Today's business environment is difficult at best. As sales cycles become longer and the competition gets stiffer, businesses are looking for the proverbial “silver bullet.” Everyone wants a way to find qualified prospects… and close them better, faster and cheaper.

Heard within this din are multiple promises and offers of ways to accomplish this goal. While some of this hype may work for commodity-based products, those companies selling complex “solutions” and services face unique challenges.

Most proposed solutions to the business-development dilemma are activity or transaction based and really won't change a thing. While your activity level may increase, your bottom line probably won't.

For example, one company selling a complex system generated activity by sending golf club covers to potential prospects. The covers included a promise that a face-to-face meeting with salespeople would provide “something” to put in the cover.

Certainly activity increased, and the salespeople met with prospects. Unfortunately, the salespeople were distracted by prospects who were very unqualified—but were very satisfied with the free golf club.

Worse, qualified prospects who were early in the sales cycle were quickly discounted or ignored as the salesperson went on prospecting in hopes of finding a ready buyer. This type of interaction builds a perception in the minds of prospects that the company is a commodity provider.

Building early relationships is the way to prevent yourself from falling into the transactional and commodity-provider trap. But building early relationships also forces you to focus your efforts and get back to basics.

To avoid wasting resources on prospects and companies that will never buy, you must clearly define market segments that represent the “best fit” for your products and services. Each possible key decision-maker role should be identified, along with the key value propositions those roles would be interested in.

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Al Fox and Mike Cuccia Al Fox and Mike Cuccia and Principals SC Squared <>. They can be reached at or