5 Reasons Your Business Development Isn’t Working – And How You Can Fix It

by JD Supra Perspectives

Business development is about focused effort and persistence and value...
It’s not uncommon for lawyers to feel like their business development efforts are getting bogged down. After all, it’s a long slog, measured in months and even years, in a profession where the demands on your time and attention are measured in hours and days. But sometimes things don’t feel right because they aren’t right. Sometimes, your lack of progress is a sign of bigger problems. Sometimes, your BD isn’t working because you’re doing it wrong:
1. You’ve got too many targets
Marketing is about big numbers, about broadcasting your message as far and wide as you can, about creating and maintaining a well-known reputation, about exposing more and more clients, potential clients, and other influencers to your skills and experience. Business development, on the other hand, is about focused effort and persistence and value. Most significantly, it’s about being realistic when considering the number of people with whom you can develop a meaningful relationship over the course of a year. At most you should have five true targets – two is probably a more realistic number – that you pursue with a focused plan tailored to each individual entity. If you think you can effectively go after more than five client opportunities at the same time, you’re fooling yourself.
2. You’re not trying hard enough 
Convincing a company to hire you, even one that you’ve worked for in the past, takes effort. It takes intention. It takes time. There are few shortcuts to building the confidence and the trust your potential client must have before they put the future of their business in your hands. What does that effort look like? A well-rounded approach, with equal parts planning – like figuring out the company’s tolerance for risk, identifying company insiders who can vouch for you and your colleagues, learning everything you call about their business, their industry, their competition – action – such as setting up a meeting with Janet Smith, and playing golf with Mary Jones in June, and  pitching IP strengths to the new GC – and measurable objectives, including a timeframe within which you plan to achieve them.
Clients don’t care when your firm was started...
3. You’re saying the wrong things 
Clients don’t care when your firm was started. They don’t need to know if your colleagues are fluent in all the major languages of South Asia. They aren’t even looking for the number of lawyers at your firm, or the number of jurisdictions you’re in, or the number of M&A deals you’ve done over the past 25 years. They want you to tell them how you’re going to help them with the issue they’re facing. How you would structure the deal they’re trying to pull off. How you would defend the patent infringement lawsuit they were just hit with in the Eastern District of Texas. How you think they can bring in the VC investment they need to stay afloat without giving away too much equity in their company. Tell ‘em.
4. You’re talking to the wrong people
You probably wouldn’t expect to turn your relationship with a junior lawyer on the in-house team into a million-dollar piece of litigation work for a sophisticated multinational. It’s not likely she’s involved in the decision to hire a law firm (nor the decision not to hire all the others). That’s not to say that all the non-decision-makers you know at a potential client can’t help you – they can introduce you to the people who choose outside lawyers, they can provide insider information on what the company needs, they can alert you to additional opportunities to pursue – but it does mean that you have to be honest about the extent to which your inside relationships can help you get work. The good news is that more likely than not they’ll be willing to help you figure out who in the company you do need to know, and how to make that happen.
“Get more work” is not a business plan. It’s not even a meaningful goal.
5. You don’t know what you want
“Get more work” is not a business plan. It’s not even a meaningful goal. And it’s especially not a good start for approaching an existing client about the potential for expanding the relationship. Instead, you need to figure out the client’s actual legal needs and how they align with your sweet spot, identify their pain points and ways you might be able to ease them, craft a pitch that lays out, in very specific terms, not what you know how to do but why they should hire you. That way, you can say “I’ve noticed that you’re struggling with single-plaintiff employment lawsuits in Oregon, and I think I might have some ways you can change that,” instead of “Hey, you’ve got a lot of people working for you, and I’m an employment lawyer, so we should talk!” Who would you hire?
[Lance Godard is a practice group and industry team manager at TerraLex. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow his new work on JD Supra.]

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