radio as you sit in traffic; to the argument of an adversary; and, for the slightest whimper from the new born down the hall.

The soundtrack of a day is complex. Most of us are adept at juggling multiple channels vying for our attention. We learn what to listen for, what resonates, how to zero-in on key words, phrases or even subtle intonation. And when to tune out.

But as we become skilled at this brand of reactive listening we are (inadvertently) contributing to the demise of something that is central to effective communication. As it turns out, it’s one of the ingredients we need most if we hope to build relationships that lead to long-term business development.

Intentional, Proactive Listening

Perhaps it is a byproduct of attempting to pack as much into an hour — even a brief conversation — as possible. Whatever the cause, we rarely think of listening as the centerpiece of business communication, marketing, client development or sales.

Rather, it is tempting to view opportunities to connect as demands for messaging —  of the new idea, the latest services and capabilities, or our most recent award. And this is where we invest virtually all the time and resources earmarked for business development.

Listening is seldom the priority when presented with a chance to present a message.

It is so easy to become so focused on delivering our message that in those (usually all-too-brief) moments when a client or prospect is questioning or commenting — providing insight into what is most important to her — we can’t do much better than half listen. Primary attention is being given to the content of our next message — our response.

The unfortunate fact is that the ability to multitask and master-mix the noise of our marketplace notwithstanding, listening is often the most productive tool at our fingertips. The poetry and/or profundity of a message has little impact when disconnected from the concerns and drivers of the target.

If you’re wondering how to differentiate your business development efforts, the question is — how much more effective might our attempts at communication be if our intent was first to listen?

This is why client interview and feedback programs are so valuable.

This is why there is measurable value in having conversations apart from the context of a project, presentation or specific matter.

Intentional listening highlights the voice of those with whom we want to connect. And by voice, I mean the cares, aspirations and concerns of your target audience. It is the key to the most basic principle of effective communication — that connection takes place in the context of shared experience and understanding.

Put another way — intentional listening will identify, outline and define the language of the closest you will ever come to a can’t-miss-message.

Translation: the shortest distance between where we are today and a relationship that results in business development that will change your practice is less about the construction of a long list of capabilities, and more about one or two questions that instigate dialogue. Less about what we know, and more about what we can learn if we’ll listen first.

Game-changing business development — not to mention, the road to becoming a trusted advisor — is much less about beginning with a compelling message, and much more about intentional listening.

This Is Why It Feels Good To Give Thanks

Thankfulness is a decision — one that, when made, changes everyone touched by the decision.

It is borne of a perspective that transcends experience, and resists seeing life through a lens.

Thankfulness has no agenda. It is comfortable in any room…at ease in any position or station…predisposed to give, with no expectation.

Thankfully, it is not confined to a day. Or a season. It cannot be measured, and it does not keep score.

It is a gift. And to give thanks is a choice.

A thankful perspective is inclined to reject views rooted in fear.

Thankfulness makes our hearts bigger. It opens our eyes wider and fine-tunes the way everything is seen.

It inspires the highest order of creativity and innovation.

People driven by a thankful spirit are inconspicuous. They speak softly; yet, what they say resonates. They change every room they enter.

We are all a little better when we are consciously thankful. This is why our world is a happier place when we pause for a moment, hour or day of thanksgiving.


The Fear of Change and the Inability to Innovate

Very few people really like change. Those who say they do may really be talking about variety — like trading cars or upgrading to the newest phone.

Consequential change is ofine a painful process.

Sometime ago I ran across this Networking Exchange blog post by Alan See. The post points out that in the early 20th century, with projections that by 1925 every adult woman in America would be needed to staff Bell Telephone’s manual switchboard system, the company introduced the first automatic switchboard. The change was met with skepticism, and questions about the elimination of a human being from the process of managing phone traffic.

For similar stories, see initial reactions to such innovations as the Model T. Or the ATM. Or browse today’s skepticism regarding the role “AI” might play in professional services.

In the average organization a measure of success, not to mention the comfort zone provided by precedent, fight against change.

On the other hand, pain is frequently the real agent of change in our midst.

