As one might expect at a marketing conference for legal professionals, there were plenty of sessions, side bar conversations and content centered on business development (BD).
One session featured a panel of business development professionals representing law firms, consultants and noted speakers with a twist. The session sought to take a few pages from the business development playbooks at other business with a professional service model and apply them to law firms.
Here are some of the tips we gleaned in this session:
1. Tie business development to compensation. Incentives can be powerful agents in change management. If business development is to become ingrained in the culture of a law firm, it must be tied to compensation, according to the panel. For many law firms following a rainmaker model, the goal here is facilitate a cultural change from an individual effort to a group effort. One panelist noted a professional services firm “didn’t pay on the origination unless there was a documented process – even if it’s only one step.”
2. The right BD metrics matter. Data, metrics and reporting are rightfully earning a lot of face time in law firm business development circles these days. The panelists cautioned that it’s not merely about throwing a bunch of metrics on a slick dashboard, but honing in on the right metrics and avoiding over-measurement. One panelist noted that the CEO of the Jet Blue airline company receives one metric every day by email and it’s focused on customer service.
3. Understanding issues. In a comment reminiscent of the key note session earlier in the week – changing the perception of sales in the legal industry – the panel underscored the importance of understanding the issues and challenges of a client. This perspective translates to talking with clients and prospective clients about solving their challenges as oppose to talking at them about “about what you’re good at.” There was also an element of proactivity in this technique. One panelist, recalling a time when he served as a GC, noted “no one took me to lunch to ask me what kept me up at night.” Instead, his outside counsel “just waited for their phones to ring.” Being proactive and getting to know clients and their challenges on an individual basis can be a defining factor in new business development wins.
4. Coalition of the BD willing. One session attendee noted mid-level business development often find themselves making calls to prospective clients, when attorneys might be better suited. There are challenges to getting a busy attorney involved in BD activities, so the panel recommended starting small. Develop a pilot program with a select group of attorneys “who are hungry and have the aptitude” and build success from there. For example, “cross selling always seems like low hanging fruit but we never seem to reach that nirvana,” according to one panelist and the best bet to chart a successful program forward is to “build skillsets of the willing and able.”
5. Don’t call it training. At several points during the session, the panelists noted words matter, especially when the word is “training.” Subtle as it may seem, legal professionals associate the word “training” with the doldrums of uninteresting classes of little value to performance. “Process” was another example which “can have a negative connotation” because “process is associated with busy work.” However good process drives efficiency which is a winning tactical move in today’s competitive legal market. In place the panelists suggested using the word “accelerator” or “experiment” in conjunction with the term “business development.”
6. Resiliency and tactful persistence. Some firms provide training to law firms and then send attorneys out on their own to conduct business development activities. These lawyers invariably encounter rejection at some point, grow frustrated with the program and give up. The panel suggested on-going coaching, even riding along with the attorney to help them manage on the first few tries. The purpose is to coach attorneys on how to handle these situations, to “dust them off” and convey the point that business development requires persistence. “Sometimes you have to call 10-15 times” before making any progress.
7. Recognize and reward initiative. An associate at a law firm called up a panelist with an idea to incorporate junior attorneys into the business development program. Once a month this associate would gather peers for a conference call to discuss new opportunities and identify areas where they could assist. “Don’t hesitate to start early,” the panel advised.
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Many of these techniques seem like simple, if not tactical measures, but time and time again, it’s the aggregate of little things that yield big results.
What other techniques might be added to this list? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
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