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Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.


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Strategy

The Twin Track Strategy For Startup Professional Firms

Posted on 21st January 2012.

One of the stories I hear the most often from struggling solo professionals or small firms is that they did well for a couple of years after starting up and then just kind of plateaued.

Usually what's happened is that work came in easily in the early days. Ex clients and colleagues heard they were now out on their own and sent work their way. They did a good job and got repeat business and a few referrals.

But eventually, they ran out of steam. The close circle of people who knew them well enough to feel confident sending work to them ran dry or was hit by recession, retirement or other factors.

Sometimes the steam runs out after 12 months. Sometimes after 18 months. Sometimes it can be as long as 2 or 3 years.

But eventually it will run out, unless you start actively marketing yourself and widening your network.

Clients buy for meany reasons. With clients who know you well, who like you, and who trust you and your capabilities, you don't have to do much active marketing or selling to them.

But this can trap you into complacency.

You see, the potential clients who don't know you so well – the ones outside your close circle – they see a different picture.

They don't have that history with you. That experience that tells them you're a safe pair of hands. So they look for external indicators that you'd be a good choice to work with them.

Are you a recognised leader in your field? If they google your name do they see lots of articles where you share your expertise? Are you presenting on your topic frequently? Can they find lots of testimonials saying what a great job you did? Does your website inspire them that you know the area they need help in like the back of your hand?

For most professionals who've been getting all their work from existing relationships and referrals, the answer is usually no.

Many of them are incredibly talented – but they've never had to showcase that talent to the world before. The clients who hired them already knew they were good.

And it takes time to build your reputation. To build your website and fill it with content. To build a portfolio of testimonials, published articles and successful speaking engagements.

So you need to start on this early.

When you first start up the majority of your business is likely to come from people who already know you. Ex clients and referrals. You need to focus and actively work these channels.

But you also need to adopt a parallel strategy of building your authority in your field. Writing, blogging, speaking. These are the things that will bring clients to you in the future and prove your capabilities for people who don't already know you.

In know this from my own personal experience. I went through the exact same pattern with the business from ex clients and colleagues largely drying up after a year or so.

But thankfully (and I have to admit, somewhat luckily as I'd done it out of interest rather than as a deliberate strategy) I'd been writing and blogging for over 12 months by the time that happened and was beginning to bring in leads via my website.

If you're just starting your own business make sure you do something similar. Don't rely on people who already know how great you are to keep you in business forever. You need to start working on building your authority and market position from day 1.

———-
Image by the real kam75

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Strategy

“How I Escaped My Certain Fate” – A Comedian’s Lesson In Niche Marketing

Posted on 2nd January 2012. How I Escaped My Certain Fate

Over the holidays I've been reading comedian Stewart Lee's How I Escaped My Certain Fate which chronicles his rise, fall and rise again in the world of stand up comedy.

As well as being a pretty funny book, it contains a huge marketing lesson for all of us.

Lee was part of double act Lee and Herring who had a relatively successful show on the BBC for a couple of years (relatively successful in the sense that it was my favourite programme and lasted a couple of series). Despite that, when he returned to the stand-up circuit he struggled.

In essence, his nonchalant delivery, choice of material and complex routines meant that he didn't have the mass appeal of more populist comedians of the era. Despite his TV success and respect from “those in the know” (Ricky Gervais cited him as his favourite comedian, for example), he simply couldn't get enough people turning up to his gigs to make money from them. So he retired from stand up in 2000.

After achieving critical (though again, not huge monetary) success as the writer of Jerry Springer The Opera, he returned to stand up in 2004 – prompted partly by being accused of copying Gervais who had actually been influenced by him.

This time, things were different.

Instead of trying to make a success of the mainstream circuit, he took advice from comedy poet John Hegley who told him “you only need a few thousand fans. And if they all give you ten pounds a year, you're away” (which, of course, is a version of Kevin Kelly's “Thousand True Fans” idea).

He wasn't particularly ambitious. He just wanted to do what he loved doing and, in his words, “survive”.

Rather than trying to get booked in big venues and trying to attract large mainstream audiences, he got his booker to focus on smaller locations with audiences who would be be open to his type of humour.

