Tips for Getting New Business: Can You Hurry Love?

Supremes, The - You Can't Hurry Love - D - 1966

The Supremes: You Can't Hurry Love - Image by Affendaddy via Flickr

Over hot chocolate (Peet’s non-fat, no whipped cream) this week, the search headhunter – newer to that side of the desk after running executive recruiting for one the nation’s blue chip companies on the other side of the proverbial desk  –  asked the awkward question.

His candidate search work for engagements had been outstanding; his new business development success had been missing in action.

His question was simple. “Is there anything I’m doing wrong?” he wanted to know.

In my world – the world of coaching executives and start-up and leadership teams – a part of the job of being good in the coaching practice involves understanding the dynamics of somebody else’s work, and figuring out what they’re doing that is effective and successful, and what they’re doing that could be done differently and better.

For professional services (architects, headhunters, lawyers, attorneys, web developers, and yes, exec and team coaches like me)  your work has  two fundamental dimensions; doing the work, and getting the work.

They can be different, and doing one part well does not necessarily mean you do the other well. The woods are filled with people who get work by claiming they do great things, only to fall short when it comes to actually doing the work.  To compound the difference, one area is largely transactional as in execution, the other is largely relationship and/or marketing driven; having people know your work and wanting to engage you because of the value you bring to the table. While both involve some strategy and planning, the difference between executing on transactions and executing on a relationship is night and day.

Days when you could put a shingle (or a brochureware web page) up and wait for eager customers to line up are mostly gone in professional services which I suspect is a good thing. Information access by Googling someone, or even something like Quora or Angie’s List can get the lowdown on someone faster than ever before.

Even with a record of past success and glowing endorsements (“Can we hire you to put some of your magic pixie dust on him so he’ll behave better?” a client recently asked me), part of the job of finding new clients in the world of professional services – executive search in this case – is simply time.

The presumption all of us (at least all of the people I know well)  is that doing great work leads to more work. But first the clients must have a need to for your services. Low or slow demand in general means lower numbers of new engagements unless you’re taking clients away from other providers.

The bad news/ good news story coming out the the current deep recession is that many people who used to do things like executive search or executive and team coaching are no longer in business; Darwinian economics can mean that the ones who have survived included service providers who could ride low tides of demand, not just the proverbial high tide lifting all boats.

My conversation-over-hot-chocloate exec search recruiter had been doing his  business development basics well. He presented well, has a good, authentic story to tell imbued with real examples of doing really good work. Lot’s of substance; not lots of fake hype. He’d done great search assignment work, was taking regular disciplined steps to stay known in his networks, had worked to expand his network through some innovative outreach,  and seemed to be meeting most of the right people. My one suggestion action step suggestion was that he should also meet CEO types along with his other networking steps.

My only other observations to my search friend is that business development cycles in professional services can take time; and in the case of providers like executive search headhunters, it takes time until clients are either hiring new positions or replacing ones that have come open.

And time, like love, usually can’t be hurried.

When demand does uptick the things that my conversation partner had been doing should result in a pick up in new business. And absent doing two other obvious marketing steps – writing a best seller or being a guest on Opray, there are no quick hits folks in his business (just like mine) can take to accelerate the new work flow.

So there are some things you can’t hurry; good red wine, love, and the business development cycle in professional services in a slow or low demand environment.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.