The Four Keys To Acquiring Quality Leads

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.

The Perils of Peering Into The Future Through a “That’s-The-Way-We’ve-Always-Done-It” Lens

Vision is the lifeblood of any march toward the future. Without it, the status quo offers a comfort zone that is difficult to give up — especially when things have been pretty darn good for a very long time.

Before we go further we should clarify terms. A Vision is not about a 100-word so-called mission statement, manufactured out of necessity and rarely considered once posted on the firm website.

For a community, tribe or enterprise, Vision is the palpable idea that transcends both discouragement and exuberance, providing perspective in victory or defeat. In challenge and opportunity it is the GPS that provides context, and is always focused on the destination.

A strategic Vision is, simultaneously, a cornerstone and a launching pad. In the hands of capable leadership even the most aspirational articulation becomes accessible, and is the DNA of a shared adventure or pursuit.

Vision stimulates movement even when circumstances conspire to paralyze. It is what sustains…even in the midst of  scarcity — real or perceived. A shared vision infects every facet of an organization, giving rise to energy, creativity, and innovation necessary for the march into the future.

Vision is what provides appropriate perspective — on the past (the way we’ve always been successful), on opportunistic exuberance, and on identifying and mitigating the risks of a journey.

And as the writer of Proverbs observes, where there is no vision, the people parish.

Want to quickly test the health of an organization’s Vision?

Wherever morale is perpetually low and progress slow…where turf wars dominate conversations related to change…when revenue is not only the measure of success, but the definition of meaning…when managing the commotion of daily operations comes at the expense of a discerning eye on the future…check the status of your firm’s shared Vision.

While it does not appear anywhere on the balance sheet, Vision is a hidden asset — one essential to navigating a volatile marketplace.

What does Vision in the context of a professional services firm actually look like? Here are four ways in which a Vision helps an organization insure it is asking the right questions today, in preparation for market transformations tomorrow.

1. Vision fosters the only available view of the future. Will we be relevant tomorrow? Are there issues on the horizon (or already beating down on today’s reality) that will challenge our operational models? Where will the market be next year? Three years from now? And what must we be thinking about and doing in order to be present and prepared as the market arrives?

2. Vision forces a laser-like focus on clients. Will the relationships that are central to our productivity and profitability survive the issues that will inevitably test loyalty — competition, succession, convergence, globalization, to name a few? What must be done to insure quality communication and collaboration…the kind that nurtures relationships?

3. Vision hones organizational self-awareness. A functioning vision is accessible to the entire organization. And since it is not the property of any single group or class, it can better equip any team to  side-step illusions of grandeur or inferiority, and see things as they are. At a daily operational level, this makes it possible to accurately assess strengths, weaknesses and challenges, minimizing costly misteps.

4. Vision provides the Answer To Why. This is an almost always overlooked cornerstone of stability in consequential moments. Far from being intangible, a Vision is the frame of reference for priorities, and the gauge for how ultimate success is measured. Is this aligned with why we do what we do? How does this personnel move, merger or growth “opportunity” connect to the Vision we share? A Vision brings the answers to critical questions into focus.

Because it often comes at the expense of the interests of vocal individuals or groups, and because it inevitably infers change, those concerned with merely managing daily commotion often find it easier to scoff at the idea of Vision, allowing it to take a back seat to more “pressing matters” in the name of leadership, or collegiality, or consensus. But no matter how it might be rationalized, this practice marks the beginning of the end of an intentional and strategic march into the marketplace of tomorrow.

Without a clear Vision, an organization is subjected to decisions-in-a-vacuum. On the other hand, a clearly defined strategic Vision provides a framework for decisions, a roadmap for operations, and an answer to that pesky question posed by clients, targets, staff and shareholders alike — why we venture into each new day to do the things we do.

Here Are The 4 Keys to a Successful Business Development Initiative

In a recent conversation, the managing partner of a business law firm asked, “why is organic business development slow, painful and, for the most part, ineffective when it comes to actually developing new business?” He went on to cite the percentage of revenue his firm invests in marketing and business development efforts, and wondered aloud whether it was enough, and whether increasing the investment would make any difference.

He is not the only one asking the question. So what does an effective initiative look like?

In a recent post we discussed the cultural tension that exists when attempting to inject a proactive sales mindset into an organization that is reactive by nature. With the content of that post as precursor, let’s take a look at four factors that dramatically increase the odds that your business development efforts will gain traction and deliver ROI.