“Instead of going on for guaranteed fees in empty council venues and failing to build an audience, or boring the shit out of Friday night punters who just wanted to have some fun between work and the disco, I needed to be in the dedicated comedy clubs that had flourished in my absence from the circuit, playing for smaller fees to smaller crowds composed of people that would get it and would come back next time with a friend”.

His shows were promoted by “…letting nerds all over the land know about your work via these newfangled social networking sites…”.

He took inspiration from the obscure Jazz musicians he loved and how they ran their affairs “direct marketing their work to sustainably farmed fan bases”.

And it worked.

Audiences of 20 to 30 became 50 to 60 became 100 to 200 and eventually up to 500 to 600.

A TV series followed which won him best comedy programme and best male comedian at last year's British Comedy Awards. He's currently mid way through a 4 month daily run at the Leicester Square Theatre before heading out on tour again.

The lesson for all of us?

Most of us and our businesses are more like a Stewart Lee than a Michael McIntyre or a John Bishop.

We're never going to have the widespread appeal to fill stadiums with the average man on the street. But we should be able to find a few thousand people who love what we do.

And that's enough.

If we can find them. If we can connect with them and inspire them to hire us or pay us for something. If they become big enough fans to “bring their friends”.

Then we've got very successful business.

And the way to do it is the same way Lee did it. Direct marketing to a targeted fan base – rather than trying to please a mass audience.

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Strategy

Should You Outsource Marketing And Business Development?

Posted on 25th November 2011. Should you outsource marketing?

I question I hear a lot from professionals frustrated and struggling to get their marketing to work is “Should I outsource marketing?” or “can't I just hire a business development guy to handle it all?”.

It's not surprising really – if you neither enjoy business development nor get great results from doing it then it's easy to think that by outsourcing or handing over responsibility you can take one more worry off your plate.

But think strategically for a moment.

Let's imagine it goes well and you start getting a steady stream of clients. Put yourself in the shoes of the firm you've outsourced to or the guy you brought in to do all your marketing and BD.

If you'd brought all this success to the firm wouldn't you think you deserved a bigger share of the pie? In fact, wouldn't you think that really as the source of all the new clients you were the central cog in the system? The lifeblood of the business?

Ford Harding tells a story of a long-established law firm who hired in a couple of rainmakers as junior partners to help them bring in more clients. They passed over pretty much all the BD responsibilities to the new guys.

The strategy worked – or so it seemed. The new guys started bringing in lots of new clients. The practice started booming. All was well and good.

Until one day the new guys approached the senior partners with an ultimatum: “We bring in all the clients. Hand over majority ownership of the firm to us, or we walk”.

What choice did the senior partners have? Hand over ownership of their firm, or watch their client base walk out the door and have the firm collapse?

Sounds nasty. But in truth, those rainmakers had a point. The success of the business was due to them.

It seems harsh to say it, but the truth is that lawyers, consultants, coaches and accountants who can do a good job are a commodity. People who can bring in new clients aren't.

If you outsource your lead generation to an outside firm and become dependent on them – what's to stop them raising their prices to take all the value, or just passing on the leads to the highest bidder?

Very little.

If you hire in someone to take responsibility for all marketing and BD – why wouldn't they think they deserve to get the lion's share of the returns – or walk?

Outsourcing or delegating responsibility for marketing and business development sounds like an attractive option when you're struggling with it.

But if you can't generate your own clients, if you become dependent on others to do it for you, then don't expect to become very rich these days.

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Strategy

Build Trust and Credibility Before You Ever Meet People

Posted on 9th September 2011.

I had a strange experience earlier this week.

A potential client dropped me an email and set up a time to talk. I followed my usual process and asked him to drop me a note with various details about his business and the key challenges he was facing.

When he called, the first thing he said was:

“It's funny, I've seen you so many times on video and heard you on webinars, it feels like I'm talking to an old friend”.

How great is that? We've never met or even spoken, yet the feeling he's getting as we start to speak is one of friendship.

Getting people to know, like and trust you has been a staple of business development for service businesses for as long as I care to remember.

The problem, of course, is that everyone does it.

In the competitive race, once the starter pistol goes, we all rush to build our credibility with potential clients and get them to like and trust us enough so that they're ready to buy. The one who inches over the finish line first wins.

