Growing a service-based business is harder today than it ever was.

Before our friend, I. M. Internet, came along, our big business development goal was to fill the pipeline with leads so that we could initiate the sales process. It was purely a numbers game. It still is, to a great extent, but the game has changed. Those “numbers” have gotten smarter, and they expect to be wined and dined first.

Seemingly overnight, there’s been a major shift in the biz dev model, and most businesses are struggling to adapt. The old schoolers continue to resist and push for fast wins.

Today, the recommended process for service-based businesses is to attract audience, develop relationships to build trust and credibility, collect warm leads, and THEN initiate the sales process.

Failing to understand and/or respect this new model is detrimental. Let’s unpack it.

Think “Attract Audience,” not “Fill Pipeline”

There’s a new buzz phrase out there: “Audience is the new currency.” Audience precedes leads. An audience is a group of people who have decided you might be worthy of trust and have wandered over to your platform to check it out. They’re not leads yet, not by a long shot. If you do anything sudden and disturbing, like selling prematurely, they scurry off until they’re attracted by something/someone else that interests them.

It’s tantamount to running into a flock of sparrows (metaphor for your ideal prospects) with a loaf of bread and expecting them to eat out of your hand then and there.

Getting them to eat out of your hand takes time and patience. You’ve got to sit on the grass, put breadcrumbs about 10 feet in front of you, and wait patiently. They don’t trust you (like, not at all), so they wait in the trees until you leave. At this stage, they’re “lurkers” — they watch, but don’t engage.

So you go out again, the next day, and the next, casting out breadcrumbs and waiting patiently, not making a move. The goal? Being a kind, brilliant presence.

Days later, one brave little birdie lands on the grass, snatches a breadcrumb, then flies off again. The birdie thinks, “Wow! This is good bread! And I’m still alive!” The next day, she tries it again, enjoys the breadcrumb, and thinks, “This is sweet! I’ll go back tomorrow,” i.e., she subscribes to your blog, likes your Facebook page, watches your previous YouTube videos, etc.

Other birds have been watching the first birdie, who is saying good things about your delicious breadcrumbs. So, they take a risk and swoop down on your breadcrumbs in ever increasing numbers.

After about a month, you decide to put the breadcrumbs on the ground immediately in front of you, very close. Though the birds are still cautious, they land and snatch the breadcrumbs. They’ve gotten used to you sitting nearby, used to your face, but they’ve learned you’re not going to make any sudden moves. They believe you’re only trying to feed them.

Much later, you put a sizeable bread crumb on the flat of your hand, and extend it outwards. (This breadcrumb is a free download, free webinar or other such treasure.) The birds know your breadcrumbs are delicious and have learned you can be trusted, so they’re willing to take the breadcrumb from your hand.

With continued patience and dedication to providing the most delicious breadcrumbs, you eventually attract the entire flock.

Ninety percent of service-based businesses have a hard time with long-term nurturing, so keep this in mind before you quit your day job. Build your flock first. The rest is gravy.