But delaying innovation until pain is registered doesn’t seem to be the best strategy for survival in a volatile market…let alone growth.

With this in mind it is useful to be alert to two responses that often signal a fear of change. And an opportunity to innovate, missed.

  1. The “we already do that” response. Leaders who inspire innovation are slow to equate proposed changes with something already in place. I know a Director whose proposal for a strategic initiative was cut short because her boss either assumed all such initiatives are the same, or that there was no need for change. Opportunity lost.
  2. The “I’ve done that job, so I understand what is involved” response. Right. Talk to an audio engineer about the knowledge and skills required for the job today compare to a decade ago. No matter the task, the instant we assume the way we used to do it is the way it should always be done, we are rejecting the possibility that change might be in order.

This is not to suggest that just because change is possible we should instantly embrace it. Innovation rarely comes cheap. Clearly, changing for the sake of change is not wise. There is almost always an impact on budget, culture, and long-standing process. Leadership and management are about doing the homework, counting the cost, and insuring that you’re pursuing a change for the better. As Alan’s post suggests, the most potent change may come in increments that begin with the question, “how can we improve.”

“We’ve always done it this way”, or “we never did that before” — or “don’t mess with anything that isn’t broken” — these are not good reasons for sticking with the status quo. In fact, these responses may signal a coming demise. To the degree these are knee-jerk responses to new ideas, they are at the heart of our inability to innovate and grow.

The marketplace moves into uncharted territory with each new day. Those who lead constantly ask whether there is a better way to accomplish our tasks, benefit our stakeholders, and serve our clients.

If Your BizDev Plan Doesn’t Specify Targets, Don’t Expect Great ROI

Two things are often true of professional service providers wrestling with how to build a practice, and we discuss both frequently:

  • an anemic network — which translates to a severe shortage of connections that can either hire you, or refer and introduce you to the folks in a position to do the hiring; and,
  • the absence of strategic targets — which makes it difficult to leverage resources (including a network of valued connections) and mount a productive pursuit.

If your’re finding it difficult to identify a quality target, your network isn’t doing what it should do; that is, produce opportunities. If this is the case, this is where you should focus first — in order to create a pipeline of work. You’re invited to check here and here for fodder.

This post is about the next big stumbling block for many — how to identify targets for strategic business development pursuits.

It begins by making yourself consistently valuable to your network. Here are 4 on how to approach this.

  1. Become a connector — providing introductions, references, referrals and recommendations to others in your network (and think personal as well as professional). Many in your network value this more than almost anything else you might deliver. Become known as a connector, and you’ll find your network connecting you to conduits for business.
  2. Share your expertise versus simply talking about it. Ofine an easy place to begin is to stage CLE events, and produce timely seminars and blog posts that deliver thought leadership, analysis and insight.
  3. Become a curator — accumulate and share content that is important and relevant to your network…including content from sources other than you or your firm. This level of communication has the added benefit of demonstrating that you have a broad awareness of your target’s business.
  4. Communicate with regularity — and if this seems a bit repetitive it is because regular communication is central to the development of quality relationships — the kind that result in referrals, recommendations and work. Your plan of action should include a communications calendar that specifies a touch point every six to eight weeks in most cases.

These are just ideas. There are no cookie-cutters. Be aware of what your target cares about. Remember that effective business development is about building quality relationships. Delivering real value to your network is the most eloquent marketing message there is, creating visibility with staying power.

Become valueable enough to the right kind of network, and over time some prospects will begin to self-identify. But what are the keys to proactive identification of those you want to pursue?

Here are 5 suggested criteria that can help you prioritize, and build a target list that maximizes your efforts.

  1. Consider where your subject matter expertise aligns with the business drivers of a target. If alignment (or the lack thereof) isn’t clear, dig a little deeper. Identify business drivers and making a relevant and productive presentation or pitch becomes much less challenging.
  2. Do you have a relationship with the decision-maker? All other things being equal, investing where you have a direct relationship with an individual empowered to hire you should take high priority;
  3. Consider the arithmetic. Do enough homework to know the rate, project costs and timeline of working with a target will not end up being an issue when your pursuit is successful.
  4. Where do you have allied and extended relationships. Draft a relationship map that shows all known connections between you/your firm, others in your network, your target’s organization, and the decision maker. Targets should increase in priority where you possess strong connections closer to the decision-maker.
  5. Do you have a personal affinity for the work done by any of your targets? Work that touches on areas you care about will almost always help make a pursuit more organic.