But what if you began with a headstart? What if before the starter pistol fired, you were 50 yards down the track? Half way to your potential client knowing, liking and trusting you enough to hire you. So far ahead that your competitors will only have just got started by the time the client feels comfortable enough to buy from you.

That's the power of audio and visual media.

You can build credibility with the written word. But for that “know, like and trust” factor that we need if they're going to hire us for a complex and costly service – they need to see and hear us in action.

Podcasts, webinars, video on your website aren't going to get you all the way there – but they're going to give you a critical headstart vs your competitor.

If you use them, of course.

Do you?

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Why your competitors will fail (and you won't)

Posted on 19th August 2011.

This is a guest blog post by David Ackert of Ackert Advisory, founder of the Practice Boomers e-learning business development program for service professionals that helps them get more clients and grow their practice.

I've just joined the faculty over at Practice Boomers and will be contributing a number of articles and resources. Here's a short and sweet article and video from David on a (still) much underused marketing approach.

Whenever I speak to groups, I ask for a show of hands to this question: “How many of you regularly ask your clients or referral sources for business?”

Consistently, only 10-15% of the audience raises their hands.

The other 85% confess that they aren't very proactive when it comes to growing their practice. They wait for their clients to think of them, then they react and provide service, then they wait for the next email or telephone call.

When I ask them why, they ultimately give the same reason: They don't know exactly how to ask their clients and referral sources for business without offending them.

That’s understandable. No one wants to jeopardize their client relationships. If common sense keeps us among the ranks of the 85%, so be it. Better to play it safe until some better alternative presents itself; a simple, a clear technique that generates referrals without compromising our clients’ good will. Perhaps at some point in the future you’ll have such a technique.

Perhaps six minutes from now.

This short video shows you exactly what to say, how to say it appropriately, and who to say it to.

Referral Video

Put it to work and you'll enter the 15% who ask for the business they want without risking the clients they have.

* As a faculty member, if one day you join the Practice Boomers community I'll get a referral fee.

 

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Strategy

"Filter Bubble" Marketing

Posted on 18th May 2011.

I recently watched a thought provoking TED talk by Eli Pariser on the dangers of Online “Filter Bubbles”.

Pariser noticed that Facebook and other social networks have started filtering what you see based on your actions on the site (Google's beginning to do the same with search results). In Eli's case, because he mainly clicked on the links of his liberal-minded contacts it started filtering out posts from his conservative contacts.

As he pointed out, what that does is create little “filter bubbles” around us online where we only get to see things we're already interested in, agree with, or are positive towards.

But, of course, as a sensible thinker – he doesn't want to just see the things he already agrees with. He wants to be challenged – to see alternative points of view (and so should we). Hence the danger of these filter bubbles.

Putting aside philosophy for one minute – it got me thinking about the impact on marketing.

I think we have a very similar situation going on. And it's about the difference between selling people what they need and what they want.

In the good old days (or bad old days, depending on your perspective) when marketing and selling was primarily in-person, you had a chance to “open your client's eyes” to what they really needed – even if they didn't originally realise it.

They didn't know they were paying way over the odds for their stationery. But when you got chatting to them at a networking event you were able to ask a few questions and help them see what was they were missing.

They didn't realise what an impact their poor leadership skills had on employee turnover and the growth of their business. But your presentation to the local chamber opened their eyes and they came up to see you after the event.

But nowadays, where so much of marketing has switched online, you just don't get those “eye opening” opportunties.

They might have come to your leadership seminar at the local chamber because they always go to chamber events and there wasn't much else on. On the web, there are a million choices and options for them to go elsewhere.

You might have had them as a captive audience for short discussion at that networking event. On the web, they just don't bother clicking on emails or discussion threads that they're not already interested in.

And they don't “bump into” you like they do in the face to face world. On the web, they search for what they want and if you don't match that, they never see you.

And with the increasing prevalence of filters, chances are they're not going to see anything at all you do on social media unless they're already interested in what you're saying before you say it.

So in other words, trying to sell what you know they need (even if they don't) is becoming inceasingly futile online. Like shouting into the wind.

What's the answer? How do you sell to people in filter bubbles?

