The Cultural Disconnect That Kills Productivity

Leverage is an often used buzz word when business conversations focus on productivity, growth and profitability. Oxford Dictionaries define it as the exertion of force by means of a lever.

In practical and slightly less mechanical terms — it is the use of resources at your disposal to change the equation that shapes the your status quo.

Leverage is one of the concepts at the heart of the conversation when professional service firms focus on productivity, growth and profitability. How do we gain it? What must we do to maintain it? What can be done to maximize it?

The application of leverage can move mountains. Misuse it, and you can seriously hurt yourself, to the point of lasting damage.

The principle has worked for centuries as human beings, faced with the need to innovate and improve on process, have explored creative ways to apply the principle.

But leverage has a dark side.

When an organization begins to conflate human resources with levers that can be pushed to the limit, and replaced, the pursuit of leverage can tear at cultural fabric. The erosion of characteristics like creativity, a sense of ownership and personal responsibility results in costly, potentially permanent damage.

Manufactured Tension Between the Bottomline and the Human Resource

Let me underscore that I believe the central motivation and most compelling reason for treating individuals as you’d like for them to treat you is that it is simply the right thing to do.

But for a moment we need to address the rationale offered for viewing certain parts of an organization solely through a leverage-lens: that this is a business, after all.

Great organizations and their leaders understand the business reason to guard against viewing an individual as a commodity that can easily be replaced: it diminishes leverage.

This is not a new idea. HR and organizational development professionals have been telling us for decades that individuals are more productive when they are engaged. (Check this HBR article.) If you need more data, talk to your Human Resources team. Here’s what you’ll hear.

To the degree individuals, departments, divisions or classes of an organization feel disconnected from a shared mission, the organization is sacrificing leverage.

This is the real reason Mission Statements have value. It is not so you have a pithy paragraph to post on your website. Rather, a clear articulation of mission enables each member of a team to embrace a personal piece of the vision. Or — in plain terms — this provides the real reason everyone shows up every day.

A measurable stake in a common pursuit is the real fuel of higher productivity.

Take The Law Firm Downtown

For decades the leverage model has been at the heart of how many law firms have delivered their professional service. Inexperienced (and typically young) lawyers in need of real-world experience are engaged by more seasoned attorneys to accomplish tasks demanding lots of time, but not much experience.

With this model, the inexperienced gain on-the-job-training, while making it possible for more senior lawyers to offer their extensive experience to additional clients…which puts more young associates to work…and so it goes.

The glitch comes when younger lawyers begin to believe the firm sees them as little more than replaceable levers in a process. Detached from mission, the younger lawyers seek greener pastures. The cost comes not only in the loss of the resource, but in the absence of the organic development of experience. The sum is the erosion of culture.

While this is perhaps the most visible area where a firm’s culture can result in a costly loss of leverage, it is not the only one. Consider two timely and relevant challenges.

Diversity and Inclusion

For more than two generations the absence of diversity has robbed the legal space of the strength that comes with the perspectives and experiences of an inclusive culture. And while a handful of firms are showing signs of a change in attitude, board rooms heavily weighted with 60+ year-old white men still shape the daily operations of the industry.

Then There Is The Business Side of Things

The bifurcation of a firm — those who attended law school on one side, and everyone else on the other — limits the degree to which the experience and skill sets of all can be leveraged. When this division results in the separation of those experienced in the disciplines of business from the decisions central to how the business runs, the levers of leverage are, in effect, untouched.

Keys To Regaining Leverage

Examples, good and bad, can fill volumes; and the subject warrants far more attention than one article can deliver. But in the interest of conversations that give rise to creative thinking, here are 4 ideas on ways to realize greater leverage in any organization.

1. Be Clear About Why You Do What You Do

You can call it soft and scoff at the idea that an understood and shared mission makes a difference; but I hope you’re in the mood to struggle with cultural disconnect. Great organizations are made up of individuals who buy into the mission, and are clear about why today’s work matters. If your entire team doesn’t know how the work of today connects to the reason you exist, you’re losing leverage.

2. Be Inclusive

Sure…you’re talking about it. Everyone is. But if you’re talking about inclusion because it is the hot topic of the moment, you’re missing the point. Two points, really. The business reason this is an important conversation is that it embraces the broadest perspective and the richest experience inside your firm. It is the way an organization ensures it is approaching a conversation, an opportunity or a challenge with every tool it has access to.

Then there is the fact that it is the right thing to do.

3.Turn Your Team Loose

If you have a team, you likely assembled the various players for a reason. Allow and expect them to perform the jobs for which they were hired. If you don’t, you’ll lose the best of the group. (Side note: if you’re repeatedly searching for “the right fit” in key roles you may not be clear about overall strategy, making it difficult to engage the human resources aligned with your goals.)

4. Treat Your Human Resources Like Human Beings

There are clear business reasons to support and encourage every member of your organization. The most compelling is that the greatest source for creativity and innovation you need to win in today’s market is your team or tribe.

Treat individuals like commodities, and don’t be surprised when you sacrifice leverage at every turn.

But inasmuch as it may seem a forgotten value, it is worth repeating: the greatest return on personal interactions, wherever they might present themselves, is realized when we find a way to pause…and treat others the way we would like to be treated. Why the note to pause? Because we must first see others the way we wish to be seen.

A Moment of Silence For the Death of Dialogue

I remember when we used to be able to disagree with each other.

We could have a debate, and go home friends. We could work alongside others, and even build a community with folks with whom we shared differing views.