Success Factor 1: Leadership That Participates

Any initiative whose success hinges on a measurable cultural shift must be a top-down initiative. And make no mistake — suggesting a business development mindset is a cultural imposition in most law firms — or for that matter, most any professional service organization that has thrived by waiting for something to happen in the marketplace, and then responding to it.

The approach taken by many firms whereby leadership relegates a business development focus to areas where performance lags is doomed from the start. Leaders who are too busy or rainmakers who are perceived to be doing their own thing in a high profile way serve to undermine the idea that an initiative is essential to success.

If you have hopes of instigating the kind of behavior that results in the development of new clients, firm leadership must come forward with more than lip service or token involvement.

Success Factor 2: Participation Is Measured

We measure what matters. That’s the axiom. In fact, we tend to measure what has always been measured…what we believe matters, without consideration to changes in infrastructure, service delivery methodology, and market demands.

In an enterprise where hours is what we inventory, and hours-worked defines productivity, there is little time and often less respect for things referred to as non-billable…like the activities attendant to nurturing prospective clients and developing new business.

Here is the challenge. There are two ways in which one acquires new business — through relationships, or through the random good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. (It is worth noting that those who invest in relationships also tend to end up in the right place more often than their counterparts…but that is a conversation for another post.)

If your firm has any expectation that resources invested in the current (or forthcoming) business development initiative will deliver value, the way you measure time and resources invested — especially in the early days of the process — should reflect this belief.

On the other hand, penalize someone for missing a billable hour benchmark without any consideration to the future value of the hours spent (legitimately) on business development, and you’ve just told everyone that the only thing that really matters is billing hours.

Devalue non-billable time, and don’t be surprised when no one jumps at the chance to do the work necessary for quality blogging, strategic networking, and doing the research necessary to understand the business drivers of potential new clients. (Ultimately, this value system will permeate everything, and impact the value of the firm’s brand.)

Where business development is essential, time spent engaged in the process is valued and measured.

Success Factor 3: Results are Rewarded

If you want to instigate action, then right up there on the list of cliches grounded in fact — alongside measure what matters — is put your money where your mouth is.

You can talk until you’re blue in the face about the importance of business development, the value in writing and speaking, and the essential nature of relationships. If the compensation system does not incentivize an opportunistic mindset, hunting-in-packs, collaboration, and making every decision based on value to the client (in lieu of keeping work on my desk so I have hours to bill), don’t expect any cultural shift — at least not toward becoming more business development oriented.

This is certainly not to suggest that landing on the right compensation system is easy. Nor are we insinuating that one culture is right and another wrong. It is to underscore the fact that firms that do not find appropriate ways to incentivize business development will never have a proactive business development mindset.

Determining the appropriate way to incentivize and compensate for business development without impacting other valued aspects of a firm’s culture is extremely difficult. It is likely one of the moments that calls for outside perspective, experience and facilitation. In any event, just as we measure what matters to us, we almost always follow by putting our money into what we value.

Success Factor 4: Commitment To The Process

If you believe that building relationships is central to business development, your initiative cannot be a series of experiments with flavors-of-the-month. Rewarding relationships are not created overnight. Or by the end of this quarter. The kind of relationships that will refer, recommend, counsel and hire you take time to build.

So for everyone starting from scratch, count on investing an appropriate amount of time. Assuming you’ve identified strategic targets, the challenge is to create visibility, connect, deliver value, and eventually enter into a dialogue with an individual that can hire you.

How long does it take?

Quality relationships are rarely the byproduct of a cookie-cutter. It almost never happens in a handful of months. Eighteen to twenty-four months is a decent benchmark for noteworthy progress. And for everyone that believes that is simply too long, consider how much completely new business you’ve generated in the past two years. I know of one professional who invested a decade in developing a relationship without receiving a single piece of busines. But the target was a long-term strategic play. And the investment paid off — with multiple years of more than $3 million in revenue each year, and counting.

When you begin to measure effectiveness in terms of the life-time-value of a client, your perspective regarding the time it takes to build a new client relationship begins to change.

Buy into gimmicks that promise short cuts and you’ll be looking for a new answer in a few months. Start a new business development initiative every year or two and be prepared to share the frustrations and questions posed by the managing partner mentioned at the top of this post — why is it so hard? Is it worth it? What do we have to do to realize a pay off?

