Everything you need to know about legal business development (in seven words)

Everything you need to know about legal business development (in seven words)

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called "Everything you need to know about legal marketing and sales, in nine words."  (The nine words were: identify prospects, get meetings, listen, get advances, don't stop.)  But lawyers don't have time for nine words, so I then cut it to seven: meet the right people, advance the relationships.

Think first about the clients you already have.  These are the people who pay for your office, your car, and your kids' shoes.  If your clients are taken away by a hungrier, more aggressive competitor, things could get ugly fast. 

I know that the quality of your legal work is exceptional, and that your clients love you.  But sometimes that's not enough.  There may be other lawyers out there who are almost as competent as you, who will offer your client something cheaper, better or maybe just something new.  If a trophy lawyer comes along, it will be hard to recover.

As Steve Barrett, formerly Chief Marketing Officer at Drinker Biddle (and now a Principal at LegalBizDev), put it, "Once you lose the trusted advisor role, you are on the outside, and it could take five years to get back in."   You need to protect those relationships with every tool in your belt.

It is also much easier to expand business with your current clients than to find new ones. 

With current clients, you already have the first four words covered-you've already met right people.  So "all you have to do" is to advance the relationships.

Failing to focus on your current clients is marketing malpractice.  If you do nothing else:
1.    Hold a free meeting at your client's office to learn about their business needs.
2.    Listen 50% to 80% of the time.

For new clients, selling is like dating, and anyone who has ever gotten discouraged about romance has heard that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.  Most lawyers have time for just a few frogs, so they must focus on the best prospects before puckering up. 

Success in business development demands prioritization, and it is easy to spend too much time with the wrong people.  Too often, the prospects who have the most time for golf and lunch are the ones with no need of your services, and no budget to pay for them.

Therefore, in the qualifying stage, lawyers must focus on the prospects who are most likely to engage the firm within a reasonable period of time.  In essence, they try to answer three questions:
1.    Will they buy?
2.    Will they buy soon?
3.    Will they buy from me?

When the answer to any question is no, the lawyer must move on to the next candidate.  This can be hard to do, because after one has invested time in building a relationship, the natural inclination is to be optimistic this will lead to new business.  This is further complicated by human nature: when you develop a genuine liking for someone, it can be hard to cut back on a business relationship even after it becomes clear that they are not likely to buy.

But hard-nosed prioritization is an important step in any successful marketing campaign.  Once it is clear that a person is not going to buy within a reasonable period of time, they must be demoted from the short list of people who get face-to-face marketing time, and moved to the long list of people lawyers stay in touch with in a more efficient way such as emails and birthday cards.

Meeting the right people starts from a vision of ideal clients and referral sources, and continues with the discipline to focus on the few who are most likely to produce results.  Since many lawyers prefer analysis to action, there is a risk here that they will spend so much time analyzing the possibilities that they don't have any time left for meetings. If that happens to you, remind yourself that this isn't a science experiment, it's business.

If in doubt, pick up the phone and arrange a meeting.  Yes, you must meet face-to-face.  Clients hire lawyers whom they trust and like. You don't build trust by reading brochures, and you don't build liking from a web page. The best way to build trust and liking is by sitting face-to-face and listening.  (Notice that I said listening, not talking.) 

Then it's time for the last three words: "advance the relationships."  The word "advance" has a technical meaning to sales professionals, grounded in Neil Rackham's research on over 35,000 sales calls.  An advance is a specific action taken by either party that moves the sale forward, such as scheduling another meeting, getting introduced to someone new, or providing a list of references.  Most lawyers love this concept, because it is so specific, concrete, and logical.

Rackham found that great salespeople succeed because they plan every sales call, and strategize how to get the largest possible advance. His SPIN Selling Fieldbook provides examples and guidance on how to brainstorm possible advances before a meeting, and then select the one that is likely to lead to the greatest progress. This takes effort and practice. But the ability to get advances is often the difference between success and failure.  When you consistently find that you cannot get an advance with a particular prospect, it may be time to move on to someone else.

As Rackham (p. 171) summed it up: 

"If there was just one piece of advice we could give to people to improve their selling, it would be this: Plan your calls....Do you know exactly what outcome you hope to achieve? Plan what to ask, not what to tell."

This post was adapted from my new book, The Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.

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