Things weren’t perfect, for sure; but it wasn’t unheard of for diverse groups to manage to identify common ground, and get things done.

I remember when collaboration and consensus were positives.

Those were the days.

Or maybe it was all smoke and mirrors…or a product of good-old-days syndrome.

Today is certainly seems like dialogue is dead. Compromise is a dirty word. Peacemakers are more likely to be seen as soft, than as leaders or facilitators of progress.

Hyperbole and name-calling pass for telling it like it is. Give-and-take is wasted breath. Cranking up the volume, and soundbites scripted for the talk-show circuit masquerade as discourse.

When was the last time you heard (or participated in) a calm and reasoned debate around deeply held perspectives. How did it end?

The Sounds of Dialogue

If you’re lucky, you’ve been around someone who modeled the adventure of dialogue.  It might have been a parent, teacher or mentor. For these accomplished few, canned positions rarely suffice. Their conversations are interesting — even compelling. They are likely characterized by listening, and real give-and-take.

In real dialogue there isn’t a winner. There are explorers. Students. Bridge-builders.

If it isn’t dead, the art is fading fast.

These days it’s about nailing the soundbite; sticking to the talking points no matter what the question might be; tearing down in favor of building; being audacious in 140 characters; or going viral.

It’s about the highlight reel and a WOW moment. It is antagonism posing for discourse. It’s about a headline, a spotlight, or a reality gig.

It is about making my point and winning the moment. Without respect to implications on the next opportunity, it is about laying claim, and staking territory.

And before we know it, we’ve gone a day…or a week…or a month without engaging in a single real piece of dialogue.

Little by little, have we forgotten what it sounds like?

It isn’t how-was-your-day-mine-was-okay stuff. It is more than comparing vacation itineraries or updating Facebook or Insta status.

Dialogue requires empathy. It should be an adventure.

If we care about more than attention…if our quest is about more than self-promotion..if the goal is meaningful movement…we must find a way to rescue dialogue from the brink of extinction.

Where and how to begin? Step away from the podium. Spend some time listening — not for ways to shoot holes in what you hear; but in a search for common ground…for shared aspirations. This is where dialogue begins.

Unless we rediscover the art, very little of real consequence will change — whether the venue is personal, professional, social or political.

Will we disagree. Certainly. But we might discover that those faint memories of when we could disagree and debate and walk away with self respect and friendship in tact are not a figment of our imagination at all. Those were the good ole days.

Around Corners and Beyond Barriers: The Vision That Enables Innovation

In 2001 Erik Weihenmayer reached the peak of Mount Everest — an impressive feat in-and-of itself. But one thing should be noted: Erik is blind. I first learned of his story several years ago, and was reminded of it thanks to a recent story on NBC’s Today Show.

But Everest is only part of the story.

In 2005 Erik became the first blind climber, and 1 of only 150 total climbers to have completed the Seven Summits. He has scaled the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, ascended Losar, a 2700-foot vertical ice face in the Himalayas, and kayaked the treacherous whitewaters of the 277-miles of the Grand Canyon.

Did I mention that Erik is blind?

In 2005, he co-founded No Barriers, a nonprofit organization with a most appropriate brand tagline, “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”

Individuals who inspire us — those we might be persuaded to follow — possess a unique perspective.

When eulogizing his fallen brother Robert, Ted Kennedy referred to Robert’s own explanation for the way he saw the world — “Some men see things as they are and say Why. I dream things that never were, and say Why Not.” 

This is vision of the highest order. It is the ability to see through barriers — even the barrier of the unknown. It’s the way we see the world when unobscured by fear, synicism or out-right self- interest.

Without respect to title or station…in offices and homes, at work or play…the women and men who inspire us to listen and follow have this view of things.

Even if you’re not at the peak of a mountain, you can tell you’re in this rare air because a lot less time is spent focusing on all that is wrong. Things are seen through the imagination — the mind’s eye.  Reasoning around why not is an organic response…even in the face of unimaginable challenge.

This is the perspective of leadership — and it is where creative thinking and innovation find footing. In this environment, we have a shot at discovering real solutions.

It’s not that leaders ignore problems or challenges. It is that leadership embraces a perspective that transcends what is staring it in the face.

Not all the time. Not in every situation. And certainly not to an elite few. At times a leader’s way of seeing things comes in an awkward instant to the most unexpected among us. (Every parent knows what this is about.)

It is this transcendent brand of vision that sees around roadblocks…and charts the course for great human adventures — in moments on Everest, no doubt; but more to the point, wherever a path is chosen and a first step taken — at home, in your office, anywhere.

It may be human nature to spend most of our time on the realities we face. If my boss would change this…if my partner would fix that…if the others on the Board just knew what I know…if we didn’t have to contend with all of these old dinosaur ideas, we could accomplish so much more. 

We analyze all that is wrong…pontificating on why we’re in the fix we’re in. And before we know it, the meeting is over…the month has closed…another down-quarter has passed. The kids are grown…and gone.  Why did so much conspire against our dreams? When did we relinquish leadership, and decide to follow the fearful and vision-less?

The poet T.E. Lawrence describes two types of dreamers. He said…”All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous…for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Leadership — the kind that inspires a team to address the impossible — spends less time wandering around the dusty recesses of the same old conversations.

Leaders envision possibilities.

And wherever we might have dreams — of relationships that endure, of fairness and inclusion, of transformative creativity and innovation, of scaling the most formidable challenges we might face — there echoes a resounding call for this kind of vision.

