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The Crossroads of Golf and Business Development

It’s absolutely true when they say that golf is an advantage in sales and business, but then again, I may be a little biased. Before becoming the director of sales for LexisNexis® and managing InterAction® growth and client success, I was a collegiate golfer at San Jose State University and then a professional for two years.

So, when researching the many changes undergoing the legal industry and how technology can play a role, I found that the approaches to business development in the legal industry’s “new normal” had several parallels to my own growth on the golf course.

By identifying a strategy for each course I played, keeping detailed stats and tracking the progress of my goals, and managing a rigorous practice schedule, I was able to accelerate my development and meet the rigorous challenges of collegiate and professional golf.

And, no matter if you’re playing golf, learning another skill, or building sustainable, revenue generating-pipelines to grow your law firm or other professional services firm, you can become a successful agent of change through the process of identification, tracking, and management.

What Is the “New Normal” in the Legal Industry?

The legal industry has pretty much settled into what’s being called the “new normal,” a competitive arena where law firms are finding themselves actively seeking new strategies to compete and more efficiently deliver services to meet increasing client demands.

The 2018 Altman Weil – Law Firms In Transition Survey paints a pretty clear picture of what this “new normal” looks like:

  1. Demand for law firm services won’t return to pre-recession levels, ever.
  2. Clients themselves are demanding more for their money, fast response times, and quick answers.
  3. 70% of the law firms surveyed reported a loss of business in 2018 due to corporations taking their legal services in-house, instead of seeking outside counsel.
  4. 78% of the law firms surveyed reported that competition was their biggest obstacle.

In the LexisNexis report 2018 Marketing and Business Development Survey, we saw that nearly 40% of law firm COOs say their business development strategies lacked sophistication in this “new normal” environment. While, at the same time, budgets for technology are up so that firms can keep pace.

So, what does this mean? In the LexisNexis InterAction white paper Building a Sustainable Growth Strategy in the Legal Industry’s New Normal, we discuss the importance of a three-pronged approach, including:

  1. Identifying target markets, obstacles, and where to focus effort
  2. Tracking progress to craft ideal solutions
  3. Managing processes to create actionable pursuits

Identify, track, and manage. With this approach, combined with focused preparation and strategy, you can build the foundations for successful business development and, incidentally, improve your golf game.


Step 1 – Know the Course: Identifying Target Markets, Obstacles, and Where to Focus Effort

When I was about 10 years old, I would approach golf in a truly “see what happens” fashion. I’d walk up to the tee, look down the fairway, and swing away, blindly hoping the ball would land on the fairway or, better yet, the green.

When competing at the collegiate and professional level, this strategy would’ve meant an almost certain failure. Even with the greatest drive in the world, that first shot means nothing without preparation and a solid strategy. You need to know the layout of each hole, the distances, the wind speed and direction, the best club for the situation, where the hazards are located, the contours of the fairway and the green, and so on.

The “see what happens” approach is as disastrous in golf as it is in a sustainable growth strategy. You need to take a clear, focused approach to determine target markets and set growth amounts and timelines.

So, how can you identify the new markets and clients who will benefit most? For one, this data can come from analyzing legacy and current client information as well as win/loss metrics.

The next step is to research your target markets and assess how you will target them. In golf, this would be equivalent to having a yardage book with the course layout so you can choose the most appropriate club and know where the obstacles are located.

To hone your approach when identifying and targeting these markets, you should set meaningful KPIs, including:

  • Your target number of new accounts
  • The percent of growth in specific markets
  • Revenue goals
  • Milestones based on timetables

Identifying your best chances for success also means acknowledging any roadblocks and hurdles that could slow or reverse growth, as well as where to best allocate resources and efforts. Like in golf, a good drive can immediately be ruined by a water hazard, a sand trap, the rough, and many other factors. You need to know the layout of the course and have a strategy for navigating it.


