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Business Development:  Evolution or Revolution?

Business Development  Evolution or Revolution

When competition for mind share and market share is fierce, how do you differentiate your firm to your clients?  This year’s Legal Sales & Services Organization (LSSO) event, held last month in Chicago, tried to address the challenge of how law firms can create value.

I had the opportunity to meet with one of LSSO’s co-founders, Beth Cuzzone, to discuss where to plug in and what to expect.  Having been one of the early leaders in creating a collaborating community over a decade ago and seeing major transformation in the industry, I asked her:

When we surveyed the market on key problems in 2012, we heard feedback about business development (BD), but not to the degree that we see now.  Is the focus really evolving as quickly as it seems?

I appreciated Beth’s answer:  “Yes, business development is a key focus.  In fact, I would say now that the role is growing geometrically.”

That leads me to wonder:  Is law firm business development simply evolving or is it hastening the pace of change?  From where I sit, I think there is actually a business development ‘revolution’ that will fundamentally impact firms in three key ways.

1.  The BD revolution requires firms focus on Effectiveness not just Efficiency

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”Peter Drucker

The laser-focus on business development – through the hiring of business development experts to support partners, investment in training and coaching, and even creating early focus among associates – signals intentional focus on being more effective in an area that will make or break law firms going forward.  When clients have choices, and can demand and receive higher levels of value from certain firms, the discipline of business development and client focus becomes more important.

  • Speed vs. value. Efficiency is more concerned with speed of communication – with a focus on emails.  Effectiveness is focused on the value delivered through the communication – face-to-face meetings or phone calls as the best ways to build relationships.
  • Near vs. long term. Efficiency focuses on the matter at hand – and most commonly the actual matter.  Effectiveness focuses on the value of the client to the firm, and the creation of a sustainable relationship.
  • Measures of value. Efficiency is often measured by billable hours.  Effectiveness is measured by 15-minute phone calls to trusted clients and business associates for the sole purpose of building those relationships and creating value.
  • Making the most of opportunities. Efficiency focuses on setting the right meetings with clients.  Effectiveness means using meetings to listen, ask questions, and add value by offering advice based on your understanding of the business issues that face your client.

Attorneys and firms that treat business development as a discipline to create effective, long-lasting client relationships will lead among their peers.

2. The BD revolution will make client satisfaction a central business focus with measurements and accountability

Just a couple of years ago, our own survey in partnership ALM on the knowledge that firm leaders claim to have on understanding their top 20 clients – fewer than a quarter could claim to be extremely knowledgeable on all.   And at that time (2012), only about one-half of firms had a plan to track and manage client loyalty and satisfaction.  In an era where clients are demanding value from their outside counsel and have choice, we see that firms are becoming more focused on measuring and creating accountability.

law firm business development

The effort is starting with efforts to regularly engage clients –with partners, business development leaders or third party consultants – to begin the necessary conversations.  This is a great start. Capturing the information and formalizing the focus through performance metrics will ensure that this effort is as central to the culture as capturing time effectively.

I like Mark Maraia’s points of view around the Twenty Ideas for Increasing Client Satisfaction from his book entitled, Rainmaking Made Simple: What Every Professional Must Know.  In this volume, he offers worthy advice, originally reprinted from Law Practice Management, Vol .21, No. 5 Jul/August 1995, a publication of the American Bar Association.  In proof that good advice is timeless, some of my favorites in the 20 tips include:

“Recommend ways to help your clients reduce their professional fees.  … There is no greater demonstration of trustworthiness to clients than your willingness to tell them how to reduce their professional fees.”

“Call your ten best clients on a weekly or periodic basis to do a status Report.”

“Recognize, reward and promote people based on their ability to generate satisfied clients.”

“Calculate the ten largest clients of the firm in terms of lifetime value.”

The rest of the list is worth a read.  If you don’t have the book, it’s a good resource for firm leaders and business development professionals alike.   Invest in a copy – you’ll be glad you did.

3. The BD revolution will require firms to start teaching best practices early and often

As a person that has spent the lion’s share of my career in marketing, I often still think of my early roots in business:  In training.  In fact, my sensibilities in product management and marketing lean heavily on my own sensibility that educating buyer, educating your market is a key way to win new business.  Disciplines around facilitating meetings and managing hard-to-answer question come from early practice.

Same, too for attorneys: It’s never too early to start learning how to balance business development with billable hours.  This connected generation already keeps up with hundreds of friends and contacts.  Helping this already connected group to finesse networking events followed by appropriate follow up is a great way to start.  Instilling these habits early makes them second nature and allows the time to build a network and relationships BEFORE you have the pressure to convert.  By the time the role demands the network, it is in place.  I’m seeing more firms beginning to do this, and hope the trend will continue.

If you have questions, or want to share your own experiences about your firm’s business development ‘evolution or revolution,’ please feel free to share in the comments.

Photo credit: Flickr via Creative Commons; CC BY 2.0

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About Krista Fuller

Krista Fuller