Is Your Target Dozing While You’re Pitching? | Building A Biz Dev Plan – Part 7

Finally! The firm I was working with had been invited to make a pitch to a target we’d been pursuing for a couple of years. But the knee-jerk reaction was — wait for it — to make a list of every professional that should be included in the in-person pitch — 13 firm partners…representing each of the practice areas in which we believed we could serve the potential client.

Thirteen of us. Two individuals would be present on the client’s side of the table.

The pitch was, after all, about us. Right? Wrong.

This is where our pitches and presentations often come off the rails.

Don’t get me wrong — it is not necessarily the number of individuals…though have you been on the receiving end of one of those pitches? The math alone should dissuade us. If we lead off with each of the 13 doing a 3-minute self-introduction we’ve consumed 39 minutes. To what end? Reiterating information that is (hopefully) easily accessible on the firm’s website? Surely there is a better use of precious presentation time.

But the problem doesn’t begin with the number of partners engaged in a presentation. If you’re following along in our series on Building a Business Development Plan, you know that preparation for a pitch begins as soon as you’ve identified a strategic target.  For the seventh installment in our series, let’s explore some aspects of pitch prep and execution.

Pitching Begins With Listening

(We should stipulate that there will be plenty of one-off presentations to come along that must be handled on-the-fly. And while most, if not all of the principles outline here apply to any effective communication, our focus in this post is pitches that are the result of strategic business development pursuits.)

A characteristic of any successful presentation, not to mention an out-right solicitation for work, is the degree to which the target feels as though we’ve identified and spoken directly to specific questions, issues or needs they are facing.

What must be done to realize this high bar? Begin with a pitch process built on two principles:

  • Listening always precedes pitching; and,
  • Every presentation (or conversation) is about your target (versus being about you).

Few professional service providers I meet will argue with the spirit of these principles. Yet, when opportunities arise the temptation to present every possible qualification (sometimes reaching back a dozen years or more) along with any conceivably applicable capability is often too great to resist.

No doubt one driver here is the we-only-have-one-shot view of the business development process. Go in loaded, and touch every possible point of connection. But when an in-person pitch or presentation resembles your firm’s capabilities brochure or website description, it will seldom qualify as a strategic presentation. And it will fail to differentiate you in any positive way.

On the other hand, winning pitches begin with intentional listening. Ideally, as noted above, this begins the moment you’ve identified a target — with in-depth market research. Here are components of a brand of research that will help you create a pitch that connects.

  • What outside forces might be impacting the current operations of your target? What are the long-term implcations?
  • What does the competitive landscape look like for your target — short-term and long-term?
  • Is the target’s industry experiencing growth, contraction or some other consequential change?
  • Have there been recent changes in governance, leadership, or other key personnel? (Or rumors of change?)
  • Do existing or pending regulatory realities threaten or otherwise impact operation?
  • Might expansion or acquisition be in the cards?
  • Are there political or social issues that might impact your target’s business?
  • Where do you have existing relationships with decision-makers and potential coaches?
  • What are the implications of an expanded relationship map?

Effective market research will not only provide some idea of the big-picture realities your target is facing, it should point you toward valuable coaching resources. We’ve written at some length about the value coaches play in strategic business development. And the right coach is invaluable when it comes to crafting a pitch — providing insight on everything from who should be in the room, to notes on specific issues for which your target is searching for a solution.

This strategic quest for info and intel is the single exercise that will most likely enable you to create a pitch that hits the bull-eye for one reason: it will inform and shape the creation of a solution — facilitating a pitch that connects.

Shortcut the listening process because you believe two things: 1) that your target simply needs the expertise you bring to the table; and 2) that the presentation of your credentials is all the pitch you need, and don’t be surprised when you are treated like just another service provider.

Successful Pitches Hit A Unique Sweet Spot

The Business section of a national law firm had been pursuing a Fortune 50 company for some times…to no avail.

(Recounting this in a couple of paragraphs does not do justice to the process; but we all know that no significant win comes easy or happens overnight…correct?)

With that disclaimer, intentional listening (in all of its forms) led to an awareness that the target in question faced significant challenges in an aspect of human resources that did not made it to the attention of the company’s legal department (where most law firm pitches are made). However, it happened to ba an area in which the firm had significant experience.

The appropriate practice groups went to work to fully understand the company’s challenge, and subsequently develop a unique solution. The team not only earned the opportunity to pitch the coveted target; the firm won the business, and began a lengthy, productive relationship with a new client.

Want to open new doors and create pitches that win coveted business? Do the kind of listening that makes it possible to proactively address a specific need, and deliver a solution.

Don’t Wing It

You’re a professional. You’re articulate and good on your feet. And you know this stuff like the back of your hand.

But when it comes to making a pitch, please don’t wing it.

Successful pitches are carefully prepared. Maybe even — stick with me here — maybe even rehearsed.

Especially if you’re parading a group of professionals before a target.

Preparation is essential if you hope to get the most out of the time allotted, and cover the important bases.

When the firm I was working with had the opportunity noted at the top of this post, we managed to trim the group down to eight — still far too many.

The General Counsel for the prospective client had scheduled the pitch for one hour. The first 35-minutes were consumed as our team did introductions that covered highlights of individual experience as well as relevant qualifications of each of the eight practice areas represented. And as impressive as it was, every bit of it should have been on the firm’s website; and all of which would be included in a follow up package.