It's not simple – but a good place to start is to switch your emphasis away from persuasion (from convincing whoever is in front of you that they really need what you have) and towards search (finding the people who already want what you have).

And if you do have something that people need but don't know they do, you've got to find some way of framing it in terms of what they already want.

They need to improve leadership skills? Couch it in terms of the business growth or improved productivity they already want.

Start with where they are, not where you want them to be and maybe you'll be able to break into their filter bubble

—-
Many thanks to James Ward who introduced me to Eli Pariser's talk on TED, and to Julie Kay who added more thoughts on focusing on people who already know they need what you have.

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Practical Tips For Romancing Your Clients

Posted on 27th February 2011.

RomanceI often talk about the importance of courting your clients – investing in building a high quality relationship with them.

Great in theory – I don't think anyone would disagree with the concept.

But why do so few people do it in practice?

The truth is that romancing your clients is hard work.

It's a bit of a grind. And it's work that doesn't pay off immediately.

Consistency is the key – you need to be regularly in touch, not just calling when you need something from them.

Consistency requires you to be systematic. And I have to admit, I'm far from the most systematic of people by nature.

So this has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I'm always tempted to focus on shiny new toys rather than keep focusing on old friends.

To keep myself on the straight and narrow I've devised a simple system that even I can use to make sure I'm being consistent with my client nurturing activities. It might be helpful to you too.

There are three steps to it.

The first is to list and categorise your potential clients. I use a fairly simple approach:

  • I mark those clients who would be ideal for my business and who could bring me a lot of work as category A.
  • Potential clients who are close to ideal, or who are ideal but small and wouldn't bring me a lot of business I mark as category B.
  • People I've met who are interesting, but I don't yet know if they'd make good clients I consider as category C for now.

My primary method of keeping in touch with this C category is via my email newsletter (which, of course, my As and Bs also get).

The second step is to write down your goals for your relationship with your A and B category potential clients.

In particular, I focus on what I'd like to achieve with them (perhaps it's that they hire me for coaching, or maybe it's a big training project) and what they need to know and feel before they'll be ready for that.

So, for example, if I'd like them to become a coaching client, perhaps what they need to know and feel is that I understand their challenges and that I've got the skills to help them overcome them.

Maybe they also need to feel that I'd be a nice person to work with – we'd have a good time working together.

And perhaps they need to have confidence in their own abilities and that achieving the sort of goals they're aiming for really is possible.

Over time I've found I'm able to identify common patterns of what potential coaching or consulting or training clients need to feel to be comfortable hiring me – so I don't have to rethink this stuff from scratch every time.

I also write down what I know they're interested in and what would be useful for them.

Then the third step is simply to review my lists on a regular basis and take action.

For A category potential clients I'll look at the list of names, what I'd like to achieve with them and what would be useful for them on a weekly basis. For the Bs it's every month.

Then based on that reminder, I'll plan in some activities for the week where I do something to help progress towards my goal.

Sometimes it'll just be sending them useful information or inviting them to an event I think they'll benefit from. But it's better if I can be sure that what I'm doing is leading us towards the goal.

So if I'm sending them useful information, I'll usually try to make sure it's something that will build their confidence in my skills (an article I've written that talks about a client I worked with, for example).

Or if I feel they need to grow their confidence that what they're thinking of doing is really possible, I may send them a case study of someone who's done something similar.

I don't always manage to come up with something every week. But I do manage to come up with things often enough to build a good, strong relationship.

And thinking about them every week increases the likelihood that during the week I'll spot something relevant for them as I'll be more aware of what would be useful.

It's this regular drip-drip-drip of action that makes the system work.

We've probably all made lists and categorised our clients before.

I'm sure most of us have identified our clients' needs and interests and promised ourselves we'll use that information to build a better relationships with them.

But where almost all of us fall down is that we fail to turn that into regular action.

If you're not doing this stuff week in, week out, it really won't have much impact.

So if you're like me and this systematic nurturing doesn't come naturally – make sure you build yourself a weekly habit like this and plan it in to your schedule.

Because for the majority of your prospects, it won't be your first contact that turns them into clients – it'll be your 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th or more

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Superpleasing Your Way to Success

Posted on 17th February 2011.

Most marketing focuses on how to attract and win new clients.

