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.

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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.