We did not win the work. Our pitch undoubtedly sounded much like the pitch made by a dozen other firms hoping for a working relationship — deep experience, deep bench, we only hire the best, and…oh yes, we’re client centered.

Pitches that differentiate and set you up to win the work you want most are about the target.

Who Is Really The Smartest One In The Room?

At some point, given the right topic, almost everyone will have a moment worth sharing.

The challenge, at least as it relates to productive dialogue, is that many of us believe the frequency and scope of our insight is so grand as to warrant the lion’s share of attention in any given room.

But when was the last time we engaged in an interaction where the objective of everyone in the room was to listen, intent on learning? On finding the building blocks for better conversations?

If you’ve been in a room like this it probably left a mark. There is dynamism there. When gaining insight is the goal, ideas flow freely. Maybe even new ideas. Solutions emerge more quickly.

But rooms where listening dominates are scarce. After all, territory must be staked. Turf marked.

An Idea

Pick the most stressful or contentious interaction you’ll face in coming days. What might change if the objective were to listen? No immediate agendas. No winning or losing.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons not to go down this road. Where’s the practicality? Someone has to lead. I’m expected to come to the table with a point-of-view, experience and expertise.

If you want to introduce a rare dynamic into difficult conversations, try being a point of listening rather than worrying about sharing your point of view. Unless you’re in unusual company, no one really hears — or gets — your point of view anyway. Not because it isn’t brilliant; but because while you’re talking most everyone else is only half-listening, while formulating a response.

(Double down on the above paragraph if the objective of the one doing most of the talking is to convince, convert, defend or distract.)

And if the fear is that failing to own a room displays weakness or affords unfair advantage to another’s point of view, consider the possibility that minimal progress will be realized in a room where the primary concern is winning the moment.

Real listening is an intentional and difficult act. It stems from a commitment to learn, and the relentless search for a bridge that connects all parties…even over enormous chasms.

When I believe my insight is ultimate, and that the room is best served when I broadcast my point of view, I should not be surprised when the only ones paying attention are those who share my perspective…and nothing changes.

There is rarely a shortage of talk. But when the talk accomplishes little, there may be a shortage of intentional listening.

In relationships with family, co-workers, friend or foe, perhaps the key to the change and progress we seek lies in having the courage and discipline to listen…to find the elements necessary to build a bridge to on-going conversation.

If It Isn’t A Top Priority, Don’t Lose Much Sleep Over Business Development

How important is business development to you?

Years ago I was being interviewed for the senior business development and marketing position in a law firm, and was on a video conference with a handful of firm leaders. Two things about the experience impressed me…and I don’t mean in a good way.

  • At various times during the (exhaustive) 30-minute conversation every one of the interviewers had to divert attention in order to deal with a presumably time sensitive issue on their smartphone; and,
  • At one point I realized the managing partner (who was in a location by himself) was snoring. No kidding. Sawing logs.

I left the video conference in awe over how compelling I must have been.

There could have been any number of good reasons for the divided attention and general lack of interest. To be fair, I simply may have failed to earn their attention. Or, perhaps there were urgent emails from clients, a family emergency. An all-nighter prepping for a trial.

In any case the experience suggested that the ideas and issues related to the firm’s business development and marketing direction were not a priority for those five leaders…even for that 30-minute time frame.

As many shake off the effects of diving head-first into a new year, it seems appropriate to break from our series of posts on building an effective plan in order to discuss the one thing that will have more to do with business development success or failure than all the planning advice of every consultant on the planet.

(Side bar: the fact that I went back-and-forth on the use of the word “failure” in the above paragraph is indicative of the problematic way many professional firms tend to address business development and sales; but that is fodder for another conversation.)

The critical success factor? The degree to which business development is a top priority.

Not one more item on a “to-do” list. Not something you do when you can find the time or get around to it. Not that thing you turn to in desperation when the absence of work forces it.

Not your only priority, certainly. But a discipline and focus that warrants and receives your highest level of attention.

Site all the obstacles if you must. Not enough hours in a day…the hours are non-billable…it’s not in your personality…selling is distasteful or unprofessional…and so on.

Those who ultimately win more pitches, close more deals than the competition, develop broader and deeper working relationships with the clients we all covet, and yes, those who make it rain when others fear drought, do so because they prioritize business development.

(Another side bar: the line of thinking that equates “non-billable” with “non-productive” is twisted and destructive, and one of the reasons the rank-and-file in many firms find it difficult to prioritize business development activities.) 

Is business development in a professional service firm without challenges? Certainly not. Is prioritizing biz dev and sales easy? Often far from it. But the individuals and firms who repeatedly find themselves without a clue as to where the next client will come from, or searching for what can be cut in order to reach budget likely have one thing in common: business development does not occupy priority status.

Forget for a moment that we’re talking about the pursuit of new business. What does a top priority look like?

  • It bares the unmistakable imprint of our most valued investments. Though this certainly implies the allocation of adequate budget, it is far more than simply throwing money at something. A priority is known by the degree to which it receives the time and attention of leadership.
  • It captures the imagination. A top priority defies relegation to afterthought. Rather, it is the target of relentless pursuit, undivided attention, and creative innovation.
  • It factors into the framework of foundational moments. When, where and how to go-to-market…expansion…contraction…innovation…succession — our top priorities are part-and-parcel to consequential conversations.

By the same token, the things about which we care the least are easy to spot.