Organic growth is possible in any size firm. Business development can produce not only discernable, but compelling results. But it will require intentional focus on these four key success factors.

“I Don’t Get The CMO Thing”: 5 Ideas To Change The Conversation That Dooms Marketing Leadership From Day 1

The year was 2009. The law firm managing partner was confessing. Not in a contrite or inquisitive manner. The tone was incredulous. He didn’t get it; and he seemed to politely resent the idea that he should invest any time or energy discussing it.

Ironically, he was elbows deep in the process of interviewing for a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for his firm.

To be fair, it is likely that nothing in his experience had served to create the view that a senior marketing professional would be an asset to his management team or his partners. The law firm for which he served as chair, like most other AmLaw 200 firms, had enjoyed an amazing run for decades. Enviable partner profits, regular increases in hourly rates, and an impressive client list argued against any idea that something might be missing from his management suite.

His firm had experienced years of success without a CMO. The managing partner had no reason to believe that any of the things that had contributed to the historic prosperity might change.

But peer firms had CMOs. If the competition had it, there must be something to it. And someone in the management sphere had convinced him they should entertain the idea. So, there he sat.

That was nearly a decade ago, and the firm in question has had some ups and downs…but at the end of 2017 was slightly smaller than it had been in 2009, and was struggling for market share.

Though the function has come a long way, outside a handful of notable exceptions, most law firm leaders still have some semblance of the “I don’t get it” mindset“ when it comes to the professional management of marketing and business development. It may come in the form of debates over changes to the lawyer profile. Or an initiative to leverage capabilities and hunt in packs. Or the role of client interviews. Or project management. Or AFAs.

Presumably because most law firms shy away from being first-to-market with anything, the conversations tend to factor how other firms have responded to what is going on in the marketplace…and whether to follow suit. Precious few conversations broach the topic of where the market is headed and how to get there first. Or on how to capture more market share in a particular sweet spot.

No one should be surprised.

Everything about proactive marketing and business development (not to mention new or innovative service offerings) runs counter to the reactive approach that is typical of a legal practice — identify risk, spot what is wrong, name the problem. Never forget that the glass is always at least half empty.

New opportunity is most often perceived as additional risk.

When you get right down to it, lawyers and marketers are an odd pairing — one that tests even the most sincere spirit of collaboration.

So how does a CMO address the tension between, on one hand, a largely reactive approach to the market; and on the other, a proactive pursuit of opportunity? In the interest of a productive conversation, here are five ideas.

First, acknowledge the tension. To ignore the fact that on the best of days lawyers and marketers see opportunity in completely different ways is to handicap every attempt at consequential communication with lawyer leadership.

Second, relentlessly pursue a connection based on how the lawyer views the market. Speak to strategies that mitigate risk. Suggest executable plans where precedent can be cited that hints at future success. And identify the challenges. Name every issue. In short, build better conversations by staging dialogue on turf familiar to the lawyer.

Third, invest in speaking the lawyer’s language. Few things can bring an otherwise productive conversation to a halt faster than relying on marketing buzz words or consultant-speak. Communication occurs when we build on common ground and shared experiences. The use of language borne of a marketing mindset does nothing more than indicate we are willing to defer to our own shorthand, rather than invest the energy to craft a message that connects.

Fourth, focus on — to use consultant-speak — what keeps the lawyer up at night. Chances are it is not the newest marketing initiative or business development strategy unless he’s just had a less than fulfilling experience in one of these areas. And even where the lawyer’s most pressing driver can be spoken to by someone on your team, it is possible that the lawyer does not view the marketing team as the resource likely to have the solution.

And fifth, practice what we preach. Remember that if you’re in-house at a law firm, the lawyers are your targets. If the strategy you’re selling is worth anything, it should be the strategy you’re using to connect and market inside the firm. Believe in content marketing? Your internal marketing efforts should model what you’re selling. Coaching lawyers to know their client’s business? We’d do well to understand the lawyer’s practice before we preach too fervently.

Will these five ideas bridge the disconnect? This is where there is value in channeling the little bit of lawyer in all of us in order to acknowledge the downside. Things will not change overnight. And certainly not in the context of one meeting.

Nothing is going to change the fact that marketers and lawyers see the world through different lenses.

