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Relevance and Value – Keys to Business Development Success

By: Roger Marquis

Does this scenario sound send an email to a prospect to introduce yourself and ask about opportunities to work together, but the response you get is, “no thank you, now is not the right time” or, worse still, your email goes unanswered altogether? If you answered “yes,” rest assured you’re not alone, as this scenario plays itself out constantly among professional service business developers. But, why is that? Why does a simple and honest attempt to establish a relationship with a prospect end up going nowhere fast? There could be two reasons for this – relevance and value. Let’s discuss. 

Where’s the Relevance?

When you send an introductory email like the one above to a prospect, what’s really taking place? In the short term, you’re trying to get the prospect to recognize your email and respond accordingly. In the long-term, you’re trying to develop a relationship with the prospect, so ultimately his/her firm hires your firm for a project. But, why should the prospect be inclined to do any of this? He/she does not know who you are, the firm you represent, the services you offer, or the firm's rank in the market…there is no relevance, no connection, between the two of you and the message being sent. Given all of that, there’s little wonder as to why an email like this would ever generate a favorable response.

Now, suppose we modify the scenario above and, instead of sending an email with nothing of relevance between you and the prospect, we add some. What if your introductory email said something to the effect, “After noticing you attended yesterday's webinar presentation on smart building design, I am wondering if you have a few minutes next week to talk further about the subject.”? Sounds much different, doesn’t it? Between the fact that you both attended the same event and share an interest in smart building design, you have shown the prospect you have things in common. There is now some sense of relevance to your message and, for all intents and purposes, it should be that much more meaningful to the prospect.

When you communicate with prospects, look at things from the prospect's perspective and ask yourself, is there any relevance to my message? Few of us ever want to connect and enter into a relationship with others if there are no common interests or associations, so try to find some. 

Where’s the Value?

If we go back to the original scenario above, notice how you are asking for something from the prospect (i.e., time on their calendar to meet and talk with you), but you give nothing in return? When this happens to you, how do you feel? Some might answer and say they feel as though they are being taken advantaged of. To remedy this you need to offer the prospect something of value, something of meaning. To figure out what could be of value to the prospect, you can ask yourself questions, such as, what can I offer that will help the prospect and his/her company earn revenue, reduce expenses, solve a problem, or help to innovate or become more efficient?

It all sounds simple, but many business development practitioners overlook this fundamental aspect of communicating with a prospect and, as a result, a relationship never gets established or it takes that much longer for it to prosper. There must be something of value given or delivered to the prospect if they are to give you a precious 30 minutes out of their day to meet with you, let alone to hire your firm for a project. 

So, what if we changed the original email above and said something like, “I read an article about the commercial building your firm recently built, and I wanted to share some research my company has done on commercial building design and cost controls, may we schedule a time to talk further?” A much different approach, isn’t it? The piece of research you are offering could potentially be of great value to the prospect and his/her firm. 

Stand Out

As you inject relevancy and value into your prospect communications and promotions, you will start to set yourself a part from other business developers calling on the same prospect, thus increasing your odds of success (i.e., getting a response, holding a meeting, winning new business). In addition, not only do these tactics serve to differentiate you from others on an individual level, but it also represents how your firm operates and sees itself in the marketplace (i.e., trying to be relevant and meaningful, and offering value to others).

Frequency and Follow Up

With this new mindset, suppose you revise your prospect communications to include relevancy and value statements, and believe your messages are as spot on as can be, but you still don’t generate many responses. Now, what could it be? In this instance, it could be a matter of frequency and follow up. 

When you send out an introductory email to a prospect, how many days do you wait until your second or follow-up message goes out? What about your third, fourth, and fifth message? This is where many business developers often drop the ball. Sending messages that are relevant and value-based is one thing, but sending them out on a regular and consistent basis over a period of time is what’s truly needed to generate a certain level of comfort and trust with a prospect (i.e., a relationship). Also, because you never know when a prospect might need your services, you need to stay in front of them to remain top of mind. A good follow-up plan would schedule five, six, seven, or more contacts with a prospect over the course of several months.

While there is no real science to frequency and follow up, you need to consider each prospect individually and see what makes the most sense for each of them (i.e., when and how often the message is being sent and the medium being used). In addition, there is certainly nothing wrong with realizing that a prospect might not be worth pursuing after a certain number of tries, and you put their name aside.  

 It’s also worth mentioning, when it comes to frequency and follow up this is when a client relationship management (CRM) software can come in handy, but that’s for another conversation.


As with many things in business development, marketing, sales, operations, etc., there are best practices to learn about and follow, as these are the time-tested, peer-reviewed activities and tactics that have shown themselves to work and breed success. When it comes to calling on prospects and building relationships, adding relevancy and value to your messages should be looked upon as best practices, which are to be used on a constant and consistent basis. Over time, you should notice an increase in response rates and relationships which carry greater meaning to both you and the prospect. Good luck.

Any questions or comments, please contact me: [email protected]

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