  • Low priorities might occupy a spot on the agenda; but we give them serious time and consideration only when external circumstances force the issue.
  • Lower priorities rarely factor into strategic considerations. They are fungible.

Where Does Business Development Rank For You?

Back to where this conversation began. I have both benefited from and seen coaching change the game for professionals seeking to improve business development and sales skills.

I’ve seen immeasurable value derived from a team of marketing and business development professionals. Given appropriate support, tools and resources such a team can facilitate and lead initiatives that consistently deliver double-digit revenue growth.

But with one or two exceptions where simply being in the right place at the right time masks a multitude of deficiencies, I have not seen an individual or a firm achieve consistent measurable business development success — never mind really making it rain — apart from raising business development and sales to levels of the highest priority

Our series on Building a Business Development Plan grows out of decades of experience, and is offered because we’ve seen the strategy work. (We’ll pick up where we left off with our next post.) But anyone who grudgingly turns to business development once a month in hopes of filling a pipeline, is going to be sorely disappointed, no matter how seasoned advice.

Anyone still looking for the silver bullet that minimizes the need for your time, attention, and energy while delivering  revenue growth is engaged in a quest without end.

But for a few, the tools, tactical direction and creative energy brought to the challenge by experienced marketing, business development and sales professionals provides unique leverage — delivering the kind of return only realized when priorities and investments are intentionally aligned.

How Long Does It Take To Develop Trust? | Building A Business Development Plan, Part 6

You’ve probably heard some variation of the joke where a significant other, weary of repeatedly being asked to profess love, announces “I’ve told you that I love you. I’ll let you know when and if that changes.”

Humorous to some…maybe. But I doubt this is an effective relationship strategy.

Yet, in many ways this captures the way we approach the relationships we seek to cultivate through our business development efforts — announce bona fides, make our pitch (sort of)…and then wait for the phone to ring.

It is conceivable that in a market long gone, this approach might have worked . Maybe. When things were less crowded and less competitive…when a business could be built on a handshake. Maybe.

Today anyone hoping to win the trust of a potential client with a couple of emails, a pitch that is little more than the “we-hire-the-best-people-and-do-the-best work” presentation being made by everybody else, is likely to struggle mightily for any market share.

For the professional service provider seeking trusted advisor status, rewarding business development seeks to create a working relationship with a prospect.

Joking aside, in any other context we understand that productive relationships are not built overnight. They require focus and attention. Yet, we continue to see professional service providers go to the marketplace announcing a case for a working relationship…and then walk away believing their business development work is done.

This disconnect brings us to the sixth in our series on Building A Business Development Plan — a component that most planning efforts simply overlook — sustaining the pursuit.

You may excel at everything we’ve discussed up to this point — you have a solid strategic foundation, have identified specific targets, tended to the health of your professional network, created visibility and delivered value via your initial marketing and BD. But unless you sustain the value of these efforts over time, your biz dev initiative is likely to come up short. It certainly isn’t going to provide maximum return on your investment.

The Sustain Principle

This phase of the planning process addresses the value to be derived by leveraging the time and energy invested thus far. Put another way, this is about focusing on ways in which you can build on your initial efforts. Specifically, this portion of your planning should focus on activities that:

  • Sustain and enhance your detecting efforts;
  • Increase your target’s awareness of your relevance in the marketplace; and,
  • Continue to make valuable contributions to your target.

The difference between rainmakers and those who continually find themselves as the runner-up, is often the difference between a series of one-off so-called campaigns, compared to the focus necessary to sustain strategic efforts in these three areas. So here’s a quick look at each.

Detecting (After The Thrill Is Gone)

The fact is that if you don’t love business development, maintaining focus on a single target for an extended period of time does not come easy. It is tempting to spot an area of potential need, and rush in with a pitch. It’s one thing if the need relates to a burning platform of some type; but trusted advisor status is most often earned in the context of building and maintaining a working relationship.

And a working relationship takes time to develop.

Practically speaking, this means your business development plan must include a sustained focus on your role as a detector (as discussed in Part 5) — of influential relationships, consequential market or organizational movements, and ways in which the experience you, your firm and/or your connections possess might prove relevant to a working relationship with your target.

Ideally, thanks to the work you began earlier in your pursuit, you’ll have a methodology and even an infrastructure in place for this detecting effort. It will build around industry, market, company and executive research.

To leverage your time, find regular ways to tap the information and skillsets of your business development and research team as well as your coaching network.

Staying plugged into this detecting role is critical to sustaining meaningful visibility and building a solution that is relevant and resonates with your target. It is, as much as anything else, a mindset — a determination to listen, learn and digest everything you can find about your target. This is the lifeblood of a successful pursuit.

Creating Increased Awareness

A frequent question from professional service providers goes like this: “How often should I reach out to a target? When does it begin to feel like stalking, or get creepy?”

A bit more conversation often reveals that this line of questioning is closely associated with the “I sent them an email with links to our website, and I’ve been watching (fill-in-the-industry-monitoring-service)” approach to client development.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of those once-a-week (or worse) telemarketer calls. And daily marketing emails are not typically the path to a productive professional service engagement.

But neither does meeting at a conference, sending a generic email and (sort of) maintaining a website bio usually lay the foundation for a strong relationship. It is certainly not the recipe for making it rain.

So how does one maintain visibility without stalking? First, let’s stipulate that writing those big sponsorship checks might work. Might. The more every competitor in the market is writing the same check, the less likely it is anyone but the one writing the largest check will create any meaningful awareness.