In this way, the challenges facing marketing leadership are no different than those faced by peers in finance or IT. But it does seem that our challenge is unique. Unlike other chairs in the C-Suite, marketers do not handle the money or deliver the email. To the degree that our role is about intentionally moving toward the market instead of waiting for the market to move to us, we are insinuating a new behavior, and a mindset at odds with that of most lawyers.

The only way things change with the managing partner that doesn’t get the marketing thing is when a) she experiences or at least senses a painful change is coming; and b) marketing leaders are there to ease the pain, identify an alternative path forward, and assist with critical transition.

In order to be in a position to do this, we must find ways to keep the conversation going…even when leadership questions value. Even when the practice of law serves to derail the marketing/business development focus (remember…this is why they went to law school!). And yes…even when those we seek to assist simply don’t get it.

The Critical Difference Between Managing and Leading

Title, office location or size, number of direct reports and not even hiring and firing authority guarantees that one is a leader. The greatest leaders we encounter are not defined by trappings. This reality often hits hard at the peak of disruption or crisis, when what is needed is leaders who have what it takes to motivate and inspire the action necessary survive and thrive.

At least part of the issue we wrestle with is mistaking what it takes to effectively manage processes, operations and daily commotion for the ability to see consequential change on the horizon, and bring leadership to critical moments that will shape the future. In this article posted on we examine the difference.

The Inspiration Of Real Leadership

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek bases the title on a practice of the US Marines. When gathered to eat, the enlisted members of the group are first in line, while officers wait until everyone else has been served.

The book is, in my view a must read. But here is a timely taste.

The premise is that leaders place the needs, concerns and well-being of others above any self interest, thereby earning the kind of trust that inspires a group to follow — even into the heat of battle.

If you’ve known a real leader, you’ve experienced this brand of inspiration.

Leadership is not about access. It does not flaunt privilege. It is not the automatic byproduct of title or rank. It is something one earns.

Sure — some titles come with a corner office and access to a platform; but turn the platform into a pulpit with tired rhetoric, empty hyperbole or self promotion, and don’t expect to grow the ranks of those willing to sign up for the mission you wish to lead.

Leaders are not consumed by a need for acceptance or accolades. Solutions, tough decisions, ideas, constructive dialogue — this is the stuff of a leader’s focus.

If we’re constantly lobbying for a seat at the table, wishing for the acknowledgement we deserve, entangled in debates that are far from mission critical…it is worth asking whether we’re modeling leadership. Is our dialogue about personal agenda and advancement? Or is it focused on the needs and critical interests of those we aspire to influence?

One can have a seat at the table, own a title for a season, or even post up on a bully pulpit and demand action. But this is not leadership.

A leader inspires conversations that matter, dialogue that is about solution, changes that endure, and a legacy we can be proud to leave behind.

What does leadership look like? This is from Sinek’s book:

Leaders are the ones who run head-first into the unknown.They rush towards the danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours; and they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs.

This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, head-first into the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them, and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life. And proudly call ourselves their followers. — Simon SInek.

Title and Corner Office Notwithstanding, Here Is The Real Measure of Leadership

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek sets the bar for what defines a leader. The book as well as Sinek’s TED Talks should be required for anyone aspiring to a leadership role. In short, the author suggests that the real measure of an effective leader is the degree to which she inspires a team to follow her into the heat of any battle or pursuit. The inspiration derives from the belief that the leader, forsaking self interest, operates in the best interest of the team.

Many will scoff at the suggestion, characterizing it as impractical and unrealistic in today’s marketplace. Perhaps this is the case. But it is difficult to debate the idea that there are plenty of corner office occupants few are inspired to follow. Or, that trust exists where a team or tribe perceives those with leadership monikers are driven by self-interest and a preservation instinct.

When a group believes those with position will address defining moments thinking first of their own well-being, not even the grandest title will inspire commitment to a mission.

The bad news here is that absent some measure of trust, the highest potential of the group, team, organization or community will never be realized.

Where there is no trust, real dialogue rarely occurs. Singular perspective shapes direction. Progress and success are measured using benchmarks that are skewed. In this environment the rank-and-file will be certain of one thing: decisions will always be made in favor of those in decision-making positions. Any call to mission is assessed cautiously, while consistently glancing over a shoulder.

In this kind of environment the spirit that gives rise to innovation is stifled. New is the ultimate threat, bringing change to a comfortable status quo. (This may be the reason innovation is often born in the garage start-up or the isolation of eccentricity. It is certainly the reason organizations without a leader’s eye on the future are perpetually slow to make critical changes.)

