Business development is not complicated.

Hard work? Indeed…because effective business development (especially in a professional service firm) is almost always about building productive relationships. And that is no small task.

But we shouldn’t confuse the hard work required to build rewarding relationships with the suggestion that business development requires something that is somehow inconsistent with our profession. Or that proven disciplines such as target identification, market research, and rigorous CRM are unnecessary time-wasters. Or marketing nonsense. In fact, these are simply among the resources in the relationship tool box.

There are complicating factors, to be sure. The ongoing search for a silver bullet — a quest that precipitates fits-and-starts often affiliated with the newest shiny tool or flavor-of-the-month — is a usual suspect. Expectations that aren’t aligned with allocated resources is another.

And before you object, this is not to suggest that strategies, tactics or personnel should not be held accountable. Any legitimate business initiative includes reviews and adjustments; the point here is that rewarding  and enduring relationships rarely spring up in a month. Or a quarter or a year. If your situation demands immediate results, here’s hoping you already have a pipeline of productive relationships, or you’re going to the market with a hot commodity or slam dunk solution.

If you aspire to the status of trusted advisor, prepare to invest the resources in business development and sales that are necessary to foster and nurture relationships.

The foundation of effective business development relationships is a relentless focus on your target. (This assumes you have a target in mind; more on this in a minute.)

The Basics

While it isn’t normally accomplished overnight or as an afterthought, the hard work that results in building productive relationships isn’t difficult to understand. In fact, if you have a successful relationship or two in your personal life you already know the process.

Step 1. Listen — to your target and anyone that knows anything about your target — and learn everything you can about what your target cares about. (Hate to be a broken record here; but this, too, assumes you have a target.)

Step 2. Create visibility — make it known that you care about what your target cares about (this is otherwise known as marketing).

Step 3. Relentlessly pursue — this is the BD (or sales) part. Don’t bail or give up so quickly…invest the time and resources necessary to have a series of conversations. Does this mean stay forever? No. But if you’ve done a good job of target identification (there’s that word again), don’t jump ship after one or two or even three conversations.

Not a complicated process. The caveat is that smart target identification is the key to efficiency, and increased ROI. If you are a regular reader you know we spend a good deal of time with this idea. And this is the reason — if we haven’t identified a target we don’t know who to listen to, what to care about, or how to begin to demonstrate that we care.

Translation? We try to be all things to all potential clients. Not exactly the recipe for productive, much less enduring relationships.

Spin it, complicate it and if-and-or-but it all you want; relationships that endure — professional or personal — are about strategic (read Targeted) listening, and demonstrating we share common interests. This is the fabric of relationship, and where trust develops.

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

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

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Eric Fletcher

With more than twenty-five years of experience, spanning broadcasting, advertising, marketing and professional services business development, Eric Fletcher is a seasoned connector — of ideas, people and strategic growth-oriented solutions. For the past fifteen years he has managed and directed teams focused on targeted business development and client service in the legal industry. Today he heads the marketing and business development efforts for Liskow & Lewis, and resides in New Orleans. Opinions expressed in Marketing Bran Fodder are his own.