A more strategic approach begins with the step noted above — doing the work related to detecting. The more you know and understand here, the easier it should be to decide when and where to plug in. Unless your budget is not a concern, you’re gong to want to find a strategic way to respond to these “opportunities.”

Without respect to the check you might write, personal involvement speaks volumes. A good coaching network can be the key to identifying the organization(s) in which you should become involved — professional, charitable, and even at the personal level. Identify a shared interest and not only will it will be much easier to maintain visibility, you’ll have an opportunity to collaborate in pursuit of a common goal…giving your target a taste of what it is like to work with you.

A visibility calendar can include a wide-ranging menu of items from which to choose — from holiday greetings and firm “alerts” to personal good wishes or congratulatory notes; from unique “VIP” events to an invitation to speak to your firm’s relevant industry group; from distribution of your thought leadership to strategic requests for the thought leadership of your target. The list is limited only by the creativity you and your marketing/business development team bring to the task.

And yes, it is conceivable that an ad or sponsorship might have a place here. But unless you’re prepared to spend at least 5-figures, don’t count on moving the visibility needle with these conventional tools. 

Deliver Value (yes, more)

In Part 5 we explore ways in which a business development pursuit should actually deliver value. And, at the risk of being that preverbal broken record, your work as a detector should informing not only your early pursuit efforts, but ways in which to keep the value coming. (If it is not, consider two possibilities: one, your detecting focus needs some work; and/or two, this may not be a good primary target.)

The more mature your pursuit, the more likely the awareness and visibility efforts discussed above will present opportunities to deliver measurable value.

At the same time, high level strategic targets warrant a specific focus on unique issues. Whether industry, market or company specific, the degree to which you are aware of and able to address consequential movement is the degree to which you will begin to differentiate yourself from the competition.

It is not unusual for professionals to fear that a) they might be giving too much away (or even revealing proprietary secrets); or b) the value offered may create professional liability. These are clearly concerns that must be addressed; however, where issues of liability can be managed, activities that provide real value almost always serve to change the business development conversation.

Somewhat predictable value offerings include continuing professional education curricula, white papers, and even research projects. One accounting firm we’ve worked with focuses on “whiteboard collaboration sessions” in which service provider and target jointly explore the creation of a solution to a pressing issue.

Once again, the more mature a pursuit, the more likely you will find ways to collaborate with your target…providing a glimpse of what a working relationship with you/your firm actually consists of. In a highly competitive marketplace, the return on an investment in this “give-a-glimpse” strategy can dwarf the return on every other marketing or business development tactic.

How Long Do You Keep This Up?

Some professional service organizations have been tracking strategic business development efforts for long enough to be able to project the duration — from target identification to winning or losing — of a pursuit. This experience helps with budget forecasts, and provides a basis for the realistic evaluation of ROI. 

For those just beginning to explore the science, the pursuit of a wholly new working relationship will require a significant amount of time. We suggest planning for eighteen to thirty-six months. In fortunate situations where a relationship predates a pursuit, the sales cycle can be considerably shorter. in any case, building and strengthening a working relationship requires much more than identifying a prospect and making a pitch.

Rainmakers build working relationships by sustaining the activities that create visibility and deliver value to highly valued targets.

Does Your Pursuit Say “Working With Me Will Be Different”? | Business Development Planning – Part 5

Part 5 in our series on Building a Strategic Business Development Plan focuses on Delivering Value — the first step in establishing a working relationship. We’ve discussed strategy, target identification, building a strategic network, and most recently, becoming relevant (creating visibility) with the targets you’ve identified.

But actually securing that coveted engagement, never mind earning trusted advisor status, typically requires more than a finessed list of credentials and a brand. The “trust” part of that status is the byproduct of a working relationship. If you’re marketing something more than a commodity, you’re going to have to get personally involved in order to realize this.

Delivering Value demonstrates that a working relationship with you will result in a net gain for your target — an improvement on the status quo, and preferable to choosing your competitor (or doing nothing).

Let’s begin with this baseline equation: the easier it is for you to give something away, the less likely the target of your pursuit is going to view it as valuable.

Consider your market. The wining and dining, the sponsorships and events, even the continuing professional education sessions you produce or underwrite — do any of these make the case that a working relationship with you rises above the norm?

This does not mean that the things noted above have no value. It means that your target is not likely to view the offering as something that differentiates you from your competitor. And while a robust business development plan will almost certainly include table-stakes like the offerings noted, if your efforts to grow business revive around these alone, you’re very likely wasting time and resources.

When we discuss delivering value as a strategic way to build relationships and develop new clients, it doesn’t tip the value-scale unless the target/prospect defines it as valuable.

If you’re working on your plan, this leads to the question — how do we learn what our target will define as valuable?Here is fodder for that conversation.

Become A Detector

Plenty has been written that extols the value and virtue of listening. We’ve done our share of contributing to all the talk (ironically) on the topic. But talk aside, the thing about taking the time and developing the skills related to intentional listening is that it turns one into a detector — of pitfalls and problem areas. Of motion and potential movement in the marketplace. And of opportunities.

Those rainmakers who always seem to be in the right place at the right time are there because they detected something early in the game — movement, change, risks, and potential solutions.

For the best business developers, detecting isn’t a tactic to be turned on and off. Even when major change like a merger or acquisition consumes attention and results in a significant piece of work, the practice of detecting continues.