Here’s the challenge for teams who aspire to endure. Ready or not, tomorrow is coming. It will inevitably bring challenges and change. Survival — never mind stability and growth — increasingly call for a brand of vision that sees beyond the short-term, that is willing to test the status quo, that understands that charting a path into the future might push the boundaries of preconceived convention.

Where this is understood, the management of daily commotion as discussed in this article on is never mistaken for leadership.

Sinek speaks of a willingness to march into any fray, and pay any price based on the belief that leadership would sooner sacrifice self-interest than the well-being of the team. In the context of this culture the potential of the team flourishes. Change and innovation are not enemies. And the challenges of tomorrow represent opportunity.

How To Build A Marketing Approach That Delivers

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 — marketing is defined 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 within a target market.

Marketing, after all, should instigate action. 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 devotion to a brand. If marketing isn’t making a difference it is not doing its job.

At The Heart Of It All

A number of things can be at the heart of a need to precipitate a change. Timing, economic pressures, an event, an emotion, even peer pressure are some biggies. But the life-blood of measurable and enduring change — in marketing terms, what turns targets into clients and clients into raving fans — is much more than a flurry of indiscriminate activities in hopes of getting the word out and/or waiting on the market to knock on your door.

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 — when you’re looking for what instigates an initial experience, return engagements, and a reputation that endures — an effective plan builds around four things:

  • Clear identification of your target market — know specifically who you need to connect with, and why. Not every target has to be a potential client / customer; but every target should play a meaningful role in your pursuit of clients.
  • Clear understanding of market drivers — this is about knowing your market well enough to understand why there is a decisions to be made. From pain points to peer influence, these drivers influence every critical decision.
  • Activities and experiences specifically designed to speak to the market’s drivers — create visibility, engage, and deliver discernable value around the issues that your market cares about, and you’re on the road to a productive relationship — and a plan that delivers results.
  • Tenacious pursuit — if you stick to your plan for all of three weeks or even three months, don’t bother. Connecting with targets, establishing credibility and motivating action is a process — one that takes time, depends on frequency, and is about investing in the future. How long you must persist, and the nature of the frequency depend greatly on what you’re marketing. But the strategic marketing of professional services bares no resemblance to selling widgets. Be tenacious.
    Invest in a plan based on these four cornerstones, 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.

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” aligns 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 dialogue. Do this, and watch your marketplace change.

What It Takes To Build A Professional Service Practice

How do you build a professional service practice? Where do you begin? How much time do you invest? What constitutes progress?

In a previous post on the similarities between business development and planting a tree, we recounted the story of French Marshal Lyautey, who instructed his gardener to plant a tree that would take 100 years to mature. The story underscores the fact that growing something strong takes time, and requires equal parts capability and vision.

The practical challenge is that between the planting and any tangible signs of growth, it can be difficult to measure progress.

When it comes to business development progress the challenge is compounded in a professional services environment where often the issue is addressed when short term results are expected. Add the fact that a sporadic approach makes it tough to be confident in strategy and methodology, and firms are left to wonder whether the work will actually pay off.

Unable to discern signs of growth, the temptation is to survey new options. Where is there more fertile ground? What can be done to accelerate measurable return? 

By contrast, a mature and successful strategy is based on a realistic understanding of time, and has been in play long enough to incorporate a healthy blend of investments in the future, and past efforts that have grown strong relationships.

A Formula For Successful Planting

Build around quick fixes and you may be able to skate for a time. If you’re lucky (and some are), you’ll invest in the right area often enough to stay flat, or enjoy modest growth. But look around; firms that have embraced the this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it strategy are struggling with the realities of disruption and change.

On the other hand, if the goal is to design a strategy that delivers marked organic growth from the investments you make in business development, consider these three principles for effective sowing and reaping.

1. Plant wisely. Strong relationships don’t grow on trees. Throw seeds everywhere, and you’re wasting time and resources. Here are three ways to evaluate whether the ground is fertile. Look for areas of:

  • High consequence change
  • Personal affinity
  • Deep expertise (personal or organizational)

2. Nurture carefully. Want weeds (wasted resources and unproductive opportunities) consistently invading your marketing and biz dev efforts? Pay attention to them only when its convenient…or urgent. Sporadic attention to business development will not deliver appropriate return, much less grow anything that will endure. Quality relationships (and this is what business development is about) grow in the context of conversation, collaboration, and valued contributions. Invest here…and invest long enough, and questions about ROI will disappear. On the other hand, neglect or avoid the work of relationship building, and you will perpetually search for business development answers.