But once you've got 'em, how do you get 'em to stay – and to buy more from you?

Here's an idea introduced by David Maister in his classic work “Managing the Professional Services Firm”. It's the concept of “superpleasing”.

We all know that getting more work from existing clients can be the most profitable source of new business. They already know us and trust us – and we've (hopefully) done good work for them.

So it should be a much easier sell to get them to buy more from us – provided they need the other things we're offering.

Sadly, in most businesses and also for individual practitioners – we focus most of our marketing effort on much lower payoff activities.

Running an advertising campaign, trying to cold call new prospects, or networking to meet new people, for example.

It just seems kind of sexier to focus on brand new clients than it does to build our relationships with our existing and previous ones.

And when we do try to market to existing clients, we often go about it completely the wrong way.

We equate marketing with meetings and “schmoozing”. We invite the client out to an event. Or we arrange for our managing partner to meet them to “chat them up”.

Those are the things our marketing budget is geared up for – events and non-billable time.

Now there's nothing wrong with these activities. Sometimes they're just the right thing. But more often than not there's something much more effective you can do with your time and money.

Think about it from your client's perspective instead.

If you were your client, what would be more valuable to you, what would demonstrate the commitment of a professional more, and what would prove their capabilities more: a chat with the managing partner, or the professional massively overdelivering on the work they're doing for you?

99% of the time, clients will go for the latter.

So instead of spending our marketing time and money schmoozing our current clients – we should spend it “superpleasing” them.

Instead of spending time with clients at a social or business event, or in “marketing meetings” – spend it on the project you're working with them on and do an even better job than you would have done otherwise.

Instead of buying an advert or putting on a marketing event – spend the money to arrange a value-added session with your client's management team where you show them 5 new ways of implementing the results of your work and getting a better ROI.

In short, spend your time and money in any way you can think of so that the client not only thinks you did a great job for them (which should be the baseline) but that they think you've done the best job of any service provider they've hired.

Ever.

Don't think marketing – think value for your client.

Now you can't do this for every client. You need to focus on the high priority ones who have the potential to give you lots of new business, or strong referrals to other potential clients.

But if you superplease them like this it's the strongest way of getting them to buy more and to reccomend you with enthusiasm

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How to be in the Right Place at the Right Time

Posted on 12th October 2010.

Some professionals always seem to be in the right place at the right time to win new clients.

They just happen to call a potential client when they really need help. Or they bump into them in the early stages of decision-making. Or the client remembers their face and calls them first when they need to chat over an issue that ends up turning into a project.

Luck?

Most likely not.

Very many professional services are Demand Driven. Clients only buy them when they have a real, pressing need (unlike, say, a luxury good where potential customers can be persuaded they want something even if there's no deep underlying need).

And nowadays, even if there's discretion over timing, clients are increasingly resistant to sellers' efforts to “push” services at them. They are used to buying on their own terms, if and when they feel the time is right.

So we could say that the secret to selling professional services is in the timing.

If you can engage with a potential client when the time is right for them – then you're in pole position to win the work.

But how on earth do you know in advance – and from “outside” – when the time is right?

Here are a couple of ideas that can help you be “in the right place at the right time”:

1. Spot a Need in Advance

Sometimes it's possible to spot an emerging need even before a client realises they have one. There are sometimes external signs that “something is about to happen” which allow the professional to know when to make contact with a potential client to be there when they need you.

For HR consultants for example, the announcement of a merger or acquisition often signals that a couple of months down the line, the companies involved will need HR support to sort out the “fallout”. Conversely, however, by the time a merger is announced, it's usually too late for an M&A specialist to get involved – they'll have been hired well before the public announcement.

2. Be Easy to Find

When needs sneak up on clients (as is the case with many “distress purchases” like insolvency services or litigation) they don't invest the time in advance to build up relationships with potential service providers. Instead, they wait until the need hits them and then start (quickly) looking around.

Smart professionals know where their clients look for help. Chances are for most clients it's not the Yellow Pages. It's google, and it's referrals from trusted sources.

Find out who those trusted sources are for high potential clients, build a relationship with them where you demonstrate your capabilities and get them to like and trust you – and you're well on your way to getting the lion's share of referrals.