A trusted advisor earns the position in part by detecting issues early. To this end, here are four ideas on where a plan might consider investing in the work necessary to detect consequential issues, influencers and motion within the world of your target. (This is not intended to represent a comprehensive list, but an idea starter. See how many ways to detect motion you can add to this list.)

Research of Individual Targets. Platforms like LinkedIn offer helpful insight into the background and areas of interest of hundreds of thousands of professionals. Go beneath the service to explore individual posts and LinkedIn group participation and you’ll learn more. There are other platforms that provide varying degrees of information. Check with your firm’s library, research department and business development professionals.

Market Research & Analysis. Rumors of a competitor moving into your target’s market, leadership comings-and-goings, and economic trends are indicators of an opportunity. This is another area where your business development team or the right external resource can provide assistance.

Organizational Shifts. A push for new talent or a coming reduction in force are clear indicators of strategic moves inside an organization. Rumored (or if you’re running late, announced) capital improvement, an open search for a “deal” partner, and a wholly new go-to-market effort with a new product or service are signs of movement. Do the work necessary to detect this early, and it is a clear indication that you bring something extra to the table.

Regulatory Change. Any shift in issues related to compliance signals motion that may well be painful for any target dealing with either industry or governmental oversight. If your target is engaged in international dealings, there is likely to be constant motion in this area.

It Takes A Team

When we suggest that detecting is a key success factor for business developers, it may seem more like the job description of an investigative reporter. And whether you are a full-time business developer or you have a professional services practice to run, having sources strategically positioned to collect and provide critical intelligence early is a definite asset.

But this is not the world most of us live and work in.

Or is it?

In fact, even if you are a one-person-show, the work we outlined in Part 3 on the make-up of a healthy professional network is designed to connect you to critical members of a business development team. Here are three suggestions to consider as you draft your plan for the coming months.

Tap Into Your Coaching Network. As we’ve noted previously, your professional network should include what we refer to as Coaches. These individuals (or in rare cases, groups) will connect you to valuable insight and information related to consequential movement in the marketplace at large, as well as with specific targets. A robust biz dev plan will actually target relationship development with key coaches. 

Business Development Professionals. If you are part of a firm, you may be fortunate enough to be connected to business development and sales professionals. These folks live for this stuff, so collaborate with them to help with at least two critical pieces of the puzzle:

— identification (given the targets you’ve selected) of areas where timely detection of consequential motion provides an advantage;

— ideas on how to create visibility and connect with potential coaches (and other important influencers) in these areas.

External Tools and Resources. Above we mentioned LinkedIn and other profile/directory platforms as tools to gain insight into individual targets. In addition, social media can be an extremely productive listening tool when it comes to industries, market segments and individual companies. At the risk of too much repetition, your marketing and business development team should be able to assist here.

If you don’t have access to firm resources, an outside business development consultant can provide guidance and counsel at an appropriate level — from the development of a plan, to the science of detecting, to how to actually deliver value at any stage of a pursuit.

On Delivering Value

Once you’ve detected where you intend to deliver value, how do you actually pull it off? Here are three general ideas and a couple of real-life examples.

First, begin your planning with a whiteboard mentality. Leveraging past successes is important; but just because it worked once doesn’t mean it will work again. (There was a day when the thought of offering continuing education to a target market was a unique idea.) 

Be creative, and apply the testwill the target view this as valuable? This test may end up pushing you toward a much more bespoke approach.

Take it personally. Every true rainmaker I know takes business development personally. This isn’t something one accomplishes at arm’s length, relying on marketing execution to deliver leads ready to entrust you with critical business decisions.

A law firm partner I know spent weekends personally scouting for a suitable housing arrangement for the college-bound daughter of a target. He could have easily connected his target with a reputable realtor; but having sent his own daughter off to school with concerns over proper housing, this rainmaker understood the value to be derived from a personal touch.

The need wasn’t legal; and the value delivered had nothing to do with the particular work the lawyer was pursuing. But it will be a long time before that business owner ever calls another attorney.

Another firm we worked with secured rights to screen a highly anticipated first-run motion picture aimed at the youth market, bought out a local theater, and invited targets to bring children and grandchildren, skip the line, and be the first to view the movie. Illusive targets jumped at the chance to take the grandkids to an exclusive early showing.

In a given moment your target’s view of value may have little to do with the professional service you seek to provide. It might be easing anxieties over a child’s move; or making it possible for a grandparent to deliver a unique experience to the grandkids. In both of these examples what was delivered provided a compelling glimpse of what the proposed working relationship would be like — far above the norm.

Be discerning, prepared to offer up something your target sees as valuable. Then be creative.

When the value you plan to deliver will differentiate you from the pack, you have the makings of a productive plan of action.

A Contagious Perspective

Thankfulness is a decision. Like many decisions we make, it has a ripple effect.

It is borne of a perspective that transcends experience, and resists seeing life through any single 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 season of thanksgiving.


You’re Not Selling Phones! Business Development Planning – Part 4 | Creating Visibility

It creeps into consciousness sometime in mid-to-late September. By mid-November, partners in firms everywhere are feeling either personal or institutional pressure (or both) to come up with a business development plan for the coming year.

If you’re in the midst of this planning, you’ve happened onto the fourth installment in a series on building a business development plan. The objective is to provide a real-world framework for planning that does more than go through motions that result in a document that is largely irrelevant, having no impact on either business development or the bottomline.

We’re outlining a proactive approach that leverages the resources you have — however robust or constrained — and provides a roadmap for effective and efficient efforts.

