This is the second installment in a 14-part series dedicated to everyone working on a business development plan for 2019. Part 1 outlined the necessity of a strategic foundation, and suggested a framework that will help in identifying and articulating the strategy.

If you haven’t come to terms with this first step, resist the temptation to press ahead. While it can be challenging and messy, time invested here makes each successive step infinitely more easy. Without this foundation, anything can masquerade as an opportunity, and the result is another year spent reacting…chasing…and facing anemic ROI.

Defining Who

Once a strategic foundation is in place, the second part of the planning process focuses on Who. Specifically, with whom must you connect in order to realize your development goals and objectives? To say this can be a stumbling block is to significantly understate the challenge.

There are a number of reasons this step is skipped over by many planning processes. For decades many professional service providers go to market with what amounts to a plan to react as opportunities are presented. Come to the game with the right pedigree, reach designated benchmarks, do great work, nurture a reputation and let word-of-mouth grow a practice.

This is a workable plan where the ratio of service providers-to-opportunities works in your favor.

But things change when there seems to be a service provider on every corner (or a half-dozen firms in the same downtown high rise). A competitive marketplace precipitates a proactivity among those who are paying attention. And the cornerstone of a productive proactive go-to-market strategy is the identification of the right targets.

The Keys To Smart Targeting

Years ago a corporate lawyer let me know that he considered the idea of target identification to be little more than marketing mambo-jumbo. “My target is anyone who needs a great corporate lawyer,” was his proclamation. The target of his attention was the next person to stride into his office or reach out via a phone call.

At the risk of being redundant, if this is your business development strategy, you’re doing nothing more than hoping the market finds and chooses you. It is a plan; but it is far from proactive or strategic. So how do you begin to build a list of targets?

Armed with the intelligence you gathered as you built your strategic foundation (see Part 1), here are at least four areas that, when thoroughly explored, should yield an initial list of those with whom you should proactively connect.

Target Source #1 — Your Existing Contacts

Given that the development of a professional service practice is most frequently the result of the trust born in personal relationships, an audit of personal connections is the place to start. Reference old data bases, directories and those business cards you’ve accumulated. Here are a few of the sources you might reference:

  • Former classmates and alumni association members
  • Personal service providers
  • Social and charitable organization rosters
  • Colleagues and business affiliations — especially those connected to a market you want to serve

Target Source #2 — Subject Matter Areas

This one may seem all-too evident; however it is surprising how often we fail to get beyond the surface. Use this list as an idea-starter and a reminder to include targets with:

  • An interest in the area in which you are a subject matter expert
  • Interests and needs in other areas served by your firm (you are the conduit to a solution they need)
  • Interests and needs addressed by someone in your broad network of professionals or service providers

It is a mistake to limit your target identification to those able to hire you in your area of expertise, or even the areas served by your organization/firm. Rainmakers connect needs to solutions, going wherever necessary to make this happen…thus developing relationships of trust.

Target Source # 3 — Affinity and Aspirations

Business development is easier when the effort stems from something about which you care deeply.

  • One professional I know is passionate about literacy programs, and she has married this with business development efforts by building professional networking activities around this passion.
  • A real estate lawyer who loves golf focuses much of her biz dev efforts on connecting with golf course developers.
  • An architect who loves the arts targets local business leaders with demonstrable interest in the theater and the museum district.

Make a portion of your time a mash-up of business development and activities associated with areas of personal affinity and your passion becomes a biz dev asset.

Target Source #4 — Areas of Consequential Change

The investment you made in identifying the strategic foundation for your growth should serve you well here. A market analysis and competitive intel should point you toward practices and/or service areas:

  • Trending up / down / indicating expansion or contraction
  • Where a service gap exists
  • Where pressing issues make the arithmetic particularly attractive to your practice / firm
  • Where succession, M&A, diversity, finance or other operational realities exist

Firms committed to the proactive identification of entities dealing with consequential change consistently find themselves in a position to seize significant opportunity earlier than the competition.

Targets Do More Than Hire You

Conversations about target identification — who we intend to connect with through our business development efforts — must be multi-dimensional. In simple terms, smart targets serve one or more of the following functions:

  • Hire you / your firm:
  • Refer you / your firm (this is often based on reputation)
  • Recommend you / your firm (often based on personal experience)
  • Coach you on what it will take to connect with one of the other types of targets (usually based on first hand business intelligence).

While building a master target list it is helpful to suspend disbelief. Don’t second guess — it tends to result in enumerating all the reasons someone doesn’t belong on your target list. But once a relevant universe has been defined, there are two additional significant steps to the process of smart targeting:

  • Run the administrative traps
  • Estimate your relationship equity

Depending on your firm’s size, infrastructure complexity, service areas and geographic breadth, administrative issues may vary. But before resources are devoted to the tactical pursuit of new business, you’ll want to do everything you can to insure a hiring target does not pose conflicts that cannot be resolved, is able to pay your rate, and can otherwise conform to client intake requirements.

Administrative issues rarely impact the pursuit of targets for referrals, recommendations and coaching; however prior to planning a pursuit it is wise to run these traps.

Defining your relationship equity will help you prioritize pursuits. Where all other factors are equal, stronger relationships mean that development efforts generally have a better success rate, and can often move more quickly. There are a number of methodologies designed to determine the depth of a relationship; all tend to rely on a measure of subjectivity.

In addition, the value in defining the quality of a relationship with a target — even if it is little more than a ranking of poor-to-average-to excellent — is that this process will help define the action items of your business development plan.

The reason target identification is important is that it provides rhyme and reason to the tactical aspects of your business development plan. Where should you be networking? What subjects should you consider writing about? What technology is critical to connecting with your target audience? Should you invest in that one-off “opportunity:? If you’ve named who you want to connect with, there is a framework for answering these questions.

If, on the other hand, you’re having difficulty naming targets, you’ll be wise to hit pause in your planning process. Examine your strategic foundation. Then audit your connections using the four areas noted above. It can feel tedious, and the temptation is to simply begin with the tactical aspects of an outreach — broadcasting the news of your offering to anyone that will listen.

But for those willing to fight through the process, smart targeting — naming precisely who it is you intend to connect with through 2019 business development efforts — will land you in a significantly different spot when you assess ROI a year from now.

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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.