Smart targeting will have dramatic impact on the marketing and business development plan you create. It helps you select what events to attend and which ones to pass up; when a speaking engagement fits as a development tactic; what to write about; when to say no to “opportunities;” and where to invest resources.

Smart targeting — as difficult and uncomfortable as it may be at times — is the key into map the shortest distance between where you are today, and the existence of a pipeline that will deliver opportunities over the long haul.

Real Leadership Inspires Uncommon Vision

Some accomplish it with a pen mightier-than-any-sword. Some with eloquent oratory.

For many the tool is as simple as an invitation — how may I help you? Or the offer of a cup of cold water

Some speak volumes with the sheer force of example.

Whatever the methodology, real leaders encourage conversations — around core ideas, fundamental values, consequential agendas, and aspirational vision.

To be sure, if loud enough, any voice may be able to distract for a season. Given the resources, would-be leaders can spin, finesse, obfuscate, and monopolize messaging. But merely storming to the front of a room, grasping the microphone or hovering over a pulpit does not constitute leadership.

In fact, having to announce ones credentials might be indicative of a leadership vacuum.

Real leadership, no matter the venue, is marked by the presence of inclusion, dialogue and a collaborative pursuit of advancement, progress and solution.

And while the conversations may be disconcerting at times, the progress of a team, an enterprise or any community depends on the honest dialogue and collaborative spirit that leads to the identification of common ground and shared experiences.

Real leadership has an authenticity that inspires uncommon vision — to see a bigger picture, to dream of what could be, and to engage in a noble pursuit, wherever it might lead — because we know the pursuit was borne of a selfless commitment to the greater good.

Breaking News — Business Development Is Not Complicated

Business development is not complicated.

Hard work? Indeed…because it is, at its core, about succeeding at relationships…and we all know that almost anything having to do with relationships is hard work.

But the quest for formulas, fast-fixes and a magic planning template notwithstanding, biz dev success does not reside in a silver-bullet or one-size-fits-all solution.

Strategically sound plans and solid processes are critical tools, to be sure; both increase efficiencies and facilitate accountability.

But the foundation of effective business development relationships is precisely the same as it is in a more personal context — a relentless focus on your target.

Getting BacK To Basics

Business development in the professional services arena is a simple process:

1. Identify a Target.

2. Determine what your Target cares about.

3. Think about and work on the relationship (speaking to what your target cares about) every day, for as long as it takes.

Not a complicated process. Yet, we struggle mightily; and when we don’t give up, we seem to exercise creative genius when it comes to finding ways to complicate, over-think and sabotage our efforts.

Here are a few thoughts on how to keep it simple, and on track.

Step one — Targeting — means letting go of the ever popular all-things-to-all-prospects strategy. Targeting involves a proactive, strategic pursuit.

It is an acknowledgement that waiting on the market to beat a path to your door is a slippery slope to irrelevance.

It is built on the realization that reacting does not constitute a viable go-to-market strategy.

Targeting is about learning what a prospect might care about; what precipitates sleepless nights.

An effective business development plan is about connecting the dots between what your target cares about and what you can do to help. That’s it. The best plan highlights the value you bring to your strategic relationships — whether referral source or hiring authority.

Spin it, complicate it and if-and-or-but it all you want; relationships that endure — professional or personal — are about listening, learning, investing time, and meeting needs. Do this, and trust develops. And the relationship grows stronger.

Try building a practice without identifying targets and you’re going to be frustrated, at best.

Are there skill sets, tools and more sophisticated processes that will help? No doubt.

But anyone serious about business development can realize success with attention to this simple process. Those who find a way to personalize it, and incorporate it as a daily routine are the ones that make it rain.