3. Pay attention to the season. Success follows a strategic look at the calendar. While planting takes time, effective biz dev isn’t about waiting 100 years for the tree to grow. Each effort is unique; but if you’re planting today and counting on seeing significant results in less than somewhere between 12 and 24 months, you’re not building around a realistic timetable. This doesn’t mean you won’t see results based on work done earlier; often a focus on quality nurturing activates some “planting” that has already taken place.

Target smart, focus on building relationships, and do this over time in order to maximize your investments. And while a successful approach takes nowhere near 100 years, look for easy solutions, quick fixes or silver bullets to any part of this formula, and be prepared to start over — again and again.

Thoughts On Solving The Networking Puzzle

If you wrestle with business development — where to focus, how to start, what to do next, how to make it seem natural — if you struggle with the whole idea , chances are one of the causes for the struggle is an anemic or nonexistent professional network.

If this describes you and you’re among those who follow this space (thank you!) you may be tired of hearing this diagnosis. Maybe almost as tired as you are of reading about how central target identification is to business development success.

Admittedly, this conversation would be much more attractive were there a formula that factors some data, revolves around your expertise, incorporates brand equity, and results in business thanks to your experience and reputation

But strategic business development doesn’t work that way.

Note that I didn’t say you’ll never close a deal working that kind of formula. It happens. But any time you are tempted to believe that’s what has occurred can likely be linked to the relationship equity you or someone close to you built over time. Or just pure luck. And rainmakers enjoy a measure of all of the above, to be sure.

But the strategic development of a rewarding network— ore that will build a practice, and endure — begins with the identification of a target market, and a plan that creates a professional network that connects you to that market.

The reason for the difficulty is not that you were not born a rainmaker. There’s no secret handshake. You don’t have to be naturally gifted at working a room or making small talk.

You do have to consistently, and with some rhyme and reason, invest in building and nurturing a viable network.

It has not always been this way. In the good-old-days you could hang a shingle, do quality work, take care of the needs of your client, and experience a growth in both reputation and practice. But for most professional service providers, today’s marketplace relies on networking to connect and differentiate competitors.

This is not about attending every event that comes along. It is about establishing connections — with centers of influence, referral sources, and the seats of decision.

Building a professional network is about investing in strategic relationships that introduce, inform, educate and connect.

It is not about partying, hob-knobbing or wining-and-dining. Nor is it about schmoozing your way onto a preferred provider list.

The art of networking is what it takes to establish and nurture a productive link to your market; appropriate attention to a network is what creates a pipeline of future engagements. A vibrant network minimizes those painful lulls that occur when you have no idea where the next piece of work will come from.

More often than not, a vibrant network is responsible for what otherwise appears to be a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

A killer network markets for you even when you believe you’re too busy to think about marketing.

This is not to suggest it is easy. It requires tenacity, and doesn’t happen over night. But work on your network, and anyone can develop a robust book of business.

The Hard Part

Building a community — that’s the way to think about your network — is a proactive exercise. And for many, the most difficult part is resisting distraction, and focusing time and energy in the right place. This isn’t about creating a cloud of dust with activities.

Events, speaking, writing and social media can all be tools. And they can be unproductive distractions that drive one to despise the idea of networking.

The key is to focus on actions aligned with strategic targets.

Which brings us back to that sticky issue of target identification. Who is in a position to connect you to the work that will build your practice? The closer you come to actually naming these individuals, the closer you are to being able to build a strong network.

If You’re Just Getting Started

Finally, if you’re just now beginning your practice development, here’s some of the best advice you’ll ever receive. It comes via a colleague and long time consultant to law firms — Ann Lee Gibson — and was shared during a Legal Marketers discussion on Facebook.

Maintaining the relationships you already have is key to lifelong networking. {The} biggest, best thing {you} can do is come up with an actual plan to stay in touch with friends who have gone on to work for companies that {you / your firm} may work for one day. It means scheduling on a calendar…”

If you struggle with business development, and — for whatever reason — can only get one thing accomplished in that area this week, make it strategic work on a network. You’ll reap the rewards as long as you practice.