That’s an easy line to type. But this is not a suggestion that creating a plan that works is easy. It isn’t. Not because it is rocket science; but because it requires regular attention to a thought process and action items that are typically nowhere close to what most professional service provides would otherwise choose to be working on.

But with that disclaimer, it is emphatically doable. If you missed the early installments, here is where you’ll find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Today’s installment — Part 4 — is about creating visibility.

This may feel like more comfortable ground. It is, after all, (unfortunately) where many marketing, business development and sales efforts tend to focus first — and where conversations tend to linger…in search of a silver bullet. It often begins with something like “we just need to get our name out there…”

The unspoken implication is that brand visibility would make the development of new business a breeze. Or at least easier.

As ineffective as it is, the conversation is irresistible. We have scores of tools at our fingertips. Place the right ads, sponsor all the big events, have the best tag line, and then…when the market needs what we offer…we’ll be the logical choice.

But We’re Not Apple. And We’re Not Selling Phones

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to creating awareness, there is little doubt about the effectiveness of broad-casting — spreading the word far and wide, via any means available. The only trick is that in order to be effective this plan requires time (for repeated messaging) and the budget necessary to carve out shelf space in the consciousness of potential clients — enough space to be top-of-mind when a potential client needs the service you provide.

For firms located in a mid-sized market, the budget for this kind of visibility will run well into seven figures annually; and one year won’t create the ever-present-awareness necessary, so be prepared to make this investment year after year. Firms competing in a major market (or multiple markets) should be thinking in terms of multiples of that seven figure budget..

No problem if you’re 1) working with an Apple-like budget; 2) already enjoy measurable brand recognition; and 3) are selling a commodity.

Most professional service firms — probably including yours — are not willing or are not in a position to make the kind of budget commitment necessary to create a dent in the visibility universe.

So if shouting from the rooftops isn’t the answer, how do we address the need for visibility when it comes to the marketing and business development challenge in a highly competitive marketplace?

Cue The Broken Record

The good news is that we’ve already covered the basic building block when it comes to addressing the challenge of visibility. In Part 2 of this series we dealt with what lies at the heart of an effective approach — the strategic selection of specific targets. This can prove to be a problem for a number of reasons. For starters, it is in stark contrast to the approach that says “my-ideal-client-is-anyone-who-needs-the-service-I-provide — so let’s just get the word out.”

Anyone still clinging to this as a viable go-to-market methodology will continue to be frustrated by (or scoff at) strategic business development planning conversations. If you are unable to name specific targets, you are operating in a reactive arena…hoping the market brings you an opportunity.

On the other hand, it is completely possible to create awareness and visibility among the targets you’ve identified.

  • Wondering what organizations to join and what meetings to attend? Find out where the targets you’ve named hang out. (And while we’re on the subject of attending meetings, conferences, and the like, differentiating yourself from every other professional trying to create visibility requires more than just showing up. Do the advance work necessary to reach out to targets you know or suspect might be in attendance. Schedule coffee, lunch or just a quick base-touch. And then keep the conversation going with appropriate follow up.) Focus on targeted visibility.
  • What about content marketing — is writing a waste of time, or is another article worth the investment? Should you author a blog? Do a podcast? Host or sponsor a Continuing Education / Professional Development event? Begin by considering two questions. 1) does it give me a way to directly connect to one of my targets? 2) If not, is it connected to something one of my targets cares about? If the answer to either of these is ‘yes,’ ask one additional question before you dive in — is this something every other service provider in the market is focusing on? If ‘yes’, look for another way create visibility. (A strategic plan helps you know when to say ‘no.’)
  • When it comes time to weigh requests for support, we recognize that business development is not the only factor here; but to the degree that it is a consideration, create visibility by supporting and getting involved in organizations and causes that are important to your target. (And be certain they are aware of your involvement.)
  • And what about social media? Do Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest play a role when it comes to creating visibility? The test is the same — can the tool be used to establish visibility that accrues to your benefit? Wherever the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ the use of social media should be explored. But note that social media is most effective when used as an engagement tool. Simply building a firm page on Linked In hardly qualifies as engaging or strategic visibility. Social media is a venue for conversations.

A quick sidebar. Do you have access to a team of BD or administrative professionals? They are looking for ways to assist. Engage them in this planning process — they live for this stuff, and will help you leverage your resources.

The list of ways in which you can begin to create meaningful visibility is only limited by the degree to which you’re willing to creatively pursue opportunities to connect with targets.

Where To From Here?

The next step is to go back to your list of strategic targets, and begin creating a visibility strategy for each one. (If your target list is large, cherry-pick the top six to nine for starters.)

As you focus on each target you’ll begin to develop a menu of visibility action items. Be alert to ways to generate leverage across multiple targets on your list, as well as with targets of your practice/industry group, office and across your entire firm.

The makeup of the visibility portion of your overall plan will depend on a number of factors, including the maturity of your professional network, the nature of your practice, and the degree to which you are able to tap into a group/team approach. That said, an effective effort to create visibility and awareness will typically include a focus on content marketing (articles, blogs, speeches, CLE, website features, etc.), personal appearances (attending conferences and network events), and firm-or-practice-wide targeted events.

When it comes to getting your name out there, the fact of today’s market is that it is highly unlikely you can become known by and relevant to everyone. However, for everyone able to identify sweet-spot targets — the select few whose service needs will change the shape of your practice overnight — it is completely possible to create a business development plan for the new year that creates visibility, awareness, and connects with decision makers.