It all started as a conversation with one of our clients in the A/E/C (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry. He had been to his physician's office with stress related health issues. His doctor commented about all the Xanax prescriptions she had been writing for patients working in professions serving or affected by the real estate industry — including accountants.

As our conversation moved on to strategies for increasing our client's new business, this off-hand comment began to take on a whole new meaning. You see, our client had service offerings that could benefit hard-hit building owners. But to take advantage of these benefits building owners needed to understand some relatively complicated tax credits.

An idea started to grow.

The accountants, who desperately needed some good news for their real estate clients, could be enlisted as evangelists to spread the word. They could offer a complete solution — a way to save money, a funding mechanism, and a referral to an experienced professional (our client) who could implement it. By following the chain of emotional pain we found a path of shared interest. Thus was born the “Follow the Xanax” model.

Of course, focusing on client pain points is hardly a new business development strategy. What is a bit different is the concept of following a chain of pain until you find the highly motivated allies who can identify and recruit clients that will benefit from the services of both firms.

Since I had this epiphany, I've been surprised how often this little analytical tool has uncovered previously hidden opportunities. Just last week a colleague and I were conducting a marketing workshop at EDS for several companies enrolled in their Mentor-Protégé Program. [For those readers not familiar with the world of government contracting, these government-sponsored programs are an effort to help small and disadvantaged firms become more competitive by working with a larger, established firm in a protégé capacity.]

As we talked about breakout strategies, we shared the “Follow the Xanax” approach. After a few minutes of brainstorming and analysis it became clear that virtually every company in the room could identify an opportunity where they thought none existed. By focusing on the areas of greatest pain for your clients and the people they do business with, you may be able to identify pools of opportunity that your competitors miss in their rush to flee the scene of misery.