And, of course, make sure you rank well in google for the keywords that clients search for when their need arises.

3. Nurture Relationships

In very many cases, although we don't know exactly when a need will become urgent for a potential client – we do know which type of clients are most likely to need our services – and which will make the best clients.

In these cases, building a relationship with that high potential client in advance of their need becoming urgent is your strongest strategy by far.

Think week-in, week-out: how can I help them? How can I add value? What useful material can I send them? Who can I introduce them to? What can I invite them to?

You won't find something for them every week – but by reviewing their needs every week you'll make sure you're alert to things that would be useful to them. And so you'll find something most weeks.

As you begin your relationship, think: what specifically must they know and feel about me to feel confident hiring me. Make sure that over time you address these factors.

For less high potential clients – automate the nurturing process with an email newsletter.

Doing this means that when their need finally arises, you'll be the first person they think of.

You won't win every piece of work. But you'll win far more than your fair share.

And eveyone else will be thinking “they always seem to be in the right place at the right time”.

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How to Nurture Business Development Capabilities

Posted on 13th August 2010.

I‘m currently on vacation in France, sipping on Stella Artois and musing on why the French always seem so much more sophisticated than we Brits.

For holiday reading I'm skimming through Malcolm Gladwell's latest book – “What the Dog Saw” – a collection of some of his New Yorker essays.

I like Gladwell. Sometimes his research is a little sloppy, but he's always thought provoking, challenging and often very insightful. Great for holiday reading: not too heavy.

On of his essays is on the challenge of hiring people for jobs that are different from what they're currently doing now. He uses the example of trying to select quarterbacks for the NFL.

Apparently, quarterback performance in college football is a notoriously poor predictor of success in the NFL. Because the opposition is shorter, smaller and slower than you'd find in the NFL, quarterbacks have much more time and options. They can just stand and pick out passes to any of their receivers.

In the NFL they have far less time. Huge linebacks descend on them, they have to move before throwing, anticipate where the defence is going, and have fewer open options.

As a result, quarterbacks that excel at college level aren't necessarily equipped to do well in the NFL. The same isn't true for other positions where the skills are similar – just at a higher level.

Similarly, it turns out that qualifiactions and courses are incredibly poor predictors of how good teachers will be in practice. Being able to engage with children, to “command” their attention and spark their interest in learning has very little to do with the academic qualifictions teachers pursue in college.

So what does all this have with business development in professional service firms?

Well, the challenge many firms have in trying to find and grow effective business developers is that the early careers of most professionals don't involve much business development, or the practice of the skills needed to win work.

In fact, in many professional firms, because of the obsession with billable hourse, all activity other than fee earning client delivery gets crowded out. “High performers” have often sacrificed all non-billable activities like building fledgeling client relationships on the altar of billing more time. So when they're eventually called upon to win work for the firm, those “high performers” often stumble.

Other firms try to identify “selling skills” by looking for extroverts and people with the “gift of the gab”. They're essentially using the stereotype many people have of a “typical salesperson” to try to identify those in their own team with potential to succeed at business development. In reality, however, there's no evidence to suggest that extroverts are any better at selling than their more introverted colleagues.

So what's the secret? How do you identify people who will make good business developers?

There's only one way to find out: test.

Give all your associates the opportunity to practice selling skills. To go out and form relationships with potential clients. To actively nurture those relationships over time. To convert those relationships into sales.

Give them training and mentoring. Monitor their progress. Then select based on actual performance at business development – not on technical performance or what you think the characteristics of good business developers are. Select on actual performance.

Far too many firms select too early, based on the wriong criteria. They think they know who's got “the right stuff”. But they don't.

Casting the net much wider in your search for rainmakers seems like an expensive strategy. Wouldn't it be better to focus training, mentoring and experience on the ones most likely to succeed?

Well, it would. But the truth is that you just can't tell from a professionals early career just who is likely to succeed at business development. Very often it's not the high flyers or superstars. Sometimes it's the people you'd least expect. So you must cast the net wide.

But the returns from this approach can be huge. Excellent business developers can bring in an order of magnitude more business than the average: sales of 5x, 10x or more that of their peers isn't unheard of. And that's certainly worth expending a bit more early on to get.