Step 2 – Improve Your Golf Game: Tracking Progress to Craft Ideal Solutions

Using data to determine your best course of action is only half of the battle. When I was playing competitive golf, I always tracked my stats in great detail: fairways hit, greens in regulation, and number of putts—just to name a few. My theory was/is: How am I going to get better if I don’t know where my strengths and weaknesses are so that I can focus my practice and development? The equivalent to this in the business development world is win/loss data. You always need to know your go-to shot and the areas for improvement to help ensure success.

In other words, you need to know where, specifically, your game needs work, and the same is true with your business development strategy. Tracking the progress of your firm’s business development process is key to ensuring alignment with your strategy and focusing efforts where they matter most. 

The first step to tracking and measuring data insights is to set up a single, centralized repository that enables a firm-wide, holistic view. This comprehensive insight is what fuels firm-wide collaboration with increased attorney accountability.

In golf, collaboration is equivalent to having the right caddy who knows your game and can help you navigate the course and execute your strategy. Or a swing coach to work with you on the areas that need improvement. By pulling in these professionals with the specific goal of improving your chance to win, you’ll find your goals supported by the right individuals, technology, and tools.

Firm-wide holistic views, collaboration, and accountability are necessary factors when tracking the progress of your growth and crafting ideal solutions for target markets. They support important activities, such as developing a comprehensive customer pipeline to accommodate early and late stage customers. Plus they make it easier to tightly define the stages of your firm’s development and then align those stages with buying processes.

The key metrics to help you track the effectiveness of your strategy include:

  • Win/loss data
  • Average deal size
  • Pipeline ratio to goal
  • Total open opportunities
  • Number of days in each sales stage
  • Opportunity conversion by stage
  • Most effective content by stage

So far, you’ve identified the course ahead of you and started tracking progress against your strategy. No matter if you’re improving your golf game or creating and executing a business development strategy, you’re making progress. Now it’s time to manage that progress.


Step 3 – The Next Step: Managing Processes to Create Actionable Pursuits

When I started competing at the collegiate and professional level, I had already been playing golf for over 10 years. At that point, my swing had been developed over several years of working with an extremely talented golf coach. However, when you start competing with the best, you quickly find that there are other areas of your game that need improvement. I felt myself wanting to enhance several areas of my game all at once—what I call the “boiling the ocean” approach.

This “improve it all” approach left me feeling overwhelmed without a clear direction, and I knew that I needed to manage my processes to create actionable pursuits. If I was having trouble with my short game (chipping and putting), then that’s where I would create specific, measurable goals. The same was true for my mental game and staying in the moment and not thinking ahead. Not an area I had focused on in the past, but an area that became vastly important when competing with the world’s best.

For your firm’s business development, this means managing new business opportunities to create pipelines with recurring revenue. Through centralized dashboards and reports with dynamic, live data, for instance, you’ll find it easy to make crucial decisions, such as to pivot strategy or dive into an opportunity. You’ll also strengthen collaboration because team members will have accurate and current information about clients, and they can use this information for building relationships and participating in your firm’s growth.

As you prioritize better client relationships with a focus on brand image, you can enhance your business development strategy’s main initiatives by aligning the buying processes with the KPIs you set, and then running routine pipeline meetings so that everyone is clear about how things are progressing.

Executing Your Business Development Strategy

No matter your growth strategies in the coming years, progress is iterative and your goals should align accordingly. A little focus on your swing, for instance, can have a direct impact on your score, and the same is true when allocating resources or finding and researching new markets.

And while the “new normal” in the legal industry presents many challenges, building a business development strategy will help you navigate through this stormy climate and bring immediate, positive returns to your law firm, your brand image, and your clients. In other words, have a solid strategy (yardage book), align your processes to drive that strategy (practice with a purpose), and ensure you have the tools (clubs, caddy, coach) to support your processes.


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About Brad Stites

Brad Stites
Brad Stites is the Director of Sales and Sales Enablement for LexisNexis Software Solutions where he is responsible for InterAction growth and client success. Brad is an accomplished strategic business leader with extensive technology and enterprise software experience. In his 20-year career, he has proven success in building, leading and revamping sales and sales enablement organizations. His career includes leadership positions within the technology and enterprise software industries. Brad studied Business Management at San Jose State University and Executive Development at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.