Business Development Not-to-Do #11: Pitch Business & Hope for the Best

by JD Supra Perspectives

"That seemed to go well."

This is what lawyers say to each other when they leave a pitch meeting. It often translates as "They were gracious, seemed to be paying attention, and said they found it informative."

Good for you. You chose gracious, attentive people to pitch to. Now what?

Most of the time, it's "now, nothing." A few weeks later I'll get a call from you, telling me that, despite the positive reception, you've heard nothing from the prospect, and you want to know what you should do next. You'll acknowledge that you probably should have called me before the meeting, but now that you're stuck, how do you get un-stuck?

You're not stuck. "Stuck" implies that there was previous movement that stopped. That's rarely the case with pitch meetings. Most of these are merely variations on a theme, i.e., "Here's how skilled and experienced we are, and we'd like you to reallocate your existing legal spend to carve out a slice for us."

For now, forget about the fact that there's usually little reason for anyone to reallocate their budget in your favor. There's a fundamental sales problem -- one that you created yourself.

When you tell someone all about your firm, your expertise and experience, you end the conversation. 

After all, the conversation has been all about you, and it's been pretty exhaustive. If I'm hearing this, why would I think there's anything more I need to hear? What would motivate me to have another discussion with you about you? As a result, you're back on the outside, trying to find some small opening through which to view what's going on inside the company you pitched. Don't waste the effort. Nothing is going on. A pitch doesn't require a response. "Telling" is a conversation-ender. There's nothing to decide, and there are no next steps. Worse, our (unscientific) interviews with legal-service buyers makes it clear that buyers hate pitch meetings. They don't get anything out of them, and consider them a waste of time.

It really doesn't matter which medium you choose because your real problem is that you don't have anything to say...

After the pitch, you have the "follow-up" problem. Should you call? Send an email? It really doesn't matter which medium you choose because your real problem is that you don't have anything to say, other than, "We met three weeks ago and told you all about us. Do you want to give us some work?" You know you don't want to say that; it's too crude and obvious. But, what else do you have? Any follow-up to a pitch is pro forma, and a waste of time.

To-Do: Focus on things that require a decision

The only way to solve this problem is to design it out on the front end by only meeting with people who likely must make a decision because, unless they're outliers, they likely face a problem whose impact is closer to the intolerable end of the spectrum than the "sort of bothersome" end of it. Under those conditions, you can pretty easily get to a point where they recognize the need to make a decision, and it's not difficult to identify welcomed next steps.

In 2009, in the early stages of the Great Recession, Harvard Business Review published In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers. It urged you to come to the table with original, provocative thinking that can't be ignored. While the need to do that was particularly acute when companies were paralyzed by cost-cutting and were unreceptive to all but the most compelling initiatives, the principle is still valid. 

Your provocative thinking can be about a how they conduct their core business, e.g., a strategic- or operating problem faced by companies in a specific industry, or how they buy and consume legal services, e.g., a more efficient process that improves results and reduces cost. Or anything else that will cause someone to pause, interrupt the autonomic "no time for that" response, and say to themselves, "Hmm, I need to make time for this."

Make your pipeline more exclusive...

I understand how the pressure to "get out there" and try to generate work can cause you to pursue activity for its own sake, and perceive any meeting as an opportunity. However, that's merely desperation suppressing your judgment. Unless you can visualize a specific sequence of events that would logically and reasonably ensue from this meeting and result in you getting hired, it's only an opportunity to waste your time and fill your pipeline with more dead weight that deludes you into thinking you're making progress.

Make your pipeline more exclusive. Admit only qualified Prospects, i.e., those who acknowledge having a problem that drives demand for your service, and who explicitly acknowledge that a discussion about how to improve their situation is worthwhile and welcomed. 

[Mike O'Horo is the co-founder of RainmakerVT and has trained 7000 lawyers in firms of all sizes and types, in virtually every practice type. They attribute $1.5 billion in additional business to their collaboration. His latest innovation, Dezurve, reduces firms’ business development training investment risks by identifying which lawyers are serious about learning BD.]

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